Rome has intensified her crusade to destroy the Williamite Protestant Revolution Settlement, which is the Constitution of the United Kingdom. A Bill, sponsored in Parliament, has succeeded in getting this matter onto the Parliamentary agenda during this session. The Queen, on a first since the Reformation, has had the Roman Catholic Cardinal of England to stay with her at Sandringham, and to preach at the Royal service in the Church of England yesterday, 13th January. We are delighted that Dr. Clive Gillis, the outstanding Protestant historian, is writing a series of articles on the historical background of this whole conspiracy to destroy our Protestant heritage. These, which are in the process of publication will be carried on the website, the first one commencing today. We will also keep our readers informed as to what is happening in Parliament as matters proceed. — Dr. Ian Paisley
It was Dr. David Mathew in 1936 who first documented the manner in which organised Roman Catholicism survived the Commonwealth period.
He says, "During the period 1625 till 1688 there were two movements connected with Catholicism in England, that in the community at large, and that in the special circle of the Court". Henrietta Maria’s Court with its papal agents and powerful converts, posed a serious threat to the Reformation. However, with the execution first of Archbishop Laud and then of Charles I, she could no longer hold Court. The threat was finally removed in July 1644 when she fled abroad, never to return. What remained to this country was Community Roman Catholicism.
Dr. Mathew continues, "Considered as a whole, the Catholic body was primarily agricultural in its pursuits, depending chiefly upon a still substantial landed interest which was centred upon isolated manors in the southern countries and upon strong groups of squires and lesser gentry and freeholders scattered across the faithful north. Certain urban elements were closely bound up with them… in the cloth and wool trades… a proportion among the wine merchants, a class supported by the landed gentry. The political complexion of nearly all these men was royalist; then after the Restoration high Cavalier; finally high Tory". The survival of Romanism in England, particularly in the north, was largely due to them, They later spawned the first public Romanist congregations in the eighteenth century.
Wealthy bellicose squires
The division of England into lowland South and upland North is relevant to their survival. It is fact that, "people who lived in certain sectors of the northern landscape were particularly susceptible to a persistence of Catholic feelings". The supposition that the wealthy bellicose squires of the upper reaches of northern valleys were largely staunch Romanists riveted to the old pre-Reformation traditions, was shown to be true by the historian Bossy. Their wealth was agricultural and it was this agricultural wealth that brought Roman Catholicism through the time of Cromwell.
The northern squires inhabited areas where Roman Catholic missionary activity could be undertaken unobtrusively amongst a potentially receptive, uneducated, rural population, and where penal legislation was difficult to enforce. The failure of the Jesuit missionaries fully to exploit this opportunity may account for the later success of the Quakers in this region.
The Civil War affected these northern squires less severely than the southerners (presumably because of their inaccessibility, protected, as they were, by large tracts of boggy moorland and steep hillsides, unlike their co-regionalists in the Thames Valley). They were not ransacked. Life was allowed to continue more traditionally on their estates. Interestingly, Henrietta Maria was in Europe raising funds for her husband when the Civil war broke out in 1642. She returned to this country briefly in February 1643 to rally Catholic support. It is noteworthy that she landed at Bridlington rather than near London, specifically in order to lobby the squires of the northern valleys.
Roman Catholic squires, like some Protestant gentry, "raised and equipped troupes of their own… they felt they had a right to use them as they thought best. The defense of their own lands meant much to them, so that a good deal of fighting was of a local, even of a personal character. Small-scale actions took place round country houses; even when troupes were sorely needed for the main armies… commanders remained in their own district… desertion was common if the impressed soldiers were taken far from their homes."
The Romanist Squires acted urgently in self interest, as the writer explains: "All the English Catholics were Royalist in sympathy, though by no means all of them… actually joined the Royal Armies." This was for a very good reason. "The only notable difference between them and their fellow ‘Cavaliers’ was that the casualties of was affected them more severely. Many of the younger sons of the Papist families became priests. Therefore if the father of a family was killed, the line of succession to the estate was endangered. If a man left young children they might be taken from his widow and brought up as Protestants. [This was as wards of court and more humanitarian than the writer’s tone suggests.] The death of the oldest son was equally disastrous if the younger sons were in the priesthood."
All the saltpetre in England
A visit to the Thames Valley Papists web site shows the greater vulnerability of southern squires. They suffered more sequestrations and recusancy fines and often moved house to consolidate their estates. Even so, many held firm through the Commonwealth and Restoration. Amazingly, when Thomas of the Stonor recusant family succeeded his fathering 1653 at the youthful age of 28, he was put in charge of all the saltpetre in England. Besides being a food preservative, saltpetre was a constituent of gunpowder. So the Protestants must have considered that his administrative talents outweighed the security risk! Surprisingly, the Benedictine chaplaincy of the Moores of Fawley Manor in Berkshire, survived from the Reformation right through to the 1829 Act of Catholic Emancipation.
The Roman Catholic squires were capable of holding high public office, but were rightly debarred by Cromwell. So, as big fish confined to small pools, they brought all their talents to bear on their estates which were managed with a high degree off efficiency. They became miniature kingdoms. This produced a culture of heavy dependency amongst servants and estate workers who inevitably slipped into the prevailing Catholic ethos. Mass for the servants would usually be at 6am and some of the pious women would be there to check both the servants attendance in neat attire, and their attentiveness during the ceremony. The family would usually attend mass at 8am and everybody would be present at evening prayers.
Fasting and feasting
There were up to 100 days of fasting or feasting, as before the Reformation. Fast days were rigorously applied, often to the dismay of Jesuit missioners for whom this was an unwelcome hardship! Clearly ordinary folk "faring hard" could not abstain from such little food as they had. But these affluent households were "faring well" and were able to follow the pre-Reformation fasts. Pious Romanist women, be they family of be they kitchen servants, ensured that all adhered rigidly to the fast. Every individual had to conform. First generation servants may have been loosely Catholic, but by the time of the Restoration their children, through isolation from any Protestant influence, were stout Romanists.
This asceticism could give rise to problems. Undernourished farm hands might not able to plough and sow vigorously in Lent. Likewise, for the labourers to be fasting or feasting rather than working in the fields at harvest was economic madness. A squire would sometimes employ poor Protestants therefore to stand in. But he still had to pay his Catholic labourers to be idle. The poor Protestants were liable to augment their income further by reporting to the authorities the unlawful priestly activity that they had observed during the period of their employment. The Jesuits soon came to the rescue with priestly "dispensations" to "moderate the severities of lent". These "dispensations", (presumably obtained at some cost) allowed both those who worked on the farm on these holy days and those who permitted them to do so, to save their immortal souls from unnecessary time in Purgatory.
On the other hand, continuance of medieval feast days, especially Christmas with its ribald festivities, must have seemed a welcome relief to many servants at the time of the Commonwealth when dancing, horse racing, cockfighting and gambling were banned and plays were prohibited. Christmas celebrations were also banned. The 25th of December was an ordinary day when the shops were open and the churches closed. The isolation of these Roman Catholic houses meant that the Generals in charge of Cromwell’s eleven administrative districts, who were charged with ensuring adherence to moral standards, were unlikely to discover what was going on.
Entering the churches at night
The rites of passage also made Roman Catholics dependent on their own close-knit community. Thus, in theory, children who were unbaptised, or who had been baptised by a Roman Catholic chaplain, were illegitimate and sacrificed their common law rights in the wider world. The same was true of recusant marriages which were invalid in law. With regards to burials, squires were not keen to share consecrated ground with their servants. This leads to families breaking into parish churches at dead of night or even burying in the fields. Eventually accommodation for burial in the nearest parish church became more common and some squires made consecrated ground available on their estates. This culture of dependence was often reinforced by the family making "dole"- usually cloth or foodstuffs – available in local villages, so that the big house was viewed as a boon rather than a sinister papist threat.
Converting Charles I
When the crown prince (later Charles II) fled into the night on 3rd September 1651, following his defeat at Worcester in the Civil War, he instinctively chose the Roman Catholic Squirearchy network to hide him. Clearly he was aware of the robustness of this "sort of Catholic underground". He first went to Whiteladies in the grounds of Boscobel house near Telford. The following day his host who was desperate to move Charles on, met by chance the Lancashire born Fr Huddlestone, secret chaplain to Thomas Whitgreave of Moseley Old Hall. The same Fr Huddlestone was years later to receive Charles II as a dying king into the Church of Rome.
Fr. Huddlestone and Charles II were so share the same priest’s hole – still there today – and the secret chapel. Here Charles hid in disguise and Huddlestone laid the foundations for the future king’s conversion to Rome. Readers will appreciate how refreshing Charles II would have found these loyal, patriotic, down to earth, Catholic Royalists, who wished to pursue their pre-Reformation traditions in private, in comparison with the backbiting, two-faced, flamboyant Romanist court of his mother in which he had spent his youth. From Moseley Old Hall he relied on the Squires of Bentley Hall near Walsall, Abbots Leigh near Bristol and Trent Manor in Somerset until he could safely get a boat to Europe.
We shall next see how the remnants of the Romish hierarchy attempted to retain some control in these years, DV.