Eilish Gregory is a Postdoctoral Research Associate of the Royal Historical Society and has taught at University College London, University of Reading, and Anglia Ruskin University. Her new book uncovers how Catholics adapted to social and legal changes during the period when England was ruled by Puritan Protestants.
This book on English Catholics during the English Revolution brings this religious minority to the forefront of Stuart historiography. It scrutinises how gentry and noble Catholics dealt with social upheavals, changes to anti-Catholic penal laws, and demonstrated their loyalty to changing political administrations during these pivotal two decades of the seventeenth-century through extensive analysis of petitions, legislation, correspondence and contemporary printed texts. The study of Catholicism has had a renaissance in early modern British historiography over the last few decades, with more scholars and researchers turning their attentions to examining the literary, devotional, and cultural outputs of Catholics in Britain and in Europe. These studies have provided a new wealth into the religious life and literary viewpoints of early modern Catholics and how they engaged with their local communities and Catholic brethren on the continent.
The research in to the book was initially sparked by seeing the phrase ‘sequestration’ come up during university studies about the Popish Plot and Exclusion Crisis, when it was referenced as a historic memory of how Catholics were treated during the civil wars and republican period. Sequestration was the forfeiture of the personal and real estates belonging to Catholic recusants who refused to conform to Protestantism from the late sixteenth-century until Catholic emancipation. This anti-Catholic penal law was transformed during the English Revolution to encompass political delinquents and those deemed to be ‘papists’ – persons who were political as well as religious enemies. It meant that Catholics who were formerly sequestered for recusancy before the wars, but who had their property confiscated for delinquency by supporting the king and the Royalist cause, now had to navigate through a new sequestration process that was regularly adapted by parliament throughout the middle of the seventeenth-century.
Sequestration has often been acknowledged in early modern British historiography as a method to punish recusants for refusing to conform to Protestantism, as well as to penalise those deemed to be politically traitorous to the life of the monarch or the safety of the nation. Yet, the position of Catholics and their confrontation of frequently changing legislation during the English Revolution, which affected their right to own their property, has been rather neglected. Catholics, like their Protestant neighbours, relatives, friends, and foes were forced to choose a side to support; their experience of the political process during the mid-seventeenth-century has been overshadowed by the warring political factions of the Presbyterians and Independents, and other religious groups who fought to have their voices heard.
Catholics during the English Revolution not only probes the various political administrations’ attitudes towards Catholics when they confiscated their property, it crucially exposes the relationships Catholics had with their Protestant neighbours, friends and acquaintances who were ready to assist them in their petitions to have their sequestrations discharged upon payment of fines. My approach to Catholics during the English Revolution has been to shine attention on this religious minority by showing how politically engaged they were in early modern England, and that their experience of the sequestration process offers a new and innovative insight into Catholic and Protestant networks during those two volatile decades of British history.
This guest post was written by Eilish Gregory, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Royal Historical Society.