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Catholics in Penal Times.

Catholics in Penal Times.

England gradually turned protestant at and following on from the Reformation, but is is important to remember that this was not because of anything to be found in the new reformation communities but relates far more to the people of England encountering the dangers of the day! The following provides evidence:

King Henry VIII began his own church in1536 resulting in the confusion as to what he would set in place instead of the Catholic Church. Thomas Cranmer and many of the other protestant reformers sought to implement much of what had happened under Martin Luther in Germany and other parts of Europe. The King rejected much of this, with his idea of wanting to maintain many elements of Catholicism but with himself as head. This unsettled state meant that there could be little or no formal punishment for those giving or attending church services. But Henry VIII did, of course, carry out executions for those not signing the Act (oath) of Supremacy. St Thomas More, St John Fisher and St John Stone being the best known examples of those who who bravely refused to comply with the King's demands.
Henry VIII was followed by his son, Edward VI (the boy King) always weak in health he reigned for just six years (1547-1553.) During Edward's reign, and under his 'protectors' the Dukes of Somerset and Northumberland, England enacted full scale continental protestantism. With all the changes in the process of implementation, the Privy Council ordered that those who did not attend the new services should not be punished, however, any member of the clergy who did not work with the reforms, was liable to be fined or imprisoned.
When King Edward knew he was dying, he tried to change the succession given by his father; that of Princess Mary being his successor, should he die childless, and Elizabeth being her successor, should she die childless, in order to set his protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne. The protestant reformers in parliament of course sought to push this through and sought for its smooth implementation, however, and in an example of the bewildered English seeking a return to their Catholicism, because of the threat of revolt murmuring throughout the country if Princess Mary should not succeed, the reformers were forced to back down. But they did not do so lightly, and much was at stake for them; the Duke of Northumberland had married his son to Lady Jane Grey just before trying to place her directly on the throne. The English civil war and which was comprehensively concluded in Queen Mary's favour, lasted only a brief nine days. The English knew that with Queen Mary there would be a return to their faith and the faith of their English forefathers; Roman Catholicism!
Queen Mary, a life long Catholic, went to great lengths to try to restore Catholicism and the whole framework of the Catholic Faith in England. Hers was also a short reign, however, and she was succeeded by her half sister, Elizabeth. During Mary's reign, Elizabeth had outwardly practiced Catholicism, but it soon became clear that she was protestant and that this is the direction in which the Country would now head.
Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, she enacted the Oath of Supremacy, making herself Supreme Governor of the Church of England in1559, twenty seven Bishops resigned. England was indeed once again being turned protestant!
At first there seemed to be a level of tolerance for Catholics, but which also fitted with Elizabeth's clear policy of seeking to cajole the population into protestantism and, more particularly, Anglicanism. The Anglican church was presented as outwardly similar to Catholicism; the use of Catholic Church buildings and using our saints names (how must they feel about this!) and the use of Crucifixes, candles etc all gave the impression of similarity. What was being set in place was a counterfeit of Catholicism!
Elizabeth's long reign of 45 years was long enough to ensure that the country, for the most part, complied with the new protestant/Anglican direction, but not all of it, and the changes that took place did so through huge penalties being imposed on those who tried to save their Catholic Faith; the Catholic Faith of their English ancestors!
Elizabeth gradually introduced harsher and harsher measures against Catholics, especially following her excommunication by Pope St Pius V in 1570 (where he called her "the pretended Queen of England" and "the servant of crime,"- a backlash followed!) and also following the uprising of the Northern earls and the various plots against her aimed at placing Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, a granddaughter of King Henry VII, on the throne. And, of course, following the sending of the Spanish Armada in1588.
But even earlier in Elizabeth's reign there were fines for those who refused to attend Anglican services (known as Recusants.) The fine for not attending an Anglican service on a Sunday was 12 shillings. By 1581 this had been raised to twenty pounds a month (the equivalent of four thousand pounds today) that was sixteen thousand pounds per month! With the threat of confiscation of property and/or imprisonment for non-payment it was obviously impossible, except for the very rich, but who themselves faced severe dangers.
Great dangers were also faced by Catholic priests. In 1584 an Act forbade any English priest who had entered Orders during Elizabeth's reign to reside in England for longer than forty days on pain of death.
There were three 'types' of priests, those from the reign of Queen Mary I,(known as Marian priests) and who were dying out naturally. All other priests had to go abroad to train at one of the English seminaries that had been established abroad. They trained mostly at Douai in France (founded by the English University Don, William Allen) and the English College in Rheims; France and at the English College in Rome. There were the Seminary Priests who focused mostly on saying Mass and carrying out pastoral duties as and when the could, and the Jesuits, who also gave a great focus to mission and returning England to her Catholic Faith.
In 1585 an Act was passed that stated that all priests ordained abroad and returning to England were declared guilty of High Treason (the punishment for which was to be hung, drawn and quartered - dragged on a cart to the place of execution, partially hung, taken down, castrated and disembowelled, and head placed on a pike.) Those who helped priests were guilty of felony.
It was wealthy Catholics who would harbour and look after Catholic priests. The large houses of the Catholic nobility would have a chapel and they would also have places where priests could hide.
The priest holes were so well made that even in modern times it has often needed specialist equipment to locate them.
St Nicholas Owen, a lay Jesuit, was the expert priest hole maker; said to be only a little taller than a dwarf himself, he was responsible for building many priest holes and which were often contained in very small compartments in between the roof spaces found in various parts of the house, and sometimes elsewhere in the main part of the house itself. If the pursuivants (priest hunters) came the priest could hide. This might often be for lengthy periods spent in great discomfort.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Owen, who worked secretly by himself to avoid detection and betrayal, was under the directorship of Fr Henry Garnet, leader of the Jesuit mission in England. It was Owen who masterminded the great escape of the Jesuit priest John Gerrard from the Tower of London.
Gerrard was highly sought after by the authorities to whom his family was already known; his father had been imprisoned in 1569 for plotting to rescue Mary Queen of Scots from Tutbury Castle. Gerrard was sought for 'the crime of the Catholic priesthood' but managed to evade the authorities for eight years; like other priests he had to live under a disguise whilst trying to carry out his mission and pastoral work as and when he could. Gerrard was known as a "fashionable gentleman." Many priests of course found this lifestyle extremely difficult.
Gerrard was captured in 1594 and sent to the Tower of London, he was tortured and his hands were badly damaged but he still managed to escape with the help of Owen. A rope was strung across the Tower moat in October 1597 and he managed to cross it and escape. Under disguise he travelled on to Spain. Owen, one of the forty martyrs of England and Wales, was himself captured and tortured to death in the Tower. He died in 1606.
Meanwhile, there were many brave lay Catholics. In 1581, Baron Vaux of Harrowden was imprisoned and fined one thousand pounds (two hundred and four thousand pounds today) for harbouring the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion (Saint and Martyr.) Campion, who was part of the Jesuit mission, was very vocal in his seeking to convert England, he was caught and was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1581.
Margaret Clitherow (1556 -1586 Saint and Martyr) was a convert to Catholicism, she was arrested for harbouring Catholic priests. When she refused to plead at her trial she was ordered to be crushed to death. She was stripped and then a plank of wood was placed on her with boulders on top; the weight was increased until she died.
In 1591 Mass was being held at the house of Swithun Wells in London when the pusuivants (priest hunters) called. The congregation famously held them back, refusing to let them in until Mass was finished! Wells was not at home but at his trial he said he wished he had been! He was hung outside his house. His wife, who was at the Mass was arrested and died in prison.
Fr Edmund Gennings was the priest who had been saying Mass, he had converted to Catholicism aged 16 and trained at Rheims. He was hung drawn and quartered outside of Swithun Wells house on 10th December 1591, newly ordained (in 1590) he was just twenty four years old when he died.
Wells was hung directly afterwards.
These are just a few of many examples of the bravery of Catholics and which continued into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When James I came to the throne in 1603 there was an expectation that there would be some relief for Catholics, but this did not materialize and the uncovering of the Gunpowder plot in 1605 saw a backlash against Catholics.
Charles I was increasingly undermined by his protestant parliament (the inevitable situation for a protestant monarch) and Oliver Cromwell was a protestant Congregationist. Charles was a very high church Anglican. But he married a French Catholic; Henrietta Maria and which was said to be a true love match. Queen Henrietta was allowed to practice her faith; part of the marriage treaty, and she refused to be crowned by a protestant bishop and she also made a very public pilgrimage to Tyburn; the very place of execution of many of our brave martyrs.
And the bravery of Catholics continued. An example from the reign of King Charles I is Richard Hurst (Blessed), a Lancaster Yeoman; owning his own farm, and a known recusant. In 1628 the pursuivants called to arrest him, however, one of his servants put up some resistance and in the aftermath one of the pursuivants, named Dewhurst, fell and broke his leg whilst running across a ploughed field. The wound did not heal and proved fatal but before he died he swore an oath that his injury was the result of an accident. Nevertheless, Hurst was arrested and put on trial for murder. A petition was raised in his favour and backed by Queen Henrietta Maria. No one would give evidence against him and the jury did not want to convict but were pressured into doing so; the government (parliament) seeking to make an example of Catholic recusants. Hurst refused to take the oath of supremacy that would have seen his life spared. A Catholic martyr, he was executed in Lancaster. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929.
King Charles I (1600-1649)was indeed in an increasing difficult position with a parliament that was increasing dominated by protestant non-conformists as well as Anglicans. Undermining Catholic authority undermines all authority and the protestsnt kings were now realizing that the real authority that Catholic Kings had before them was from their being under the authority of Rome, without it they lost credibity and also began to be seen as mere tyrants. King Charles I was executed by parliamentary non-conformists. Many Catholics fought on the side of King Charles in the two English civil wars and they also fought on the side of his son.

King Charles II regarded his reign to have begun upon the execution of his father and he immediately sought to regain his throne through what became known as the third civil war(1649-51) It proved to be of no avail; some hard fought battles culminated in defeat at the battle of Worcester and thoughts of victory turned to thoughts of survival as the young King sought to avoid the parliamentary forces intent on capturing him. Charles managed to escape to France with the help of an oak tree and Catholic recusants.
Boscobel House, the site of the oak tree in which Charles hid while he watched Cromwell's soldiers search the grounds for him was owned by the Giffords, an old English recusant family who had suffered fines, imprisonment and discrimination but as a consequence of which they had managed to surround themselves with a network of trusted friends and it was through this great asset that the King was able to make his escape. As well as hiding in the oak tree, Charles also spent a night hidden in a Boscobel house priest hole.
The difficulty in hiding Charles was handled well by a family who were used to hiding priests and evading capture. William Penderel, who had given Charles the ladder to climb into the oak tree, disguised him as a woodman, Will Jackson; cutting his hair and giving him woodman's clothes.
The five Penderel brothers were Catholic tenants of the Giffords and formed a bodyguard for Charles on his onward journey to Wolverhampton and the Catholic safe house of Mosely old Hall and from where Charles escaped to France posing as a servant. In all, Charles had been on the run for six weeks. It was Catholics who had ensured his safety and Charles did not forget those who helped him; at his restoration, the Penderel brothers received a gift of two hundred pounds, and one hundred pounds annually; for them and for their heirs and a welcome at Court. The Penderels and the Giffords were also given Royal patronage which meant their being exempt from persecution for recusancy and they were protected by Charles during the later, infamous, Titus Oates plot.
Following his arrival in France, Charles spent most of the next nine years at the Royal palace with his mother, Queen Henrietta, his brother James; Duke of York and his sister Henrietta, all under the patronage of his first cousin, King Louis XIV eight years younger than Charles and still a teenager. Queen Henrietta spent much time in trying to convert her sons to Catholicism; her efforts would prove not to have been in vain.
Meanwhile in England, Cromwell died in1658 and the rule of his son, Richard, was proving unpopular with both Round heads and Royalists. Attention turned back to the monarchy and a way opened up for Charles to regain his throne Charles was crowned in April1661 and the following year married the Catholic Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza. Like his father, Charles underwent both an Anglican and Catholic marriage ceremony.
In June 1670 Charles II signed The Secret Treaty of Dover with King Louis XIV of France in it King Charles promised to convert to Catholicism at an unspecified future date and to re-convert England to Catholicism.
In 1672 Charles II, and with the backing of some Catholic parliamentarians sought to implement an Act: The Declaration of Indulgence, and which relaxed the penalties against Catholic recusants (and also protestant non-conformists) however parliament overturned this saying that a king could not overturn legislation. And parliament instead implemented some stringent measures; what became known as the Test Acts 1672 and 1673 meant that to hold any Public Office in this Country (civil or military)there was a requirement to be a practicing Anglican. The Duke of York, future King James II and who had converted to Catholicism along with his wife Anne Htde, in the 1660's, resigned his office of High Admiral rather than take the oath that also now required a denial of Transubstantiation. Charles, desperate to raise money through parliament, complied with these acts.
Charles II converted to Catholicism on his death bed, he had no legitimate children and had refused all calls to re-marry when it was clear that Queen Catherine would have no children (she had several mis-carriages)and he refused all calls to legitimize his eldest illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. Charles ensured that he was succeeded by his Catholic brother King James II. James was clearly very intent on re-converting England to her true Faith, the Catholic Faith, and strove to quickly restore Catholics into influential positions which unsettled the protestants in parliament. Things came to a head when James produced a male Catholic heir and which instigated protestant parliamentarians and some other influential and rebellious protestants to invite an invasion from the Dutch protestant, William of Orange! And which invasion took place in late 1688 William, a grandson of King Charles I was married to Mary, James' daughter from his first marriage(who had, on the orders of Charles, and protestant pressure) been raised a protestant. James was forced abroad, and failed in his attempts to regain his throne. The succession was denied to King James' son; Prince James Francis Edward.
The usurping of King James II with the reign of William and Mary was certainly not welcomed by everyone in the three Kingdoms and foremost amongst these was a group that became known as the Non-jurors. The Non-jurors did not accept William and Mary. Four hundred Anglican clerics had the same view and which number included the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft. Needless to say these clerics lost their positions, many became Jacobites, seeking the return of King James and his successors to the thrones of the three Kingdoms.
In 1698 an Act was passed that gave a one hundred pound reward to anyone who apprehended a Catholic Bishop or priest and who was subsequently convicted of saying Mass.
There was gradual relief for Catholics in the latter part of the 18th Century in the form of the Roman Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791. But these Acts were still conditional, it was not until 1828 that many of the remaining Acts against Catholics were repealed. This was followed in 1829 with the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 that finally saw the emancipation of Catholics.

Saint Margaret Clitherow and Saint Edmund Campion.

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