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English Convents in Catholic Europe, c.1600–1800
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Book description

In 1598, the first English convent to be founded since the dissolution of the monasteries was established in Brussels, followed by a further twenty-one foundations, which all self-identified as English institutions in Catholic Europe. Around four thousand women entered these religious houses over the following two centuries. This book highlights the significance of the English convents as part of, and contributors to, national and European Catholic culture. Covering the whole exile period and making extensive use of rarely consulted archive material, James E. Kelly situates the English Catholic experience within the wider context of the Catholic Reformation and Catholic Europe. He thus transforms our understanding of the convents, stressing that they were not isolated but were, in fact, an integral part of the transnational Church which transcended national boundaries. The original and immersive structure takes the reader through the experience of being a nun, from entry into the convent, to day-to-day life in enclosure, how the enterprise was funded, as well as their wider place within the Catholic world.


'Many contemporaries regarded enclosed convents as major spiritual, intellectual and even ideological statements about the nature of true religion. In the context of the changes of religion in England from the mid-sixteenth century onwards, the setting up of English convents in exile was a serious public intervention in the post-Reformation Church. This book draws on an impressive array of archival sources about these convents, and comprehensively and authoritatively reinstates them in the modern-day historiography of the British and European Reformation and Counter-Reformation.'

Michael Questier - Research Chair, University of Vanderbilt, Nashville

'This important contribution to the study of the Early Modern English Catholic diaspora, shows how the English convents established on the continent were not inward-looking institutions, but were fully engaged with the latest Counter-Reformation ideas and practices. The book gives a wide-ranging account of the convents in their first two centuries by focusing on how the nuns created a collective identity in exile.'

Christopher Highley - Ohio State University

'Here is a work that reads the English convents as they understood themselves. That is as all-female communities at the heart of European Catholic reformation, as nuns on mission for England and for the world. Their rich world of cloisters, kin, song, prayer, money, and networking is beautifully reconstructed and interrogated in this essential and original volume.'

John McCafferty - University College Dublin

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