Dissent and Toleration

Marisa Linton

in The Oxford Handbook of the Ancien Régime

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199291205
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Dissent and Toleration


Religious differences generated tension throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The spectre of the Reformation and the religious wars of the sixteenth century continued to haunt the Catholic Church. As one historian puts it, the memory of that traumatic period provided “a graphic illustration of how religious heresy led to political upheaval, of how dissent from the one true faith could unravel into the tangled web of internecine conflict and bloody civil war.” Religious identity was linked closely with political loyalty to a sovereign or state. State authorities showed little acceptance of the idea that a king's subjects might have liberty of conscience and yet still be loyal citizens of the state. Though the incidence of burning heretics at the stake became a rare occurrence even in the countries where the Inquisition operated, and outright persecution diminished during the eighteenth century, people who belonged to religious minorities continued to be heavily discriminated against in most countries, and were confronted by problems regarding both their right to worship and their legal existence.

Keywords: religious war; Reformation; Catholic Church; religious identity; civil war; persecution

Article.  8667 words. 

Subjects: History ; Social and Cultural History

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