'Inevitable Rebels: Catholics, Conformity and Degrees of Rebellion in England, c.1530-1745'
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Abstract: In the opinion of Early Modern England’s increasingly self-aware Protestant national identity, Catholics were intrinsically linked with rebellion. The assumption persists to this day that the type of rebellion inferred is one of armed resistance to the state. Tainted by events both within and beyond their control, from the Spanish Armada to the Northern Rebellion, from the Gunpowder Plot to the Jacobite Risings, England’s Catholics were rightly or wrongly accused of being a traitorous fourth column. Naturally, Catholics had a choice about participation in this sort of rebellion, no matter how egregious the perceived provocations. Yet there is another definition of rebellion, as a form of defiance, or resisting control and convention, with which English Catholics could be – and were – regularly charged. This paper will question the notion that they had much choice in being such ‘everyday’ rebels. Most notably, this was evident over the issue of conformity. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to separate the political from the religious in the Reformation period and this was the case for Early Modern English Catholics; every ostensibly religious decision or action they undertook could not help but be political due to the entanglement of politics and religion under the Elizabethan Settlement and the religious framing of political rhetoric during that period. By positing that the two could be divided, Catholics were inevitable rebels. Coupled with the gradual spread of Tridentine ideas amongst the English Catholic community, this meant that, in a sense, Catholics were in a continuous state of rebellion.
James E. Kelly is St Cuthbert’s Society Fellow at Durham University. His interests are in post-Reformation Catholic history in Europe and Britain, particularly the experience of the English Catholic community at home and in exile. He was a member of the AHRC-funded ‘Who Were the Nuns?’ project and Project Manager of its AHRC-funded follow-on initiative. His publications include acting as editor of the volume on convent management in the series English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800 and co-editing the collection The English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800: Communities, Culture and Identity.
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