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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Publication details for Dr James Kelly

Kelly, James E. (2014). Conformity, Loyalty and the Jesuit Mission to England of 1580. In Religious Tolerance in the Atlantic World: Early Modern and Contemporary Perspectives. Glaser, Eliane Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 149-170.

Author(s) from Durham


In Elizabethan England, under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, church attendance was compulsory on Sundays and Holy Days for all those aged 14 or over. The law was enforced ‘upon payne of punishement by the Censures of the Churche, and also upon payne that every p[er]son so offending shall forfeite for every suche offence twelve pens’.2 The 1581 Act imposed a fine of £20 a month on Catholic recusants — a huge leap from the normal 12 pence.3 Obviously the authorities had become uneasy following the arrival in 1580 of the Jesuits Edmund Campion and Robert Persons, who challenged the Elizabethan regime’s legitimacy by urging Catholics not to attend the state Church.4 Reports for nonattendance may have been many, but the number of parishioners not receiving communion was even more significant. Church papistry was a major reason for non-reception. Communion had to be taken at least three times a year, usually at Whitsunday, Easter and Christmas. According to one John Earle as late as 1628, church papists always found a way to avoid receiving this sacrament, which they viewed as an aberration of the true communion:
Once a moneth he presents himselfe at the Churche, to keepe off the Church-warden, and brings in his body to save his bayle. He kneels with the Congregation, but prayes by himselfe, and askes God forgivenesse for coming thither. If he be forced to stay out a Sermon, he puls his hat over his eyes, and frownes out the houre, and when hee comes home, thinkes to make amends by abusing the Preacher. His maine policy is to shift off the Communion, for which he is never unfurnish’t of a quarrel, and will be sure to be out of Charity at Easter; and indeed he lies not, for hee has a quarrel to the Sacrament.5