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Historians are now particularly aware that kinship had political and social resonances in the early modern period. Historians of English Catholicism in this same period have always stressed that a web of family networks helped to sustain the English Catholic community within its harsh post-Reformation environment. But how exactly did this happen, particularly when Catholicism in England was so diverse, and when Catholics were often deeply divided over key political and religious issues? In this essay I examine how these relationships worked for one significant kinship group, a set of people descended from or related to the Henrician Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, and thus how they affected Catholicism's political and ecclesial expressions of itself. I argue that in doing this, we can begin not only to reveal how far religious continuity depended on or was influenced by kinship, but also to describe some of the ways in which post-Reformation Catholicism was defined and perceived.
There has long been a consensus that post-Reformation Catholicism in England was something which was nurtured and sustained by and within Catholic families. The flame of the faith, we are told, was kept alive, during the harsh times of persecution, by those Romish families which point blank refused to conform to the religion of the Church of England. In several of them we find a continuous tradition of resistance to the introduction of Protestant ideas into the English Church from the time of the first reform measures during the reign of Henry VIII. What became an increasingly tightly-knit and intermarrying group of gentry families was the last redoubt of the Catholicism which came to be served by the new seminary-trained clergy who appeared in England from the 1570s onwards. (1)
Historiographically, this has been an issue of some importance. For it has served as a crucial explanatory mechanism to describe how Catholicism retreated, towards the end of the sixteenth century, into a minority gentrified household religion of the kind depicted by, for example, the famous Jesuits William Weston and John Gerard. (2) This has, indeed, become one of the central topics in our narrative of the course of the Reformation in England, as historians have tried to describe how the Catholicism which emerged in opposition to the 1559 settlement, at one time the religion of 'the people', became the preserve of a distinct, small, gentrified and interrelated Catholic community; and how the continuity of English Catholicism was preserved by the passing of the faith from one generation to the next within this same small number of families.
Family and kinship, then, were clearly central to Catholicism's fortunes in this period. But Alan Davidson, for one, has questioned Lawrence Stone's dictum that the Catholic gentry simply pursued a policy of religious 'apartheid'. Davidson observes how, the moment that the family trees of the Catholic gentry are extended beyond the immediate family, patterns of religious allegiance can become very complex indeed. (3) As William Sheils has demonstrated through a longue duree study of Catholic families in North Yorkshire, once one has detected Catholicism within early modern family networks, there are quite a lot of questions to answer about how it was received and transmitted. His painstaking reconstruction of the Catholicism of the Egton area shows that kinship was not necessarily just a bastion behind which Catholicism could shelter. There was certainly no guarantee that all the members of the kin would share the same religion. In fact, kinship 'was just as effective in breaking down confessional barriers wi thin generations as it was in sustaining them between generations'. (4) The work of scholars such as Davidson and Sheils suggests that the 'continuity' of Catholic religious allegiances within 'Catholic' families may not have been as straightforward as historians have sometimes assumed. Yet if kinship was, as scholars such as David Cressy have argued, a dynamic early modern social institution, and if 'affinal and consanguinal ties alike provided a basis for sympathy, linkage and collaboration', (5) it may be worth asking again -- how far did 'clan solidarity' affect Catholics' religious opinions, and did their religious opinions contribute to their attachment to family and kin?
As is well known, Margaret Spufford and other students of Dissent have tried to trace, over a long time-scale, 'family and linear linkages' among Protestants, even to the extent of trying to make connections between Lollardy and post-Restoration Dissent. Spufford cites the work of, among others, R. J. Acheson to argue that 'the family played a crucial role in the perpetuating of dissenting attitudes over a number of generations, although there is clearly much research [required] before this can be established reasonably firmly'. (6)
Obviously, this is in part because the Spuffordians simply do not have adequate source material to pursue the study of familial continuity from heresy to Dissent. (Spufford herself admits that it is one thing to trace, within a single family, progression from Lollardy 'through four or five generations' to early Baptists or Quakers, and another to explain how this happened. (9) But Collinson makes another point. If we try to track dissent genealogically over several generations, there is always a danger that we will forget that the tradition is not static. If, for example, we want to follow a line of Dissent from Lollardy to the civil war sects, at some point that line has to go through the thing we call Puritanism, and, as Collinson has stressed, that was something which could at times be regarded as virtually coterminous with English Protestantism. (10)
It is easy to think of families which were Catholic across several generations. But simply to trace continuity of religious tradition is not the same as saying what it means. In fact, several scholars have expressed grave doubts about the methodology of the Spufford school. In particular, Patrick Collinson has opined that 'whether family tradition, dissent in the blood, provides' a good answer to the continuity of this form of religion 'is a large question posed rather than fully and satisfactorily answered' by Spufford and her team in the World of rural dissenters. (7) Collinson asks, even more critically, 'what does it actually mean to speak ... of the "continued strength of the dissenting tradition"? Was there such a "tradition"? If blood-lines can be established ... connecting Lollard surnames with Quaker surnames, known ancestors with known descendants, what does that signify?' And, he says, in the Spuffordians' work this is often far from clear anyway. For the Spuffordians have not always thought to tra ce what filled the gap between Lollardy and later Dissent and how these ideas were passed down within the same families. (8)
Now all of these problems are ones which are encountered when we trace post-Reformation English Catholicism across the generations during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Of course, English Catholic continuity from one generation to another is usually perceived as unilinear and unproblematical. If Catholics' children stayed Catholic this must have been because they subscribed to the same beliefs as did their parents and, indeed, all Catholics who rejected the royal supremacy over the English Church. They must have had a high regard for papal authority and traditional sacramental theology, and have desired to hear the mass and to be confessed according to the Roman fashion.
However, there were some pretty sharp divisions among sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English Catholics over quite crucial religio-political issues, and historians are equally sharply divided about what Catholicism really means during this period. The origins and groundwork of the Catholic revival in Elizabeth's reign are often understood to be the mass of 'conservative' opinions among the 'people' who were less than receptive to the culturally elitist premises of the Protestant Reformation. (11) Yet that popular conservatism is also reckoned to have intersected with the seminarist Catholicism wafted across from the continent from the 1570s onwards. And it is to some degree unclear how the programme and imperatives of clerical engages like the Jesuits Edmund Campion and
Robert Persons can be identified with popular conservative religious impulses. Indeed, as John Bossy has argued, it is in many ways easier to identify the coming of the seminarists as a complete break with the past, at least as far as Catholicism is concerned. (12) Yet contemporary Catholics themselves talked and argued about the continuity of the 'old religion' and their Catholic tradition stretching back before the Reformation, passed on by each succeeding generation. And they wondered why some people in 'Catholic' families stayed Catholic and others did not, by turns exulting in the conversion of 'schismatic' children to true faith, and then lamenting 'how few sonnes pay the statute [i.e. recusancy fines] whose fathers did' in the past. (13)
In this article I want to address some of these ideas about religious continuity and family tradition among post-Reformation Roman Catholics in England. Many Catholics were themselves all too aware of what historians have since noticed -- namely that kinship ties were no guarantee of Catholic solidarity. Random sampling of the replies which students coming to the continental seminaries gave about their family background reveals startling degrees of division in religion. For instance, John Faulkner of Dorset informed the authorities at the English college in Rome in May 1600 that while he himself had been converted to Catholicism by an uncle, John Brooke, and another kinsman, Richard Faulkner, and now wanted to be a priest, his brother remained a 'heretic', i.e. firmly Protestant. His brother's wife's mother, however, was a member of a Hampshire family which had Catholic branches. Faulkner had several sisters and brothers-in-law, either Catholics or church papists [i.e. occasional conformists]; one brother-in- law had lost everything for the sake of his Catholic religion. Faulkner's parents had apparently not always been Catholics though they died in the bosom of the Roman Church. His mother had two brothers, one a church papist and the other a 'strong heretic'. Yet her own mother came from the Cheshire gentry and her kin there were 'almost all Catholics'. (14)
The Catholic community was itself famously split by internecine strife, notably in the famous Appellant Controversy (primarily between secular priests and Jesuits) in the last years of Elizabeth's reign. Here, a number of disputed issues set Catholics against other Catholics, who often seem to have regarded each other as the real enemy, rather than the Elizabethan regime or the Protestants in the Church of England. These issues included the wisdom, or lack of it, of the rhetoric of the pro-Spanish English Catholic political activists. When the priest William Gifford, not a partisan of those English Jesuits who were hand in glove with the Spaniards, complained of the hostility he had experienced from the recently deceased Sir Francis Englefleld (a leading pro-Spaniard among the Catholic exiles), it was little good saying 'itt woulde have bene some comforte to me yf he had lefte me some littell memorie, considering how neare I was to him in bloude, and nott soe farre from him in affection as some woulde have ma de him believe', because it was plainly evident that the protagonists in these quarrels, many of whom were indeed related to each other, were often very far from each other in affection. (15)
Of course, from such stories of conflicting religious opinions in the same family, we might deduce that many people were either too sensible or too independent of mind to let their social and familial obligations dictate their sense of religious affiliation, or, vice-versa, to let any religious opinions which they held interfere with the normal course of their social existence. Yet many Catholics also believed that true religion should propagate itself through the family. As several scholars have shown, the special features of early modern gentry family networks -- in particular, an intense awareness of lineage and familial relationship and cousinage -- were sometimes crucial in ensuring the stimulation and survival of an ideologically active early modern Catholicism. Richard Cust has explored the connection between conservative/Catholic attitudes to religion and gentry ideas about honour and ancient lineage, showing, for example, how the Leicestershire gentleman Sir Thomas Shirley incorporated a defence of C atholicism into his heraldic compilation 'The Catholicke Armorist'. Sandeep Kaushik has argued that Catholic gentry marital alliances where the marriage partner was chosen from a family of the same faith were a visible and public statement about the religion of those Catholic families that found themselves disenfranchised and barred from public office. (16)
In the work of Cust and Kaushik we see that these gentry families regarded the Catholic social and marital underpinnings of their association with each other as politically and ecclesiastically significant. Others have suggested that kinship could actually shape and fashion the kind of religion which these Catholics practised. Dennis Flynn, for example, thinks that it is possible to detect within the Catholic clan of the poet John Donne and the Jesuit Jasper Heywood a tradition of Catholic loyalism and moderate Catholic conformist behaviour. (17) Elsewhere I have argued that the activism and character of northern Catholicism during the last years of the Elizabethan regime and the first years of James's reign were intimately bound up with and promoted by a tightly-knit kin network of which the epicentre was the Neville family and affinity, which had spearheaded the Northern Rising of 1569. (18)
We know, too, that the creation of seminarist Catholicism, a radical separatist movement which rejected any kind of compromise with the Established Church, was promoted in part through kinship and cousinage. Among the seminary priests who had converted to Catholicism before they first decided that they would train for the ministry, we find a significant proportion who, as we have already noted in the case of the priest John Faulkner, claimed that they had been influenced towards Catholicism by the persuasiveness of members of their immediate family. (19) Some priests were converted by their parents: John Starkey became a Catholic 'through his mother's tears'; more sedately, John Butler converted 'paterno consilio informatus'. Robert Griffith's mother teamed up with the roving evangelical Jesuit priest John Gerard to convert him. Richard Tole's schismatical condition was reproved by his brother and this led him to reconcile himself to the Church of Rome; the example of a younger sister converted Robert Drury. And so the list goes on. It might not in itself be very surprising that, in closely knit families, progress in religion should have been encouraged by affectionate relatives. But other priests said that their less immediate family persuaded them to take up the practice of an activist form of Catholicism. Edward Atslow said he was converted by a cousin. Philip Pearse was converted from Protestantism by an uncle, and so was John Ball. Thomas Durnford, a convinced Protestant, had a Jesuit uncle (though even Durnford's father, that uncle's brother, had no idea he was a Jesuit). The uncle, learning that Thomas was living among heretics, inveigled the youth and his family with the promise of a good education into letting him take him to France and Thomas was carried off to become a Catholic. George Blackwell, the first archpriest, drew a hesitant conformist nephew of his, Henry Cliff, away from his legal training in the exchequer, where he had been placed by his very Protestant father. After Cliff had resided with Blackwell for six weeks, he went off to the seminary in Rome. (20)
If we look at the extended genealogies of …