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Recusancy and the Rising Generation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 February 2015


This article examines the involvement of young people in recusancy in Elizabethan England. It explores how two issues – the meaning of recusancy and the appeal of religion (specifically Catholicism) to youth – can illuminate each other. After looking at some of the evidence for the role of recusancy in juvenile experiences of Catholicism, the article focuses on three contrasting cases which illustrate young people's engagement with recusancy and Catholicism, and how it was interpreted by adult authorities, Catholic and Protestant: a case of recusant proselytising by the young men of a gentry household, as reported to the Privy Council; the alleged visions of fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Orton in Flintshire in 1581; and the autobiographical testimony of Robert Colton, a recusant youth imprisoned in London's Bridewell in 1595–6. It is argued that including recusancy will help us to better understand the complexity of youthful engagement with religion in early modern England, and also to appreciate the implications of recusancy.

Copyright © Catholic Record Society 2013

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1 I am grateful to Professor Alexandra Walsham of Trinity College, Cambridge for reading and commenting on a draft of this article. Note that where sources are quoted, spelling has been modernised throughout.

2 See below.

3 Notable exceptions are Alison, Shell, ‘Furor Juvenilis: Post-Reformation English Catholicism and Exemplary Youthful Behaviour’ in Ethan, Shagan, ed., Catholics and the ‘Protestant Nation’: Religious Politics and Identity in Early Modern England (Manchester, 2005) pp.185206,Google Scholar and Shell, ‘Autodidacticism in English Jesuit Drama: the Writings and Career of Joseph Simons’ in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 13 (2001), 3456;Google Scholar Caroline, Bicks, ‘Producing Girls on the English Stage: Performance as Pedagogy in Mary Ward's Convent Schools’ in Miller, N.J and Yavneh, N. (eds.), Gender and Early Modern Constructions of Childhood (Farnham, 2011), pp.139156;Google Scholar and, less recently, Beales, A.C.F., Education Under Penalty: English Catholic Education from the Reformation to the Fall of James II, 1547–1689 (London, 1963).Google Scholar

4 Underwood, Lucy, ‘Childhood, Youth and Catholicism in England c.1558–1660’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Cambridge, 2012).Google Scholar The monograph based on this thesis is forthcoming in 2014.

5 See for example the comments in Mathew, D., Catholicism in England 1535–1935: Portrait of a Minority: Its Culture and Tradition (London, 1936), pp.3738.Google Scholar See also Bossy, John, The English Catholic Community 1570–1850 (London, 1975), esp. pp.182194.Google Scholar ‘Church-papists’ was a contemporary (and uncomplimentary) term for conforming Catholics; ‘schismatics’ – i.e. not heretics, but not in full communion with the true Church – was how the Catholic Church officially regarded them.

6 Walsham, Alexandra, Church Papists; Catholicism, Conformity and Confessional Polemic in Early Modern England (Woodbridge, 1993),Google Scholar see chapter 3 on pro-conformity tracts, also Walsham, Alexandra, ‘“Yielding to the Extremity of the Time”: Conformity, Orthodoxy and the Post-Reformation Catholic Community’ in Lake, Peter, & Questier, Michael, eds., Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church, c.1560–1660 (Woodbridge, 2000), pp.237261,Google Scholar and Questier, Michael, ‘Conformity, Catholicism and the Law’, ibid., pp.211236;Google Scholar Lake, Peter, and Questier, Michael, The Trials of Margaret Clitherow: Persecution, Martyrdom and the Politics of Sanctity in Elizabethan England (London, 2011).Google Scholar

7 I discussed some examples of the ‘recusant child’ in Catholic persecution narratives in my MPhil thesis ‘Catholic Childhoods and the Childhood of Catholics in Early Modern England’ (unpublished MPhil dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2008). My forthcoming book will explore literary portrayals of childhood and Catholicism further.

8 Publications of the Catholic Record Society (hereafter cited as CRS) 53, ‘A true certificate of all the Recusants within the Archdeaconry of York taken mensae January 1595[6]…’ (from Cecil Papers), pp.15–108, at pp.63, 68. Radcliffe's seat was at Dilston, Northumberland, but he had moved to Cumberland: ibid., p.58.

9 BIHR V.1615.CB. Non-communicants referred to people who would attend the Protestant church services, but refused to receive communion.

10 Ibid., ff.216, 320v.

11 CRS 60, p.51 [John Price, William Price].

12 HMC Salisbury 8, pp.74–5.

13 Thomas Foster made this statement in his ‘responsa”, his answers to the questionnaire all entrants to the English College, Rome were required to answer. The Responsa Scholarum were edited by Anthony Kenny for the Catholic Record Society, CRS 54 and 55 (1962, 1963). Kenny lists responsa in the order in which their writers appear in the College register, the ‘Liber Ruber’, and gives each the appropriate number. I follow this system, referring to individual responsa as LRxxx:, with year of entry where appropriate. Cf Lucy Underwood, ‘Youth, Religious Identity and Autobiography at the English Colleges in Rome and Valladolid, 1592–1685’ in Historical Journal 55:2 (2012), 349–374. Thomas Foster's responsa were LR589.

14 Forsters of Earswick; Aveling, J.C.H., Northern Catholics: The Catholic Recusants of the North Riding of Yorkshire, 1558–1790 (London, 1966), pp.187188.Google Scholar

15 McCann, T.J., ‘The Catholic Recusancy of Dr John Bullaker’ in Recusant History (hereafter cited as RH) 11:2 (1971), 75–86 at 8182.Google Scholar Lane was a former recusant: Questier, ‘Conformity’, pp.258–259.

16 Sister Christina Jerningham's recollections of her family are recorded in The Chronicle of the English Augustinian Canonesses Regular of the Lateran: at St. Monica's in Louvain (nowat St. Augustine's Priory, Newton Abbot, Devon), ed. Hamilton, A., 2 vols (Edinburgh, 1904), II, pp.4041.Google Scholar It is not clear which school the Jerninghams were attending. See Underwood, ‘Childhood, Youth and Catholicism’, pp.57–58, 89.

17 ‘neque quod magis est dum adhuc puer illorum scholas menses aliquot frequentarem ne ipsorum quidem officiis unquam interfui’.

18 See Underwood, ‘Youth, Religious Identity and Autobiography’, pp.369–374; also Chapter 1 of my doctoral thesis. I explore the nature and role of ‘reconciliation’ further in my article ‘Persuading the Queen's Majesty's Subjects from their Allegiance: Treason, Reconciliation and Confessional Identity in Elizabethan England’, which I am currently preparing for publication.

19 SP16/355/181,181.I,181.II; SP16/356/159.

20 See Bossy, Community, passim, and Haigh, Christopher, ‘The Continuity of Catholicism in the English Reformation’ in Haigh, Christopher (ed.), The English Reformation Revised (Cambridge, 1987), pp.176208 CrossRefGoogle Scholar for contrasting views on this issue.

21 Presumably, Andrew, Nowell's Catechism: or institution of Christian religion (1572),Google Scholar the standard Protestant catechism in Elizabethan England.

22 SP12/165/28; information of Richard Smith; Martin, Patrick and Finnis, John, ‘Tyrwhitt of Kettleby, Part I: Goddard Tyrwhitt, the Martyr’ in RH 26:2 (2002), 301313,Google Scholar examine this case. See also Martin and Finnis, ‘Tyrwhitt of Kettleby, Part II: Robert Tyrwhitt, a Main Benefactor of Fr John Gerard, SJ, 1600–1605’ in RH 26:4 (2004), 556–569.

23 SP12/165/28.

24 SP12/165/28.

25 Ibid.

26 APC 1580–1581, pp.107–108; Rex, Richard, ‘Thomas Vavasour, M.D.’ in RH 20:4 (1991), 436454.Google Scholar

27 APC 1581–1582 pp.79–80, 238–239.

28 SP12/165/28.

29 Martin and Finnis, ‘Tyrwhitt’ I, 307–308.

30 SP12/152/54; Martin and Finnis, ‘Tyrwhitt’ I, 308.

31 Persons, Robert, trans. ‘G.T.’, An epistle of the persecution of Catholickes in England (Rouen, 1582), pp.9899;Google Scholar Martin and Finnis, ‘Tyrwhitt’ I, 306–307.

32 Persons, Epistle, pp.79, 90–92, 98–99, 135; Underwood, ‘Childhood, Youth and Catholicism’, Chapter 8.

33 TNA C142/196/10.

34 See Underwood, ‘Youth, Religious Identity and Autobiography’ for examples and discussion.

35 The subsequent history of Catholicism in the Tyrwhitt family is examined in Martin and Finnis, ‘Tyrwhitt’ II. Lord Sheffield and his wife conformed in religion later; indeed after this first brush with the Privy Council, in July 1581, Sheffield was already pleading that his wife was now ‘conformable’: Martin and Finnis, ‘Tyrwhitt’ I, 306; Cokayne, G.E., revd., Gibbs, V. et al. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom Extant, Extinct or Dormant, 13 vols (London 1910-), IX, 388390.Google Scholar

36 Rich, Barnaby, The True Report of a Late Practise Enterprised by a Papist… (London, 1582/3).Google Scholar All references to this edition. The incorporated tract dates the visions to 1 and 24 February, 1580/81; it was circulating by June 1581, when the bishop of Chester sent a copy to the Privy Council: APC 1581–1582 p.98. K.R. Wark's study of Elizabethan Catholics in Cheshire mentions the case; the Elizabeth Orton summoned for recusancy in 1589 may have been the same person: Wark, K.R., Elizabethan Recusancy in Cheshire (Manchester, 1971) p.29 Google Scholar & note. Barnaby Rich published numerous works, mainly on Ireland and on soldiering: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (eds) Matthew, H. C. G. & Harrison, B. (Oxford, 2004), 61 Google Scholar volumes (2004), Rich, Barnaby (1542–1617), soldier and author, Index Number 10102348.

37 The case of Elizabeth Orton and her visions is the subject of ongoing research by Professor Alexandra Walsham, some of which is detailed in her ‘The Holy Maid of Wales: Visions, Politics and Catholicism in Elizabethan Britain’, a paper unpublished to date. I am grateful to Professor Walsham for allowing me to read and cite her work-in-progress. The dates given in Rich's printed tract are misleading; Walsham's research makes clear that the episode occurred in 1581, and that the tract was published in 1582.

38 Walsham, ‘Holy Maid’.

39 Duffy, Eamon, Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations (London, 2012), pp.147, 169173;Google Scholar The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in Englandc.1400–1580 (New Haven & London, 2005 edn.), p.142.

40 See above, and note 18.

41 This was the premise on which Robert Persons based his devotional best-seller, The Book of Resolution; see Houliston, Victor, ‘Why Robert Persons Would Not Be Pacified: Edmund Bunny's Theft of The Book of Resolution ’ in McCoog, Thomas (ed.) The Reckoned Expense: Edmund Campion and the Early English Jesuits (Woodbridge, 1996), pp.159177.Google Scholar

42 Walsham, ‘Holy Maid’ pursues the question of Elizabeth's conformist family, and her connections, further.

43 This refers to chapter 1 of John's Gospel, read at the end of every Mass and often worn as a talisman: Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, pp.215–216.

44 Walsham, ‘Holy Maid'; Rich, True Report sig.C2v-C3r.

45 Christopher Goodman. See Walsham, ‘Holy Maid’ for Goodman's background as a known Puritan; and for Barnaby Rich's possible existing connections with Francis Walsingham.

46 APC 1581–1582 p.98.

47 Ibid., pp.122–123.

48 The Privy Council records for 1582–1586 are lost.

49 Rich drew attention to a more famous example on his title-page: Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent’. Barton's status as a reputed saint, and her transformation into a political threat to Henry VIII when her visions became condemnations of his Reformation, have been discussed by several historians: see in particular Shagan, Ethan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge, 2003),Google Scholar chapter 2. Barton's gender was central both to her authority, and to the denial of her agency in her eventual recantation.

50 Walsham, ‘Holy Maid’, draws attention to the parallels between Orton's and other cases; these include the Catholic case of the ‘Boy of Bilson’, which was also publicised via a hostile tract. See also French, A., ‘Possession, Puritanism and Prophecy: Child Demoniacs and English Reformed Culture’ in Reformation 13 (2008), 133161;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Young, F., ‘Catholic Exorcism in Early Modern England: Polemic, Propaganda and Folklore’ in RH 29:4 (2008), 487507;Google Scholar Hardman-Moore, S., ‘“Such perfecting of praise out of the mouth of a babe”: Sarah Wight As Child Prophet’ in Wood, Diana, ed., The Church and Childhood, Studies in Church History 31 (1994), 313324;Google Scholar Alexandra Walsham, ‘“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings”; Prophecy, Puritanism and Childhood in Elizabethan Suffolk’, ibid., 285–300; Shell, ‘Furor Juvenilis’. For the Catholic angle, I am currently pursuing further research on Catholic and Protestant representations of childhood and religion.

51 See further, Underwood, ‘Childhood, Youth and Catholicism’, chapters 6, 8.

52 Colton's text is preserved in the Rutland family papers with other Catholic persecution narratives. HMC Rutland 1, pp.334–336: all quotations from this source. Robert Colton of Wisbech was among a party of young fugitive students and schoolboys intercepted in Ireland in 1594: Wark, Cheshire Recusancy, pp.111ff; and Diego, de Yepes, Historia Particular de la Persecución de Inglaterra, pp.791820,Google Scholar although Colton makes no mention of any previous stay in Bridewell, such as that claimed by Yepes for the 1594 fugitives. Colton appears in Bridewell prison lists for 1595: CRS 2, 287, committed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Rutland volume names him as Thomas or Robert ‘Dowlton’, but Caraman takes this as a misreading for Colton, see Caraman, P., The Other Face: Catholic Life Under Elizabeth I (New York, 1960), pp.196197.Google Scholar

53 Unless the manuscript is incomplete, although the text does not seem to start in the middle; the heading or title is there.

54 Innes, J., ‘Prisons for the Poor: English Bridewells, 1555–1800’, in Hay, D., and Snyder, F. (eds) Labour, Law and Crime: An Historical Perspective (London, 1987), pp.42122;Google Scholar Pendry, E.D., Elizabethan Prisons and Prison Scenes, 2 vols (Salzburg, 1974), I, 3953;Google Scholar Griffiths, P, ‘Building Bridewell: London's Self-Images, 1550–1640’, in Jones, N.L. and Woolf, D. (eds.) Local Identities in Late Medieval and Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 2007), pp.228248;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Dabhoiwala, F., ‘Summary Justice in Early Modern London’ in English Historical Review 121 (2006), 796822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

55 London Guildhall Library, Bridewell Court Books 33011/3, 33011/4, 33011/5, passim.

56 Chapter 8 of my doctoral thesis discusses these issues further in the light of other scholarship on early modern youth.

57 A 1597 report implies that Catholic and certain other prisoners were administered separately: after giving numbers of Bridewell inmates for November and December, the report adds at the end, ‘Recusants which remain in the House of Bridewell – 9/ Spaniards remaining in the said house [presumably prisoners of war] – 25/. British Library Lansdowne Mss.84, no.22, f.48–49v.

58 LR349, LR380; Weston, Autobiography, pp.152–156, 165–172; see also Underwood, ‘Childhood, Youth and Catholicism’, pp.63–64, 93.

59 Weston, Autobiography, p.153; copy of the original Latin MS (now at the Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu, Rome), in the archives of the British Province of the Society of Jesus: ASJ 61/1/5/1,f.542r.

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