By Rev. James A. MacCaffrey.
With the accession of James I. (1603-25) Catholics expected if not a repeal at least a suspension of the penal laws. As a son of Mary Queen of Scots for whose rescue Catholics in England and on the Continent had risked so much, and as one whose religious views were thought to approximate more closely to Catholicism than to Nonconformity, it was hoped that he would put an end to the persecution that had been carried on so bitterly during the reign of his predecessor. But whatever might be the sentiments he entertained secretly or gave expression to while he was yet only King of Scotland, his opinions underwent a sudden change when he saw an opportunity of strengthening his hold upon the English people, and of providing for the penniless followers who accompanied him to his new kingdom. Unfortunately a brainless plot, the “Bye Plot,” as it is called, organized to capture the king and to force him to yield to the demands of the conspirators, afforded the more bigoted officials a splendid chance of inducing James to continue the former policy of repression. Two priests named Watson and Clarke joined hands with a number of malcontents, some of whom were Protestants, others Puritans anxious to secure more liberty for their co-religionists; but news of the plot having come to the ears of the archpriest and of Garnet the provincial of the Jesuits, information was conveyed to the council, and measures were taken for the safety of the king, and for the arrest of the conspirators. James recognized fully that the Catholic body was not to blame for the violent undertakings of individuals, especially as he knew or was soon to know that the Pope had warned the archpriest and the Jesuits to discourage attempts against the government, and had offered to withdraw any clergyman from England who might be regarded as disloyal. James admitted frankly his indebtedness to the Catholics for the discovery of the plot, and promised a deputation of laymen who waited on him that the fines imposed on those who refused to attend the Protestant service should not be exacted. For a time it was expected that the policy of toleration was about to win the day, and the hopes of Catholics rose high; but in autumn (1603) when the episcopal returns came in showing that Catholics were still strong, and when alarming reports began to spread about the arrival of additional priests, the wonderful success of their efforts, and the increasing boldness of the recusants, an outcry was raised by the Protestant party, and a demand was made that the government should enforce the law with firmness.
Shortly before the meeting of Parliament in March (1604) James determined to show the country that his attitude towards Catholicism was in no wise different from that of his predecessor. In a proclamation (Feb. 1604) he deplored the increasing number and activity of priests and Jesuits, denounced their efforts to win recruits for Rome, declared that he had never intended to grant toleration, and ended up by commanding all Jesuits and seminary priests to depart from the kingdom before the 19th March, unless they wished to incur the penalties that had been leveled against them in the previous reign. In his speech at the opening of Parliament (March 1604) after announcing his adhesion to the religion “by law established” he outlined at length his attitude towards Rome. “I acknowledge” he said “the Roman Church to be our mother church although defiled with some infirmities and corruptions as the Jews were when they crucified Christ;” for the “quiet and well-minded” laymen who had been brought up in the Catholic faith he entertained feelings of pity rather than of anger, but in case of those who had “changed their coats” or were “factious stirrers of sedition” he was determined if necessary to take measures whereby their obstinacy might be corrected. The clergy, however, stood on a different footing. So long as they maintained “that arrogant and impossible supremacy of their head the Pope, whereby he not only claims to be the spiritual head of all Christians, but also to have an imperial civil power over all kings and emperors, dethroning and decrowning princes with his foot as pleaseth him, and dispensing and disposing of all kingdoms and empires at his appetite,” and so long as the clergy showed by their practices that they considered it meritorious rather than sinful to rebel against or to assassinate their lawful sovereign if he be excommunicated by the Pope, they need expect no toleration. Parliament soon showed that it was guided by the old Elizabethan spirit. An Act was passed ordering that the laws framed during the late reign against Jesuits, seminary priests, and recusants should be rigidly enforced; all persons studying in foreign colleges who did not return and conform within one year, as well as all students who should go abroad for instruction in future should be declared incapable of inheriting, purchasing, or enjoying any lands, chattels, or annuities in England; all owners or masters of vessels who should convey such passengers from the country were to be punished by confiscation of their vessel and imprisonment, and if any person should dare to act as tutor in a Catholic family without having got a license from the bishop of the diocese, both the teacher and his employer should be fined £2 for every day he violated the law. Lord Montague, having ventured to speak his mind openly in the House of Lords against such a measure, was arrested for his “scandalous and offensive speech,” and was committed to the Fleet. The old penal laws and the new ones were enforced with unusual severity. Courts were everywhere at work drawing up lists of recusants and assessing fines. Never before, even in the worst days of Elizabeth, were the wealthy Catholics called upon to pay so much. Numbers of priests were seized and conveyed to the coasts for banishment abroad; one priest was put to death simply because he was a priest, and two laymen underwent a like punishment because they had harbored or assisted priests.
English Catholics were incensed at such pitiless persecution. Had it been inflicted by Elizabeth from whom they expected no mercy, it would have been cruel enough; but coming from a king, to whom they had good reason to look for toleration, and who before he left Scotland and after his arrival in London had promised an improvement of their condition, it was calculated to stir up very bitter feeling. Forgetful of the warnings of the Pope conveyed to the archpriest and the superior of the Jesuits, some of the more extreme men undertook a new plot against the king. The leading spirit in the enterprise was Robert Catesby, a gentleman of Warwickshire, whose father had suffered for his adhesion to the old faith. He planned to blow up the Parliament House at the opening of the session of Parliament when king, lords, and commons would be assembled. Hence his plot is known as the Gunpowder Plot. His followers had to be ready to rise when the results of this awful crime would have thrown the government into confusion. They were to seize the children of the king and to assume control of the kingdom. The scheme was so utterly wicked and impracticable, that it is difficult to understand how any man could have conceived it or induced others to join in its execution. Unfortunately, however, Catesby secured the assistance of Thomas Winter, Guy Fawkes, an Englishman who had served in the Spanish army, John Wright, Thomas Percy, cousin of the Earl of Northumberland, Sir Everard Digby, and Francis Tresham. A mine was to be run under the House of Commons charged with gunpowder, which Fawkes undertook to explode. An adjoining house was secured, and the cellar stretching under the Parliament buildings was leased. Everything was arranged for the destruction of the king, lords and commons at the opening of Parliament fixed finally for the 5th November 1605, but Tresham, anxious to save his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, sent him a letter warning him to absent himself on the occasion. By means of this letter the plot was discovered, and Guy Fawkes was arrested. The other conspirators fled to Wales, where they hoped to stir up an insurrection, but at Holbeche where they halted they were surrounded by the forces of the sheriff of Worcester. In the struggle that ensued Catesby and several of his followers, who defended themselves with desperate courage, were killed, and the remainder were put to death before the end of the month (Nov. 1605).
Whether the plot had not its origin in the minds of some of the ministers, who in their desire for the wholesale destruction of Catholics had employed agents to spur on Catesby and his companions, or, at least had allowed them to continue their operations long after the designs had been reported it is difficult to determine; but immediately an outcry was raised that the plot had been organized by the Jesuits Garnet, Gerard, and Greenway, for whose arrest a proclamation was issued. Garnet had undoubtedly done much to persuade Catesby from having recourse to outrage or violence, and had never been consulted except in such a vague way that he could not possibly have suspected what was in contemplation. He had even secured from Rome a condemnation of violent measures, and had communicated this to Catesby. Greenway was consulted after the plot had been arranged, but apparently under the seal of confession with permission, however, to reveal it to none but Garnet, and according to Greenway’s own statement he had done his best to persuade Catesby to abandon his design. Garnet was then consulted by his Jesuit companion, from whom he obtained permission to speak about the secret in case of grave necessity and after it had become public. When Garnet and Oldcorn had been arrested they were permitted to hold a conversation with spies placed in such a position that all they said could be overheard. Garnet, when informed of this, told his story plainly and frankly. He was condemned and put to death, as was also Father Oldcorn. There is no evidence to show that the Jesuits urged on the conspirators to commit such a crime. On the contrary, both from the statements of the conspirators and of the Jesuits, it is perfectly clear that the Jesuits had used every effort to persuade the plotters to abandon their design, and the worst that could be said of Garnet is that he failed to take the steps he should have taken when he found that his advice had fallen on deaf ears.
Though Blackwell, the official head of the Catholic body in England, hastened to issue a letter urging his co-religionists to abstain from all attempts against the government (7th Nov. 1605), Parliament, without attempting to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, determined to punish Catholics generally. Recusants who had conformed were commanded to receive the Sacrament at least once a year under penalty of a heavy fine. In place of the £20 per month levied off those Catholics who refused to attend Protestant service, the king was empowered to seize two-thirds of their estates. Catholics were forbidden to attend at court, to remain in London or within ten miles of London unless they practiced some trade and had no residence elsewhere, or to move more than five miles from their homes unless they got the permission of two magistrates, confirmed by the bishop or deputy-lieutenant of the county. They could not practice as lawyers or doctors, hold any commissions in the army or navy, act as executors, guardians, or administrators, appoint to benefices or schools, or appear as suitors before the courts. Fines of £10 per month were to be paid by anyone who harbored a servant or visitor who did not attend the English service. In order to test the loyalty of his Majesty’s subjects it was enacted that a bishop or two justices of the peace might summon any person who was suspected of recusancy, and require him to take a special oath of loyalty embodied in the Act. If any persons not of noble birth refused to take the oath they should be committed to prison till the next quarter sessions or assizes, and if in these assemblies they persisted in their refusal they incurred thereby the penalty of Praemunire.
Both in its substance and particularly in its form the oath of allegiance was objectionable, and whether or not it was designed with the intention of dividing the Catholic body, it succeeded in producing that effect. Many Catholics thought that, as they were called upon to renounce merely the authority of the Pope to depose princes or to make war on them, they could take it as a sign of civil allegiance without abandoning their obedience to the Pope as their spiritual superior. Others thought differently, however, and as a consequence a violent controversy broke out which disturbed the England Catholics for close on a century. The archpriest Blackwell condemned the oath at first, but in a conference with the clergy held in July 1606 he declared in its favor. Acting on this opinion the lay peers and many of the clergy consented to take the oath. The other side appealed to Rome for a decision, and a brief was issued on the 22nd September 1606, by which the oath was condemned as unlawful. Blackwell neglected to publish the brief probably from motives of prudence, though other grounds were alleged, and in the following year a new condemnation was forwarded from Rome (Aug. 1607). Meanwhile Blackwell had taken the oath himself, and had published letters permitting Catholics to act similarly. As he was unwilling to recede from his position notwithstanding the appeals of Father Persons and Cardinal Bellarmine, he was deposed from his office and George Birkhead or Birket was appointed archpriest (1608). The controversy now became general. James I. entered the lists with a book entitled Apologie for the Oath of Allegiance, in which he sought to meet the reasons contained in the papal documents and in the letters of Father Persons and Cardinal Bellarmine. Both writers replied to the royal challenge, and soon hosts of others, both Catholic and Protestant hastened to take part in a wordy war, the only result of which was to disedify the faithful, to turn away waverers from the Church, and to cause rejoicings to the enemies of the Catholic cause. Birkhead, who had been empowered to suspend all priests who did not show some signs of repentance for having taken the oath, acted with great moderation in the hope of avoiding a schism, but at last he was obliged to make use of the powers with which he was entrusted (1611).
The old controversies between the Jesuits and a large section of the seminary priests were renewed both at home and on the Continent. The seculars objecting to the control exercised by the Jesuits in England, in regard to English affairs at Rome, and in the foreign colleges, continued to petition for the appointment of a bishop. Ugly disputes ensued and many things were done by both sides during the heat of the strife that could not be defended. The Holy See found it difficult to decide between the various plans put forward, but at last in 1623 Dr. Bishop was appointed Bishop of Calcedon in partibus infidelium, and entrusted with the government of the English mission. During these years of strife one important work, destined to have a great effect on the future of Catholicism in England, was accomplished, namely the re-establishment of the English congregation of the Benedictines. The Benedictine community had been re-established at Westminster in 1556 with the Abbot Feckenham as superior, but they were expelled three years later. Of the monks who had belonged to this community only one, Dom Buckley, was alive in 1607. Before his death he affiliated two English Benedictines belonging to an Italian house to the English congregation, and in 1619 the English Benedictines on the Continent were united with the English congregation by papal authority. The houses of the English Benedictines on the Continent were situated at Douay (1605), at Dieulouard (1606), at Paris (1611), Saint-Malo (1611) and Lambspring in Germany (1643). The members bound themselves by oath to labor for the re-conversion of their country, and the list of Benedictine martyrs who died for the faith in England bears testimony to the fact that their oath was faithfully observed.
While these unfortunate controversies were weakening and disheartening the Catholics the penal laws were enforced with great severity. One martyr suffered in 1607, three in 1608, five in 1610, two in 1616, and five in 1618. Great numbers of priests were confined in prison or transported abroad. Laymen were ruined by imprisonment, and especially by the high fines required by the king to meet his own expenses. According to his own statement he received from the fines of Popish recusants a net income of £36,000 a year. Parliament and the Protestant party generally were anxious about the marriage of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and of the princess Elizabeth his sister. If they were married into Protestant families the religious difficulty, it was thought, might disappear; but, if, on the contrary, they were united to the royal houses of France or Spain the old battle might be renewed. Hence the marriage of Elizabeth to the Elector Frederick of the Palatinate, one of the foremost champions of Protestantism in Germany, gave great satisfaction at the time, though later on it led to serious trouble between the king and Parliament, when Elizabeth’s husband was driven from his kingdom during the Thirty Years’ War.
Regardless of the wishes of his Parliament the king was anxious to procure for Prince Charles the hand of the Infanta Maria, second daughter of Philip III. of Spain. To prepare the way for such a step both in Spain and at Rome, where it might be necessary to sue for a dispensation, something must be done to render less odious the working of the penal laws. Once news began to leak out of the intended marriage with Spain and of the possibility of toleration for Catholics Parliament petitioned (1620) the king to break off friendly relations with Spain, to throw himself into the war in Germany on the side of his son-in-law, and to enforce strictly all the laws against recusants. But the king refused to accept the advice of his Parliament or to allow it to interfere in what, he considered, were his own private affairs. The marriage arrangements were pushed forward, and at the same time care was taken to inform the magistrates and judges that the laws against Catholics should be interpreted leniently. In a few weeks, it is said that about four thousand prisoners were set at liberty. The articles of marriage were arranged satisfactorily (1623), due provision being made for the religious freedom of the Infanta, and a guarantee being given that the religious persecution should cease, but for various reasons the marriage never took place. Parliament promised the king to provide the funds necessary for war if only he would end the negotiations for a Spanish alliance, and this time James much against his will followed the advice of his Parliament (1624). A new petition was presented for the strict enforcement of the penal laws against priests and recusants, to which petition the king was obliged to yield. But hardly had the negotiations with Spain ended than proposals were made to France for a marriage between the prince and Henrietta Maria, sister of Louis XIII., and once more it was necessary to be careful about offending Catholic feeling. By a secret article of the agreement with France James promised to grant even greater freedom to Catholics than had been promised them in his dealings with the Spanish court, and as a pledge of his good faith he released many prisoners who had been convicted on account of their religion, returned some of the fines that had been levied, and gave a hint to those charged with the administration of the law that the penal enactments should not be enforced. Application was made to Rome for a dispensation, which though granted, was to be delivered by the papal nuncio at Paris only on condition that James signed a more explicit statement of his future policy towards his Catholic subjects. Louis XIII., annoyed by the delays interposed by the Roman court, was not unwilling to proceed with the marriage without the dispensation, but for obvious reasons James refused to agree to such a course. Finally all difficulties were surmounted, though not before James had passed away leaving it to his son and successor to ratify the agreement. In May 1625, Charles was married by proxy to Henrietta Maria, and in the following month the new queen arrived in London.
During the later years of the reign of James I. the foreign policy of the king rendered a relaxation of the penal code absolutely necessary. In the course of the marriage negotiations with France James I. had pledged himself by a secret agreement to adopt a policy of toleration, and on his death the agreement was ratified more than once by his son and successor Charles I. (1625-1649). But Charles, though personally well disposed towards the Catholics, was not a man to consider himself bound by any obligations if the fulfillment of them should involve him in serious difficulties. At the time of his accession public opinion in England as reflected by Parliament was intensely hostile to toleration. On the one hand the Puritan party, who had grown considerably despite the repressive measures of Elizabeth and James I., was determined to bring the Church into line with Calvinism, while on the other hand a body of able and learned men within the Anglican Church itself longed for a closer approximation towards Catholic beliefs and practices. With both the Bible was still in a sense the sole rule of faith, but the Puritan party would have the Bible and nothing but the Bible, while the High Church men insisted that the Scriptures must be interpreted in the light of the traditional usages of the Christian world, and that in matters of doctrine and practices some jurisdiction must be conceded to the teaching authorities of the Church. The opponents of the latter stirred the people against them by raising the cry of Arminianism and Papistry, and by representing them as abettors of Rome and as hostile to the religious settlement that had been accomplished. As a result of this controversy, in which the king sided with Laud and the High Church party against the Presbyterians and Calvinists, Parliament, which supported the Puritans, clamored incessantly for the execution of the penal laws.
In the first Parliament, opened the day after Queen Henrietta’s arrival in England (1625) a petition was presented to the king praying for the strict enforcement of the penal laws. Yielding to this petition Charles issued a proclamation ordering the bishops and officials to see that the laws were put into execution, but at the same time he took care to let it be known that the extraction of fines from the wealthy laymen and the imprisonment or transportation of priests would be more agreeable to him than the infliction of the death penalty. Louis XIII. and the Pope protested warmly against this breach of a solemn agreement. Charles replied that he had bound himself not to enforce the penal laws merely as a means of lulling the suspicions of Rome and of securing a dispensation for his marriage. Still, though the queen’s French household was dismissed, the king did everything he could to prevent the shedding of blood. The Parliamentarians, who were fighting for civil liberty for themselves, were annoyed that any measure of liberty should be conceded to their Catholic fellow-countrymen. They presented a petition to Charles at the very time they were safeguarding their own position by the Petition of Rights (1628) demanding that priests who returned to England should be put to death, and that the children of Catholic parents should be taken from their natural guardians and reared in the Protestant religion. Charles defended his own policy of toleration on the ground that it was calculated to secure better treatment for Protestant minorities in other countries, yet at the same time he so far abandoned his policy of not shedding blood as to allow the death penalty to be inflicted on a Jesuit and a layman (1628). So long however as he could secure money from the Catholics he was not particularly anxious about their religious opinions. Instead of the fines to which they had been accustomed, he compounded with them by agreeing not to enforce their presence at the Protestant service on condition that they paid an annual sum to be fixed by his commissioners according to the means of the individual recusants.
The appointment of a bishop to take charge of the English Mission (1623) did not unfortunately put an end to the regrettable controversies that divided the Catholic party. On the death of Dr. Bishop, Dr. Richard Smith was appointed to succeed him (1625), and was consecrated in France. For a time after his arrival affairs moved smoothly enough, but soon a more violent controversy broke out regarding the respective rights and privileges of seculars and regulars, and the obligation on confessors of obtaining episcopal approbation. The dispute became public, and in a short time numerous pamphlets were published in England and in France by the literary champions of both parties. As the Puritans resented strongly the presence of a bishop in England, Dr. Smith was obliged to go into hiding, and ultimately made his escape to France, where he died in 1665. The Pope found it difficult to apportion the blame or to put an end to the strife, but an opportunity was afforded him of learning the facts of the case when an English agent deputed by the queen arrived in Rome (1633). In return Urban VIII. determined to send an envoy into England mainly to settle the controversy between the regulars and the seculars, but also to discover the real sentiments of the court and the country towards Rome. The person selected for this difficult work was Gregory Panzani, an Oratorian, who arrived in England in 1634 and had several interviews with the king and queen. Whatever might have been the hopes of inducing Laud and some of the leading bishops to consider the question of returning to the Roman allegiance, the main object the king had in view in permitting the residence of a papal envoy in London and in sending English agents to Rome was to secure the help of Urban VIII. for his nephew of the Palatinate, and especially to induce the Pope to favor a marriage between this nephew and the daughter of the King of Poland. Very little was obtained on either side by these negotiations, nor did the papal agents in England succeed in composing the differences between the clergy.
In 1640 Laud published the canons framed by Convocation for the government of the English Church. With the object of clearing himself of the charge of Papistry he ordered a new persecution to be begun, but the king intervened to prevent the execution of this measure. At a time when Charles was receiving large sums of money by way of compensation for non-attendance at the Protestant services, and when he foresaw that in the conflict that was to come he could rely on the Catholic noblemen to stand loyally by him, he had no wish to exasperate the Catholics in England, or to outrage Catholic feeling in France and at Rome. In 1640, however, Parliament returned to the charge. The presence of papal agents in England, the payment of £10,000 by the Catholic noblemen to help the king in his expedition against the Scots, and the enrolment of a Catholic army in Ireland by Strafford, were urged as arguments to prove that the king’s failure to carry out the laws against Catholics was due to causes other than had been alleged. Indeed both before and after the outbreak of the Civil War (1642) the king’s cause was damaged badly by his secret alliance with Rome. As a matter of fact the Catholics did rally to the standard of the king, but the persecution to which they had been subjected wherever the Parliament had control made it impossible for them to act differently. During the years that elapsed between 1642 and 1651, twenty-one victims, including priests, both secular and regular, and laymen, were put to death for their religion. When at last Parliament had triumphed a new persecution was begun. An Act was passed in 1650 offering for the apprehension of priests rewards similar to those paid for securing the arrest of highway robbers. Informers and spies were set at work, and as a result of their labors many priests were captured and confined in prison or transported. Yet, though the opponents of the king made it one of their main charges against him that he refused to shed the blood of the clergy, they adopted a similar policy when they themselves were in power. During the whole Protectorate of Cromwell only one priest was put to death in England. But recourse was had to other methods for the extirpation of the Catholic religion, imprisonment, transportation, and above all heavy fines exacted off those Catholics who held property in the country.
From Charles II. (1660-1685) Catholics had some reason to expect an amelioration of their sad condition. They had fought loyally for his father and had suffered for their loyalty even more than the Protestant loyalists. In the hour of defeat they had shielded the life of the young prince, and had aided him in escaping from enemies who would have dealt with him as they had dealt with the king. Mindful of their services and of promises Charles had made in exile, and well aware that he had inherited from his mother, Queen Henrietta, a strong leaning towards the Catholic Church, they hoped to profit by the Declaration of Breda, which promised liberty of conscience to all his subjects. But Charles, though secretly in favor of the Catholics on account of their loyalty to his father and to himself, was not a man to endanger his throne for the sake of past services, more especially as his trusted minister, the Earl of Clarendon, was determined to suppress Dissenters no matter what creed they might profess. A number of Catholics, lay and cleric, met at Arundel House to prepare a petition to the House of Lords (1661) for the relaxation of the Penal Laws. The petition was received favorably, and as there was nobody in the House of Lords willing to defend the infliction of the death penalty on account of religion, it was thought that the laws whereby it was considered treason to be a priest or to shelter a priest might be abolished. But dissensions soon arose, even in the Catholic committee itself. The kind of oath of allegiance that might be taken, the extension of the proposed relaxations so as to include the Jesuits, and the anxiety of the laymen to get rid of the fines levied on rich recusants rather than of the penalties meted out to the clergy, led to the dissolution of the committee, and to the abandonment of their suggested measures of redress.
Clarendon was determined to crush the Nonconformist party notwithstanding the promises that had been held out to them in the Declaration of Breda. He secured the enactment of a number of laws, the Act of Uniformity (1662), the Conventicle Act (1664) and the Five Mile Act (1665) known as the Clarendon Code, which, though directed principally against the Dissenters, helped to increase the hardships of the Catholic body. Once, indeed, in 1662-63, Charles made a feeble attempt to redeem his promise to both Catholics and Nonconformists by announcing his intention of applying to Parliament to allow him to exercise the dispensing power in regard to the Act of Uniformity and other such laws, but the opposition was so strong that the proposed declaration of indulgence was abandoned. The terrible fire that broke out in London (September 1666) and which raged for five days, destroying during that time a great part of the city, led to a new outburst of anti-Catholic feeling. Without the slightest evidence the fire was attributed to the Papists, and an inscription to this effect placed upon the monument erected to commemorate the conflagration remained unchanged until 1830. When Parliament met a committee was appointed to inquire into the increase of popery, and a demand was made that proclamations should be issued for the banishment of all priests and Jesuits.
On the fall of Clarendon (1667) the Cabal ministers succeeded to power. These were Clifford, who was a convinced Catholic, Arlington who if not a Catholic at this time had at least Catholic tendencies, Buckingham, Ashley, a man of no fixed religious opinions, and Lauderdale, a Scotch Presbyterian (1670). The contest for the succession to the Spanish throne was at hand, and Louis XIV. was as anxious to secure the support of England as was Charles to escape from the Triple Alliance and the domination of Parliament. Besides, his brother James, Duke of York, and heir-presumptive to the English throne, had announced his adhesion to the Catholic Church, and his example produced such an effect upon the king’s mind that he determined to imitate it if only France would promise support. It was resolved to conclude a secret treaty with France by which Charles should pledge himself to profess openly the Catholic religion and to assist Louis in his schemes against Holland and Belgium, provided that Louis would supply both money and men to suppress the disturbance to which the king’s change of religion might give rise in England. The treaty was signed in May 1670, but as Charles was more anxious about the subsidies than about the change of religion, and as Louis XIV. preferred that the religious question should not be raised till the war against Holland had been completed, very little, if anything, was done, except to publish a Declaration of Indulgence (1672) in which Charles by virtue of his “supreme power in ecclesiastical matters” suspended “all manner of penal laws against whatsoever sort of Nonconformists and Recusants.” By this document liberty of public worship was granted to Dissenters, while Catholics were allowed to meet for religious service only in private houses.
A strong Protestant feeling had been aroused in the country by the rumor of the conversion of the Duke of York, by the certainty that his first wife, the daughter of the Earl of Clarendon, had become a Catholic on her death-bed, and by the suspicion of some secret negotiations with France. When Parliament met (1673) a demand was made that the Declaration of Indulgence should be withdrawn. The Duke of York urged the king to stand firm in the defense of his prerogatives, but as neither Charles nor his ally Louis XIV. wished to precipitate a conflict with the Parliament at that particular period, the king yielded to the storm by revoking his original declaration. Immediately the Test Act was introduced and passed through both houses despite the warm opposition of the Duke of York and of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. According to the terms of this measure it was enacted that all civil or military officials should be obliged to take the oath of supremacy and allegiance, to receive Communion according to the English service, and to make a declaration “that there is not any Transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of bread and wine at or after the consecration thereof by any persons whatsoever.” James, Duke of York, resigned his office of Lord High-Admiral and his example was followed by Clifford and most of the Catholic noblemen (1673).
From this time forward the Protestant party concentrated their efforts on securing the exclusion of the Duke of York from the English throne. Charles II. had married Catharine of Braganza, by whom there was no issue, and consequently his brother was the lawful heir. At the same time it was clear to everybody, that James was so firmly attached to the Catholic Church that neither the fear of losing the crown nor the zealous efforts of Stillingfleet and other distinguished ecclesiastics were likely to bring about his re-conversion to Protestantism. The news, too, of his projected marriage with Mary the daughter of the Duke of Modena, opening as it did the prospect of a long line of Catholic rulers in England, was not calculated to allay the fears of the Protestants. After he had been dismissed from office the Earl of Shaftesbury set himself deliberately to fan the flames of religious bigotry, in the hope of securing the exclusion of the Duke of York from the throne. With this object in view it was proposed either that Charles should procure a divorce from Catharine of Braganza, so as to be free to marry some younger lady by whom an heir might be born, or else that with the consent of Parliament he should vest the succession in his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. Just then, when feeling was running high in England, a wretch named Titus Oates came forward with a story of a Popish Plot. Oates, formerly a preacher and minister of the Established Church, had feigned conversion to Catholicism, and had gained admission to the English colleges at Valladolid and St. Omer from which he was dismissed. Acting in conjunction with Israel Tonge he concocted the details of a plot, according to which the Pope and the Jesuits were to bring about the murder of the king and the overthrow of the Protestant religion. His story was so full of contradictions and absurdities that it is difficult to understand how it could have obtained credence among sane men, but in the state of opinion at the time, it was seized upon by Shaftesbury and others as the best means of stirring up a great anti-Catholic agitation that would bar the way to the accession of the Duke of York. The mysterious death of Sir Edmund Godfrey, a London magistrate to whom Oates had entrusted a copy of his depositions, and the discovery of some French correspondence amongst the documents of Father Coleman, the private secretary of the Duchess of York, helped to strengthen public belief in the existence of the plot. When Parliament met in 1678 both houses professed their belief in the existence of a “damnable and hellish plot,” voted a salary to Oates, ordered all Catholics to leave London and Westminster, procured the arrest of a number of Catholic peers, and decreed the exclusion of Catholics from the House of Commons and the House of Lords by exacting a declaration against the Mass, Transubstantiation and the invocation of the Blessed Virgin (1678). It was only with the greatest difficulty that the king succeeded in securing an exemption in favor of the Duke of York. A number of priests and laymen were arrested, one of whom was put to death in 1678, eleven in 1679, two in 1680 and one, the Venerable Oliver Plunket, Archbishop of Armagh, the last victim put to death for religion upon English soil, in 1681. In addition to this eight priests were put to death during the agitation merely because they were priests.
Three times the Exclusion Bill was introduced, but it failed to become law owing to the determination of Charles II. to uphold the rights of his brother. At last the storm of passion began to die away, and the absurd statements of Oates, even though supported by the testimonies of infamous hirelings like Bedloe and Dangerfield, were no longer accepted as trustworthy. Shaftsebury was obliged to make his escape from England; the Duke of York returned from exile to take up his residence at court, and for the remainder of the reign of Charles II. Catholics enjoyed a comparative calm. In February 1685 Charles II. became seriously ill, and died in a short time, after having been reconciled to the Catholic Church by the ministrations of Father Hudleston, who had helped to save his life years before, and who had enjoyed the special protection of the king.
The accession of James II. (1685-88) was welcomed by the vast majority of the English people, who had come to admire his honesty and courage, as well as to sympathize with him on account of the violent persecution to which he had been subjected by his unscrupulous adversaries. He had made no secret of his religion and of his desire to abolish the penal laws from which his co-religionists suffered, but at the same time he declared his intention of maintaining the Church of England as by law established. The Tory landowners and the cities were equally loyal to him, and the first Parliament he called was not unwilling to do everything to gratify his wishes, provided, however, he left religion untouched. When the Duke of Monmouth arrived in England to stir up a rebellion (1685) the country in the main rallied to the king, although the cry of “Protestantism in danger” had been utilized to stir up discontent.
The violent persecution that followed the rebellion, and above all the “bloody circuit” of Judge Jeffreys, whose conduct was unworthy of his judicial position, helped to dull the edge of the king’s popularity. The selection of advisers like the unprincipled Earl of Sutherland, the position occupied at Court by Father Edmund Petre, the public celebration of Mass at which the king assisted in state, and the opening of direct negotiations with Rome, were calculated to stir up strong Protestant opposition. During the rebellion the king had found it necessary to dispense with the Test Act in the appointment of officers, and to raise a well equipped standing army, and people began to be alarmed lest he should ally himself with Louis XIV., and by means of French subsidies attempt to make himself absolute ruler of England. Parliament met once more in November 1685. The king had set his heart on securing a modification of the Test Act, so as to be free to appoint Catholics to positions of trust, and had dismissed the Earl of Halifax from the council because he refused to agree to the proposal. But on the two questions, the maintenance of the Test Act and of a standing army, Parliament was unbending in its refusal to meet the wishes of James II., and was on this account prorogued (Nov. 1685).
Most of the prominent opponents were dismissed immediately from their offices. The fact that the late king had embraced the Catholic religion before his death was made known officially, and two papers, in which Charles II. explained the motives which induced him to take this step, were given to the public. The papal nuncio at London was received at court, and Lord Castlemaine was dispatched to Rome to act as the agent of James II. Dr. Leyburn arrived in England as vicar apostolic, to be followed by another in the person of Dr. Giffard, and a little later England was divided into four vicarates, over which were placed four vicars with full episcopal orders and jurisdiction. Several of the Protestant ministers, alarmed by these measures, opened a violent campaign against Popery, particularly in London where anti-Catholic feeling was easily aroused. The king appealed to the Bishop of London to moderate the fanaticism of his clergy, and as the bishop was unable or unwilling to comply with this request, the king established once more a king of High Commission Court, to be presided over by a number of bishops and laymen, with the avowed object of keeping the clergy in subjection.
As Parliament had refused to abolish the Test Act James II. determined to make use of the dispensing powers which he claimed to have as king. To compensate for the absence of parliamentary confirmation, it was decided to secure the approval of the judges. For this purpose Sir Edward Hales, a recent convert to Catholicism, was brought into court for having accepted and retained a commission in the army without having made the necessary declarations. Hales pleaded as his excuse that he had received a dispensation from the king, and that consequently he was not obliged to comply with the terms of the Test Act. The plea was accepted by the judges and the case against the defendant was dismissed. As a result of this decision James II. felt free to confer civil and military offices on Catholics. Four Catholic peers, Lord Bellasis, Powys, Arundell of Wardour and Lord Dover, were sworn in members of the privy council (1687), and later on Father Petre, a Jesuit, took a seat at the council board. For the latter the king sought to obtain a bishopric and a cardinal’s hat, but Innocent XI., who was not an admirer of the imprudent haste shown by James II. for the conversion of the English nation, nor of his alliance with Louis XIV., refused to grant either request. By virtue of royal dispensations a Catholic master and three fellows were appointed to some of the Oxford colleges.
The Tory party that had been so loyal to the king hitherto, took offence at the favor shown to the Catholic body, and as there could be no hope of winning their approval for the measures he had in contemplation, James II. determined to appeal to the Dissenters. The Earl of Rochester was dismissed from his office, and the Earl of Clarendon was recalled from Ireland. In April 1687 a Declaration of Indulgence was published, granting freedom of worship to Dissenters and Catholics, and abolishing all religious tests as necessary qualifications for office. For a time it seemed as if the king were likely to secure the support of the Nonconformists, particularly as measures were taken through the lords-lieutenant of the various counties to influence public opinion in their districts. But the hatred entertained by the Dissenters for Rome overcame their gratitude to the king for the liberty he had granted them, and they preferred to live in bondage rather than allow the Catholics to share with them the advantages of religious toleration. The appointment of several Catholic lords to the very highest offices of state, the public welcome given to the papal nuncio, and the attempt to force a Catholic president on the fellows of Magdalen College helped to increase the feeling of dissatisfaction. Dangerous riots broke out in London, and to prevent still more dangerous manifestations a force of 16,000 was concentrated on Hounslow Heath. In April 1688 a second Declaration of Indulgence was published. By a order in council, published some days later, the clergy were commanded to read this declaration on two consecutive Sundays in all their churches.
A petition was presented to the king by Archbishop Sancroft of Canterbury and six of his episcopal colleagues requesting him to withdraw this command to the clergy (18 May 1688). To make matters worse thousands of copies of the petition were printed immediately and circulated throughout the country. Annoyed by such opposition the king summoned the bishops before the council, and as they refused to give securities for their attendance at the trial, they were committed to prison. The trial opened on the 29th June 1688, and ended with a verdict of acquittal to the great delight of the vast body of the English people.
So long as James II. had no heir many Protestants were inclined to keep silent on the ground that at his death the succession of a Protestant ruler was assured. But during the popular excitement following upon the arrest of the bishops the news spread rapidly that the queen had given birth to a son. Already negotiations had been opened up with William of Orange to induce him to take up the cause of Protestantism in England, but the fact that an heir was born to the throne gave a new impetus to the insurrectionary movement. The state of affairs on the Continent favored the designs of William of Orange. Louis XIV. was at war with the Emperor and with the Pope, and as James II. was regarded as an ally of France no opposition might be expected from the imperial forces in case William determined to make a descent upon England. Had James II. taken the bold course of inviting Louis XIV. to assist him, the invasion of England from Holland would have been attended with much more serious difficulties, but till the last moment James affected to regard such an invasion as an impossibility. When at last he realized the gravity of the situation he was willing to make some concessions, but soon, finding himself deserted by a great many of the men on whom he had relied, by some of his own relatives, and even by his own daughter, he determined to make his escape from England (Dec. 1688).
During the weeks that preceded the withdrawal of James II. to France violent riots had taken place in London, where several of the Catholic chapels were attacked, and in many of the other leading cities. William III. was not personally in favor of a policy of religious persecution, particularly as he had promised his imperial ally to deal gently with his Catholic subjects. But the popular prejudice against them was so strong that a policy of toleration was almost an impossibility. The Catholics were excluded specially from enjoying the concessions made in favor of the Dissenters, and in the Bill of Rights (1689) it was provided that no member of the reigning family who was a Catholic or had married a Catholic could succeed to the throne, and that any sovereign of England who became a Catholic or married a Catholic thereby forfeited the crown. Catholics were prohibited from residing within ten miles of London; magistrates were empowered to administer the objectionable oath of allegiance to all suspected Papists; Catholics were forbidden to keep arms, ammunition, or a horse valued for more than ten pounds; they were debarred from practicing as counselors, barristers, or attorneys; if they refused to take the oath they were not allowed to vote at parliamentary elections; they were incapacitated from inheriting or purchasing land; and prohibited from sending their children abroad for education; while priests were to be punished with imprisonment for life for celebrating Mass, and spies who secured the conviction of priests were offered £100 as a reward.
During the reign of Anne (1702-14) and during the early portion of the reign of George I. the persecution continued, especially after the unsuccessful rebellion of 1715 in which many Catholics were accused of taking part. After 1722 the violence of the persecution began to abate, and Catholics began to open schools, and to draw together again their shattered forces. Fortunately at the time there was one amongst them in the person of Richard Challoner, who was capable of infusing new life into the Catholic ranks and of winning for the Church the respect even of its bitterest opponents. Richard Challoner (1691-1781) was born in London, and was converted to Catholicism at the age of thirteen. He entered Douay College, in which he remained twenty-five years, first as a student and afterwards as a professor, and vice-president. He returned to London in 1730, and threw himself into the work of strengthening the faith of his co-religionists in all parts of the city. He went about disguised as a layman, visiting the poorest quarters, and celebrating Mass wherever he could find a place of security. Already he had published a book of meditations under the title Think Well On’t (1728), and a little later he found time to prepare for the press The Christian Instructed in the Sacraments, etc. In 1740, much against his own will, he was appointed coadjutor to Dr. Petre, vicar-apostolic of the London district. As coadjutor he undertook to make a visitation of the entire district as far as it was situated in England. But his work as bishop did not interfere with his literary activity. In quick succession he published The Garden of the Soul, The Memoirs of Missionary Priests, containing the Lives of the English Martyrs (1577-1681), the Britannia Sacra, or a short account of the English, Scottish and Irish Saints, an edition of the New Testament (1749), of the old Testament (1750), together with a revised edition (1752).
Besides all this he founded two schools for boys, one at Standon Lordship, the other at Sedgley Park, and one for poor girls at Hammersmith. Though more than once he stood in the gravest danger of having his career cut short by the activity of the priest-hunters, he had the good fortune to survive the storm and to see the First Relief Act of 1778 placed upon the statute book.
This is taken from History of the Catholic Church.
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