A Word About the Status of Catholics in Regency England

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“Sorry, but King Henry says your religion, which until very recently was King Henry’s religion, as well as our religion, as it had been for 9 centuries, is alien and un-English”

It wasn’t until recently when I read Philippa Carr’s Miracle at St. Bruno’s that I began to feel the English people’s pain as they were forced from Catholicism to Protestantism to Catholicism again and then finally back to Protestantism at the whim Henry VIII and his offspring. The heroine’s devout Catholic father must either accept his sovereign’s “reforms”—devised solely for the purpose of enabling him to divorce his wife—or offer his head on the block. Following Henry VIII’s death, his eldest daughter—granddaughter to the originators of the Inquisition, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain—demanded that everyone revert back to Catholicism or likewise suffer the severing of their heads. When Bloody Mary died and was replaced with her Protestant sister Elizabeth, Catholicism was abolished. No more of this religious switching back and forth, chopping off heads of devout people who happened to align themselves with the “wrong” religion.

Sir Thomas More (by Hans Holbein): refused to accept Henry VIII as Head of the Anglican Church, was convicted of treason and beheaded

Unfortunately, that meant many years of religious persecution for the Catholics. Masses had to be said it secret. Priests had to be trained abroad, and if they were caught, it meant execution for them and those who harbored them. “Priest holes” or secret hiding places were constructed in homes harbor them in case of a search.

Persecution eased a bit when Charles II took the throne; he had a Catholic wife. By the 18th century there was much more social acceptance of Catholics—they were allowed to worship at the Embassies of Catholic nations in London, for example. In 1785, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) illegally married a divorced Catholic woman, Maria Fitzherbert (never officially acknowledged). Catholics were excluded from Parliament, magistristracies, military commissions, and universities, but most other fields were open to them. Catholic worship became legal in 1791, so Catholics no longer had to have masses performed secretly in their homes.

During the Regency, a Catholic could be an officer in the army or navy, but not hold a seat in Parliament. Catholic marriages had to be performed in an Anglican church with an Anglican minister in order to be valid, although a Catholic ceremony could be held afterward (doing it first could leave them open to fines). A mixed marriage with a Catholic wife was more easily accepted in Society than one with a Catholic husband. (Although, to be fair, the Catholics didn’t approve of mixed marriages either.) The Protestant husband had to take an oath abjuring the Pope, and generally, the children were to be brought up Protestant, although in some cases, the boys were Catholic and the girls Protestant.

Catholics could go about their business much the same way as Protestants, although there was still plenty of prejudice against them. Generally, most Protestant families steered their marriageable children away from Catholics, and vice versa.

In Lost and Found Lady, Catalina, born and bred in Spain, is a devout Catholic. Rupert has promised his father he will choose a “suitable wife,” so when sparks begin to fly between him and the lovely girl who saved his life, he has to keep his emotions in check because Catalina is in no way the sort of wife his father would accept. But as their relationship grows, Rupert finally realizes that his heart has already made the choice for him.

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About Lost and Found Lady

On April 24, 1794, a girl child was born to an unknown Frenchwoman in a convent in Salamanca, Spain. Alas, her mother died in childbirth, and the little girl—Catalina—was given to a childless couple to raise.

Eighteen years later…the Peninsular War between the British and the French wages on, now perilously near Catalina’s home. After an afternoon yearning for adventure in her life, Catalina comes across a wounded British soldier in need of rescue. Voilà! An adventure! The sparks between them ignite, and before he returns to his post, Rupert promises to return for her.

But will he? Catalina’s grandmother warns her that some men make promises easily, but fail to carry them out. Catalina doesn’t believe Rupert is that sort, but what does she know? All she can do is wait…and pray.

But Fate has a few surprises in store for both Catalina and Rupert. When they meet again, it will be in another place where another battle is brewing, and their circumstances have been considerably altered. Will their love stand the test of time? And how will their lives be affected by the outcome of the conflict between the Iron Duke and the Emperor of the French?

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4 thoughts on “A Word About the Status of Catholics in Regency England

  1. It was really James II who put the kybosh on rights for Catholics, and an Act of Parliament banned a Catholic from the throne in perpetuity. This was the Act of Settlement introduced when Mary II and her Orange failed to produce offspring and there were Stuarts in the offing. Earlier, Catholic Lords had weakened the 1678 ammendment to the Test Acts before their expulsion from the House of Lords.to permit James II to rule, and consider what an unmitigated disaster he was [which was more to do with being a Stuart than being a Catholic as they all seem to have been barmy.] William of Orange did his bit of persecution but as he did his in Ireland, nobody in England minded as much, but the Irish Question is a whole new can of worms and way complex with a long and tangled history.
    In theory, Catholics were banned from the military entirely, in case they used their training in revolution, but in practice this was utterly ignored. There were similar restrictios regarding Jews, and for part of the Georgian era too, for some non-conformists. They, too, had to have a conventional wedding first. It was illegal until 1813 to deny the trinity, impacting on Presbyterians and Unitarians. The Test Acts banned the non-conformists from public office as thoroughly as the Catholics, which is why the abolitionists, largely Quakers, had to work through intermediaries as they could not, themselves, stand for office. Catholics, Jews and non-conformists were also banned from matriculation and could not therefore hold university degrees.
    You did miss out Edward VI whose brief and intolerant reign came between Henry VIII and Mary I; his intolerance was such that Mary had a lot of initial popular support until her desire to please her Spanish husband and her over-zealous piety led to intolerance in the other direction. Elizabeth managed to breeze from persecution to relative tolerance without a qualm of conscience since I doubt she believed in anything much outside of staying alive and on the throne.

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  2. Religion is inherently a personal relationship between a person and their deity; when combined with the state, here there be trouble. Of all people, Napoleon I had a pretty good quote about religion: “Conscience is the most sacred thing among men. Every man has within him a still small voice, which tells him that nothing on earth can oblige him to believe that which he does not believe. The worst of all tyrannies is that which obliges eighteen-twentieths of a nation to embrace a religion contrary to their beliefs, under penalty of being denied their rights as citizens and of owning property, which, in effect, is the same thing as being without a country.”

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  3. My understanding was that, while Catholics could join the military, and even be non-coms or warrant officers, they could not serve as commissioned officers.

    Stephen Maturin, for example, as a ship’s surgeon, was a warrant officer rather than a commissioned officer, in Patrick O’Brian’s Regency Era military novels featuring Captain jack Aubrey.

    Is this notion mistaken?

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