Journal Article

Catholic Loyalism in Early Stuart England

Michael Questier

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXIII, issue 504, pages 1132-1165
Published in print October 2008 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online October 2008 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI:
Catholic Loyalism in Early Stuart England

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Catholics frequently claimed that they and their co-religionists in late Tudor and Stuart England were not enemies of sovereign authority and should not, therefore, be subjected to legal penalties for their conscience-based impulse to reject the legislation which was supposed to guarantee conformity to the Elizabethan settlement of religion. Yet there was in later sixteenth-century Europe a vigorous quasi-republican catholic tradition of political resistance to monarchical authority, one in which a number of English catholics personally invested. This tradition became central to contemporary anti-popery. So, were catholics, as a body, telling the truth when they claimed to be politically ‘loyal’? One rather obvious answer is to say, simply, that some were and some were not. But, of course, catholics and their enemies did not agree about where the dividing line between loyalty and disobedience/treason actually lay. In fact, whether catholics could be convincingly portrayed either as, on the one hand, loyalists or, on the other, as potential rebels, depended in large part on the political context in which this, in any case polemically phrased, question was discussed. In this article, what contemporaries thought about the issue, and the political significance of their thoughts, is revisited by looking again at the 1606 oath of allegiance, promulgated by statute following the gunpowder plot. The oath's meaning and implications were the subject of intense debate as contemporaries, both catholic and protestant, argued with each other and among themselves about whether catholics were obliged to take it and how far they might be accounted disloyal if they refused.

Journal Article.  18076 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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