James E. Kelly and Susan Royal (eds.), Early Modern English Catholicism: Identity, Memory and Counter-Reformation

James E. Kelly and Susan Royal (eds.), Early Modern English Catholicism: Identity, Memory and Counter-Reformation, Brill, Leiden, 2017. €125.00 ISBN: 978-90-04-32567-8 [hardback], pp. x + 259.

Reviewed by: Helen Kilburn, University of Manchester, June 2017.

This collection of essays represents a testament to the recent unshackling of British Catholic history from the moniker of recusancy. The volume aims to challenge long-standing scholarly paradigms of identity and community amongst early modern English Catholics within Britain and Europe. As such, the contributing authors owe much, still, to the debate concerning the level of continuity and change in the English Catholic experience which was dominated by Christopher Haigh and the late John Bossy and initiated by the latter’s The English Catholic Community 1570-1850 (1975).

Brad Gregory takes this debate as his starting point for his essay ‘Situating Early Modern English Catholicism.’ Gregory deconstructs the framework of ‘early modern English Catholicism’ spatially, temporally, and ethnically/nationally (p. 18). He argues that ‘early modern’ English Catholics were born from the Henrician Reformation which galvanised confessional network building across national borders in Britain and Europe. The early modern period ended with a post-Jacobite ‘politically obedient religious minority’ (p. 18) who accepted that a medieval revival was impossible. The latter community was later replaced by a ‘modern’ community which existed after emancipation in the nineteenth century when the (loosely) separate relationship between state and religion came to pass. Gregory therefore concludes that ‘the history of early modern English Catholicism is not an internalist sectarian history. It is part of early modern English and indeed European history’ (p. 40). This premise sets the tone for the rest of the book.

James Kelly, Jaime Goodrich, and Susan Royal each reveal efforts made by English Catholics to maintain their religious identity through the memorialisation of a distinctly English Catholic past. Focusing on women religious in exile during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Kelly examines efforts to smuggle relics out of England for protection in English convents on the continent whilst Goodrich focuses more narrowly on the Benedictine nun Margaret Gascoigne and the Cambrai convent community. Kelly argues that the nuns’ especial protection of relics connected with sixteenth-century English martyrs presented a distinct and conscious English spirituality. Similarly, Goodrich’s close analysis of The Devotions of Dame Margaret Gascoigne and the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Divine Love reveals communal identity building at the Cambrai convent through ‘intertextual literary practices’ (p. 106). Both texts were used by Cambrai nuns as commonplace pieties and the nuns in turn collapsed distinction between Gascoigne and Julian into a singular English ‘spiritual authority’ (p. 106). Whereas Kelly and Goodrich emphasise the role of Catholic material culture and texts in the construction of a primordial English identity, Susan Royal emphasises the use of English history in Catholic attempts to regain theological supremacy. Royal argues that in response to John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563 first ed.) Catholics sought to weaponise evangelical claims to the Lollards as spiritual forbears, since these claims were made despite the Lollards having been condemned as heretics in the late medieval period. Catholics thus applied well established traditions of ‘heresy-fighting rhetoric’ (p. 123), such as drawing connections between heresy and sedition, to a new religious and political context in post-Reformation England.

William J. Sheils, Eamon Duffy, and Susannah Brietz Monta collectively examine how Catholic authority was maintained, transmitted and received by English Catholic laity during the Counter-Reformation. Sheils focuses on devotional texts produced by Thomas Stapleton, better known within the academy as a controversialist. At the heart of Sheil’s essay is a comparative analysis of Stapleton’s Promptuaria Catholicum,intended for parish clergy,and his Promptuariam Morale, intended for clerical academics. Both texts were united by their defence of Catholic doctrine and their attempt to undermine Protestant theology and were thus designed to complement each other. Sheils therefore argues that Stapleton’s focus on doctrine and theology in Counter-Reformation missionary practice exemplifies ‘the inextricable links between devotion, scholarship and controversy in post-Reformation Europe’ (p. 205). However, this has been obscured by scholarly attention on Stapleton’s controversial literature alone.

Duffy’s essay focuses on the concern maintained by the Catholic Church that English Catholics might be drawn towards the Protestant faith. He argues that in response to the Book of Common Prayer, English Catholic clergy sought to provide English Catholics with a suitable and ‘distinctive vernacular idiom of prayer’ (p. 208), and that this need was met by the Manual of Prayers (1575). Duffy suggests that the Manual’s compiler, George Flinton, relied primarily on Simon Vereept’s Enchyridion Precationum Piarum (1565), yet Flinton abandoned certain elements of Enchyridion in favour of English texts to create a Tridentine ‘rag-bag’ (p. 216) of material that maintained the memory of key figures such as Thomas More and Cuthbert Tunstall. Furthermore, the Manual became a flexible framework into which other works of piety could, and were, inserted over subsequent editions (pp. 223-225).

Monta examines a selection of hymns published in John Austin’s Devotions in the Ancient Way of Offices (1668, first ed.) which she describes as ‘creative domestic liturgies.’ Crucial to her argument is her rejection of lyric as necessarily representing a profession of the self, whether that self be real or fictive. Thus Monta convincingly argues that the oral performance of Austin’s poetry was a communal devotional activity which represented an intersection of non-expressive set prayer and the ‘self’s emotively religious experience’ (p. 229). Importantly, Monta draws the scholarship on early modern English Catholic identity and ritual practice closer to the work on the history of emotions by scholars such as Jan Plamper, William Reddy, and Barbara H. Rosenwein which has been deployed effectively in studies of early modern Protestant worship, particularly non-conformism (pp. 235-238, 238).

Matthew J. Martin, Earle Havens and Elizabeth Patton, and Gabriel Glickman each demonstrate that claims to spiritual authenticity and authority were as vital to English Catholic political identity as to Catholic religious identity. For example, Martin examines a country house poem (1776 first ed.) written by Joseph Reeve SJ, the Jesuit chaplain of the Lords Clifford of Chudleigh. Martin argues that Reeve’s celebration of the family’s conscious attempt to rebuild Ugbrooke manor in the castle-style was intended to highlight an outward display of the family’s perceived ancient moral authority in order to reinforce their claim to suitability for political rule in anticipation of the repeal of the Penal Laws. The essays produced by Earle Havens and Elizabeth Patton, and Gabriel Glickman focus on Catholic resistance to, and participation in, political rule.

Havens and Patton isolate a single-page manuscript (1587) from the Lansdowne collection at the British Library which records the receipt and distribution of over 600 contraband Catholic imprints. They proceed to focus less on the texts themselves, but the methods by which they were circulated. As a result, Havens and Patton unite the study of Catholic print culture with scholarship concerning networks established in London prisons and thus draw attention to the fascinating role of prisons as sites of resistance within the English Catholic community.

Focusing on the ‘later Stuart and early Hanoverian reigns’ (p. 63), Gabriel Glickman argues that, like their Protestant counterparts, English Catholics were beginning to experiment with British identity which complicates the idea of an English Catholic identity altogether. To illustrate this point, Glickman provides a plethora of examples of migration and trade, marriage arrangements, and gentry alliances between the three kingdoms and thenceforth to Europe and even the New World. He argues convincingly that recusant experiences across the three kingdoms were increasingly subject to a ‘shared political context’ (p. 63) that encouraged unity rather than division. However, my minor reservation is the absence of any attention to the passing of the Act of the Union (1707) which seems necessary if Glickman is to argue that Catholics experimented with British identity as a result of a ‘shared political context’.

Most of the essays discussed above centre on defensive deployments of Catholic memory, identity, and authority against the Protestant state and church in post-Reformation England. Yet, Tom McCoog’s examination of the competition for ecclesiological supremacy between the Vicars Apostolic and the Society of Jesus reveals that the latter employed Praemunire and the terms of the oath of allegiance to protect their assets from assaults made by Rome and the English secular clergy following the society’s general suppression in 1773. McCoog’s essay therefore reveals that, despite the Reformation, the Catholic Church and English state were never entirely separate as a result of the English polity that occupied both spaces. As a result, the Jesuits were able to deploy English law to protect their assets from their Catholic confrères.

John Bossy’s afterword provides a necessary chronological structure to these essays as well as a welcomed evaluation of the themes of identity, memory, and Counter Reformation which frame them. Bossy questions the categories identity and memory, or at least the contributing authors’ deployment of them. He reflects that these terms might not ‘necessarily correspond to what was felt by the people so described’ (p. 253). Yet though these terms are of course contestable, they nonetheless represent an exciting shift in scholarly debate from attempts to assign rigid and totalising labels to English Catholics, to attempts to chart the fluidity of early modern English Catholics’ own perception of who they were. Crucially, the interdisciplinary analysis and the scope of sources studied in these essays extend the debate geographically and demographically and thus they uncover the dynamic nature of the English Catholic community which was often overlooked in the Bossy-Haigh debate. This volume would certainly be welcomed by seasoned academics and research students though the ‘case-study’ nature of many of the essays may require undergraduate students to supplement this book with contextual reading.

Other works cited:

Bossy, John, The English Catholic Community 1570-1850, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).