Gabriel Glickman, The English Catholic Community 1688-1745: Politics, Culture and Ideology, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2009.

Gabriel Glickman, The English Catholic Community 1688-1745: Politics, Culture and Ideology, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2009, 306pp

Reviewed by Caroline Bowden, Queen Mary, University of London, January 2010

On the opening page of his book Gabriel Glickman comments on the peripatetic lifestyle necessitated by the writing of his book. I think this is a significant starting point for a study of the English Catholic community in this period, since it reflects the experience of many of the most committed Catholics he is writing about. He begins with the response to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and exile for more English Catholics and ends with the defeat of the Jacobites in 1745.  Effectively this ends Stuart hopes of reversing the revolution.  The defeat of James II in 1688 and the acceptance of William and Mary meant a collapse of Catholic hopes of acceptance into mainstream political life and toleration of their faith in England: it was certainly not a “Glorious Revolution” in their eyes. Catholic hopes of recovery became focussed on the Stuart court in exile, at first in France and later in Rome. Those Catholics who remained in England had to be cautious about displaying evidence of their faith. The risings of 1715 and 1745 brought additional elements into the circles surrounding the Stuarts in exile including some Protestants thus increasing the complexity of the debates regarding the principles on which future Stuart rule in England would be based.

In this scholarly work Glickman brings together widely dispersed elements of the Catholic diaspora: diverse in their political and religious attitudes as well as in places of residence. It is an extraordinarily complex account and analysis, based on extensive scholarly research in manuscript holdings as well as printed texts that are difficult to locate.  While Catholic involvement in political life in the early seventeenth century has received attention in recent years from historians such as Michael Questier and Peter Lake, much less interest has been shown in the later period (apart from John Miller for the period up to 1688). Glickman’s study looks to examine Catholic intellectual life and the extent of Catholic involvement in the life of eighteenth-century Britain. A number of earlier writers have sought to show the eighteenth century as a period of decline in the Catholic community with some families converting to Protestantism and the impoverishment of others as a result of their continued connection with the Catholic church.[1]Glickman’s knowledge of the primary sources alters this perception by looking carefully at the arguments in manuscript and print.He discusses in detail the ways in which men sought to define their own position and how this changed over time as a result of twists and turns on both sides of the channel and adding the policies of French monarchs into influences to be taken into account alongside English ones. Glickman emphasises the importance of including sources from Catholics in exile as well as those who remained in England.

One of Glickman’s key themes is the development of an English Catholic identity: a matter of central concern for Catholics for the early modern period. It remained a complex question in 1688 and closely tied in with political loyalties. Although Protestants had sought to emphasise an English identity as fundamentally Protestant, many Catholics living on both sides of the Channel wanted to set out the basis of a credible Catholic alternative. The continuing search for this identity through the eighteenth century and the shades of meaning attributed by participants in the debate are handled with great dexterity in this book.

The publisher on their website claims that the study investigates Catholic education and family life. However, these aspects would have benefited from having been given more space as part of a discussion of English Catholic culture. Bossy’s account of the English Catholic community, recognises the importance of women in religious practice in the family.[2]  Glickman on the other hand, while not ignoring the role of women in the family and in political culture, could usefully have given more space to them. How far were they affected by changing circumstances or able to influence change in their own right? The study is densely argued and assumes a fair knowledge of the politics of the period and Jacobitism in particular. With so much new material, there are places where it would have been helpful to have given more space to quotations from cited sources to illustrate the arguments at greater length.  For instance one place where Glickman allows himself some space to good effect is where he discusses the impact of the execution of the earl of Derwentwater on pp 98-9.

The Appendices and bibliographies are useful additions to the main text containing material that is difficult to find elsewhere: the bibliographies will serve to provide the starting point for much new research. There are a small number of well chosen images serving to emphasise the value of including illustrations and causing regret only that there were not more of them. In the time period covered by the title of the book (less than sixty years), some Catholic families had been on the losing side three times in major disputes. However Glickman justifiably concludes his book on a positive note ‘the unpromising setting of exile and defeat had still sown the seeds of a frail but resilient English Catholic Enlightenment’ (p257)

This is an important book on a neglected subject and it brings much that is new both by way of material and interpretation. It is based on fine scholarship, meticulously footnoted and proof read. It is of interest to readers wanting to understand Catholic intellectual culture of the eighteenth century and to those wishing to have a more nuanced understanding of Catholic support for the Jacobite court in exile. It is a challenging study to read but one that repays revisiting and reflection. Would further volumes of the source material that would allow readers to follow up some of the arguments made be worth considering?

[1]J.C.H. Aveling, The Handle and the Axe: The Catholic Recusants from Reformation to Emancipation(London: Blond & Briggs, 1976).

[2]John Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850(London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1975).