Cover image for The King and the Catholics : England, Ireland, and the fight for religious freedom, 1780-1829 / Antonia Fraser.
Title:
The King and the Catholics : England, Ireland, and the fight for religious freedom, 1780-1829 / Antonia Fraser.
ISBN:
9780385544528
Edition:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, [2018]
Physical Description:
xiv, 319 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
Abstract:
"In the summer of 1780, mob violence swept through London. Nearly one thousand people were killed, looting was widespread, and torch-bearing protestors marched on the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street. These were the Gordon Riots: the worstcivil disturbance in British history, triggered by an act of Parliament designed to loosen two centuries of systemic oppression of Catholics in the British Isles. While many Londoners saw their homes ransacked and chapels desecrated that summer, the riotsmarked a crucial turning point in the Catholics' campaign to return to public life. Over the next fifty years, factions battled one another to reform the laws of the land: wealthy English Catholics yearned to rejoin the political elite; the protestant aristocracy in Ireland feared an empowered Catholic populace; and the priesthood coveted old authority that royal decree had forbidden. Kings George III and George IV stubbornly refused to address the "Catholic Question" even when pressed by their prime ministers--governments fell over it--and events in America and Europe made many skeptical of disrupting the social order. But in 1829, through the dogged work of charismatic Irish lawyer Daniel O'Connell and with the support of the Duke of Wellington, the Roman Catholic Relief Act finally passed. It was a watershed moment, opening the door to future social reform and the radical transformation of the Victorian age. The King and the Catholics is a gripping example of narrative history at its best. It is alsoa distant mirror of our own times, reflecting the dire consequences of state-sanctioned intolerance and showing how collective action and the political process can triumph over wrongheaded legislation"-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

From beloved historian Antonia Fraser comes the dramatic story of how Catholics in the United Kingdom won back their rights after two centuries of official discrimination.

In the summer of 1780, mob violence swept through London. Nearly one thousand people were killed, looting was widespread, and torch-bearing protestors marched on the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street. These were the Gordon Riots: the worst civil disturbance in British history, triggered by an act of Parliament designed to loosen two centuries of systemic oppression of Catholics in the British Isles. While many London Catholics saw their homes ransacked and chapels desecrated, the riots marked a crucial turning point in their fight to return to public life.

Over the next fifty years, factions battled one another to reform the laws of the land: wealthy English Catholics yearned to rejoin the political elite; the protestant aristocracy in Ireland feared an empowered Catholic populace; and the priesthood coveted old authority that royal decree had forbidden. Kings George III and George IV stubbornly refused to address the "Catholic Question" even when pressed by their prime ministers--governments fell over it--and events in America and Europe made many skeptical of disrupting the social order. But in 1829, through the dogged work of charismatic Irish lawyer Daniel O'Connell and with the support of the Duke of Wellington, the Roman Catholic Relief Act finally passed. It was a watershed moment, opening the door to future social reform and the radical transformation of the Victorian age.

The King and the Catholics is a gripping, character-driven example of narrative history at its best. It is also a distant mirror of our own times, reflecting the dire consequences of state-sanctioned intolerance and showing how collective action and the political process can triumph over wrongheaded legislation.


Author Notes

Antonia Fraser is the author of numerous internationally bestselling biographies, including "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and "Cromwell: Our Chief of Men".

(Publisher Provided) Since 1969, Antonia Fraser has written many acclaimed historical works that have been international bestsellers, and is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Wolfson Award for History, and the 2000 Norton Medicott Medal of the Historical Association.

(Publisher Provided)


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fraser (Cromwell) provides a brisk popular history of the fight for Catholic emancipation in England and Ireland. She begins with the Gordon Riots in 1780 and takes readers through the complexities of nearly 40 years of politicking around the question of religious rights in the United Kingdom, leading up to the passage of the Catholic Relief Act in 1829. The Act was designed to ease penalties that had been on Roman Catholics in the United Kingdom since the 17th century. Fraser discusses a variety of these laws-they included restrictions on the ownership of private property and the education of children-and how they affected the Catholic population from peasant to aristocrat. Although some small pieces of legislation to relieve Catholics had been passed prior to 1829, general relief legislation always foundered on resistance in the House of Lords and from monarchs. Fraser traces how the conditions arose in the 1820s to allow this resistance to be overcome, including the convincing of two dedicated opponents of relief, Arthur Wellington and Robert Peel, leaders of the Conservative Party government in the House of Commons. Fraser's account, which entertains with fine descriptions of London's heated political and religious climate, will interest any reader of popular histories. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

WHEN AMAZON PRIME finally starts delivering to heaven, Evelyn Waugh should order a copy of Antonia Fraser's new book, "The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829." Fraser's latest considers a topic close to Waugh's tart heart: bieak Roman Catholic prospects in aggressively Anglican England. The reference to religious freedom in the book's subtitle suggests why more earthly readers would find the book of interest, but, refreshingly, Fraser makes no effort to convince us that a centuries-old story of religious and political conflicts and competing minority rights remains relevant. Such confidence is rare today, given the easy temptation to gravely invoke Brexit and ISIS and Donald Trump and the Vatican. Instead, Fraser trusts that we can make the germane connections - or not. As far as she's concerned, the story matters anyway. "The King and the Catholics" isn't as magisterial as "Mary Queen of Scots" or as flat-out exciting as "Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot." Instead, it's a convincing and worthy addition to the already impressive Fraser corpus. It opens boldly. "The story begins with violence: In the summer of 1780 London was the scene of the worst riots the city had ever experienced." About 1,000 people died, and "the physical damage to the structure of the city would not be surpassed until the Blitz in the Second World War." The riots were a reaction to the Catholic Relief Act, passed two years before under George III, which proposed to repeal measures that had been in place since the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion's day, including the arrest and imprisonment of Catholic priests and teachers, and the prohibition against Catholics purchasing land. A new Oath of Allegiance, featuring a repudiation of the pope's temporal authority and prayers for the king, was also included, but this didn't mollify the act's opponents, elite Protestants who stirred up popular resistance that was in turn fed by "Game of Thrones"-worthy rumors, including one declaring the presence of "20,000 Jesuit priests lurking in the tunnels beneath the Thames, only waiting for orders from Rome to blow up the banks and bed of the river in order to flood the whole of London." There were no more than 80,000 Catholics in England at the time, in a population of seven million. Fraser takes us from this absurd and awful situation across five decades of British history, which were marked by near-constant parliamentary and public debate and agitation about the rights of Catholics. In 1829, a Catholic emancipation bill finally received royal assent, if nearly against George IV's royal will; its passage involved shrewd and violence-free campaigning by Irish and English Catholics alike, who were supported by Irish Catholic immigrants in America and by some, but certainly not all, of the leading members of British Protestantism. The success of the 1829 bill depended, decisively, on the prodigious pro-emancipation efforts of Daniel O'Connell, a Bolivar-quoting Irish Catholic lawyer, occasional duelist and eventual Member of Parliament for Dublin and other Irish ridings, and equally on the striking aboutface of Robert Peel, champion English Protestant, throne-defending home secretary and future prime minister. After years of leading the anti-Catholic opposition, Peel calculated with a statesman's prudence that it was time to end the debilitating effects of centuries of Catholic debates on the British body politic. Fraser's presentation of this story is free of both footnote skirmishes and extravagant claims, but she devotes too much attention to the many minor players' biographical minutiae at the expense of commentary and analysis of the complex, even self-contradictory situations that emerge in the course of her narrative. Liberal intellectuals like Lord Byron both supported the rights of individual Catholics and assailed the absolutist dimensions of Catholicism itself; George IV's initial refusal to grant assent to the 1829 bill raised the question of the ultimate source of power in a parliamentary democracy; English Catholics desired increased freedoms and standing but didn't like being associated with Irish Catholics seeking the same, a divisive dynamic that also played out along class and lay-clerical lines; Protestant opponents wondered what it meant for Catholics to serve in a Parliament that had decision-making responsibilities for the Church of England. Also, what did Rome think of all of this? Fraser raises these matters, but far too briefly when compared with her detailed historical reportage. There's readerly consolation, however, in the book's many small and wonderful discoveries, whether choice parliamentary put-downs or descriptions of the lanterns that adorned the English seminary in Rome and spelled out a call for the emancipation of Catholics. "Some Italian passersby," Fraser tells us with her understated panache, "believing that a new saint had been canonized, struck their breasts with the invocation Santa Emancipatione, ora pro nobis."


Library Journal Review

Acclaimed historian, biographer, and novelist Fraser (Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot) vividly describes a 50-year period in the struggle for Catholic rights in England and Ireland. Beginning with the Gordon Riots of 1780, which saw London decimated by uprisings against the proposed Catholic Relief Bill to restore the rights of Catholics, and ending with the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829, Fraser deftly tells a compelling account of a conflict rooted in religion and politics. While there's no question of the author's view on the struggle (she is herself a Catholic convert), Fraser does not absolve the many English Catholics who looked down on their Irish coreligionists. While recounting the historical facts, Fraser paints portraits of the personalities involved, including King George IV, who fell in love with a Catholic but dared not marry her and was reluctant to give in to Catholic Emancipation since he was supposed to uphold the Protestant Church. VERDICT A gripping telling of the struggle for Catholic rights in England and Ireland that is still relevant and will appeal to all who appreciate a good story about the fight for justice.-Augustine J. Curley, Newark Abbey, NJ © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Prologue: Sky like Blood   'Such a scene my eyes never beheld, and I pray God I may never again . . . The sky was like blood with the reflection of the fires' -Lady Anne Erskine, Clerkenwell, 1780 The story begins with violence: in the summer of 1780 London was the scene of the worst riots the city had ever ex-perienced, and which were to prove the 'largest, deadliest and most protracted urban riots in British history'. The death toll was probably about 1,000 people altogether (in proportion to the population of the capital, this remains the highest percentage of deaths in a riot yet known). The physical damage to the structure of the city would not be surpassed until the Blitz in the Second World War. Known to history as the Gordon Riots - famously commemorated by Dickens in Barnaby Rudge, when he wrote of 'a moral plague' running through the city - they were deliberately initiated by the militantly Anti-Catholic son of a Scottish duke, who was a Member of the British Parliament.   Riots were certainly not unknown in eighteenth-century London: there had been the so-called Wilkes Riots in the 1760s and the Keppel Riots after that; but in degree of violence, the Gordon Riots excelled them. Symbols of the State were attacked. Ten Downing Street, already the official residence of the Prime Minister, Lord North, was assaulted at two o'clock in the morn­ing by protesters bearing lighted flambeaux and faggots: they had to be driven off by twenty dragoons on horseback. Meanwhile the Prime Minister's dinner guests climbed onto the roof in order to see the fires burning as far as the horizon.   If prime ministers were obvious targets for attack, private individuals were not safe either. Lady Anne Erskine was a Scot­tish lady living quietly in a house attached to Spa Fields Chapel in Clerkenwell. She wrote: 'Such a scene my eyes never beheld, and I pray God I never may again. The situation of the place which is high and very open gave us an awful prospect of it. We were surrounded by flames. Six different fires - with that of Newgate towering to the clouds . . . with every hour we were in expectation of this house and chapel making the seventh. The sky was like blood with the reflection of the fires.' Ten years later, the literary Ladies of Llangollen, gazing at a fierce crimson sunset, were still irresistibly reminded of the Gordon Riots.   Susanna, sister of another literary lady, Fanny Burney, was living just off Leicester Fields (the modern Leicester Square); the house had formerly belonged to Sir Isaac Newton and still had his old observatory attached. From here the twenty-five-year-old Susanna heard the violent shouts and huzzas as all the furniture of their neighbour was piled up in the square, and his servant forced to bring a candle to light the bonfire: 'my knees went knicky knocky,' she confessed. The next night was worse. She watched another house in her own street totally emptied and set alight. The rioters, covered in smoke and dust, looked like 'so many Infernals' in the firelight.   Suddenly the little group in the window, consisting of Susanna, her sister Esther and brother-in-law, caught the attention of the crowd below: 'They are all three Papists!' was the cry. It was a dangerous acclamation. 'Call out No Popery or anything,' said Esther urgently to her husband. (They were not in fact Catholics.) In a similar fashion, the Jews in Houndsditch would inscribe 'This house is a true Protestant' on their dwellings to preserve themselves. One foreigner simply wrote 'No Religion' outside his own house, although he also more explicitly draped himself in the blue ribbons of the rioters in the cause of self-preservation.   The mere word 'Popery' was in fact inflammatory in its own style. Many of the ignorant crowd, when not seriously bent on plunder as such crowds tend to be, were aware of 'Popery' as an evil which needed to be restrained (with 'Papists' being those who practised it) without seeking any further information. There were 10,000 stout fellows, as Daniel Defoe had written earlier in the century in The Behaviour of Servants, who would spend their last drop of blood against Popery but 'do not know whether it be a man or a horse'.   An illustration of this was the bewilderment of a certain group at the time of the actual Riots when called to attack a house 'as there were Catholics there'. They replied: 'What are Catholics to us? We are against Popery .' Maria Edgeworth, in her novel featur­ing these events, Harrington, picked on another area of ignorance. A certain woman observer was amazed at the assault on a par­ticular carriage, and the breaking of the windows of a house; for surely these were not 'Romans'. When assured they were: 'How is that, when they're not Irish? For I'll swear to they're not being Irish . . .' This particular mob responded with lethal simplicity: 'We require the Papists to be given up for your lives,' and then added for good measure: 'No Jews! No wooden shoes!' This was the kind of mindless cruelty which was responsible for the deliberate incineration of the canaries belonging to a rich silk merchant named Malo, on the grounds that they were 'Popish birds'.   From her observation post, Susanna's heart ached for her Catholic friends, mainly Italians (she was having a delicate romance with an Italian singer at the time). They could not even venture to complain about the destruction of their houses and property because their religion made them so vulnerable. Instead, they mainly took their suspicious foreign names off the door, and one even put his own No Popery notice on it. The summit of the crowd's wilful, even absurd destruction occurred when a house was attacked - just because the notices outside were in French.   These ferocious riots were in fact a protest against the Catholic Relief Act which had received the Royal Assent of George III in June 1778. It might legitimately be supposed that this Relief Act had enacted widespread, even revolutionary, relaxation of the Penal Laws against Roman Catholics, to provoke such a scabrous assault. In fact the Relief was relatively mild. It was the reaction which was extreme.   To sum up the actual state of the law in England and Scotland before June 1778 (the laws in Ireland were a separate matter at this point): first of all, no Catholic could receive political office, neither in the House of Lords nor the House of Commons, or engage in anything else of an official nature. No Catholic in England and Scotland was allowed to buy or inherit land. Exer­cising the function of a Catholic priest or running a Catholic school were both activities punishable by life imprisonment. Catholics could not receive commissions in the army or navy, or officially be soldiers or sailors. In the same way, Catholics who declared themselves as such could not attend universities, let alone take degrees.   There was one prohibition in particular with enormous potential social consequences. Even if both bride and groom were Catholics, they could not get married legally by a Catholic priest in a Catholic church: such a ceremony would have no status under the law, with all the consequent penalties. The Marriage Act of 1753, which had relaxed the rules for other dissenting religions, left out the Catholics. For Catholics, in order to avoid complications to do with inheritance and other matters, there had to be an alternative (Protestant) ceremony, even if the par­ticipants by definition regarded these vows as empty.   Inheritance was, in fact, another awkward question. There were penal tax laws. Catholics could not in theory inherit prop­erty - giving rise to the unpleasant possibility of one member of the family declaring adherence to the official Protestant religion of the State, and demanding to inherit property otherwise des­tined for a Catholic heir. Six years before the passage of the Act for Relief, the case of the Widow Fenwick became notorious. The Catholic heiress Anne Benson had married the Protestant John Fenwick. When Fenwick died, his Protestant brother claimed his sister-in-law's property with no other justification than her proscribed religion. Mrs Fenwick was fortunate: she attracted the attention of the benevolent Lord Camden, and finally she secured a settlement by a private Act of Parliament.6 But the threat remained, and it was a genuine threat under the law.   There were minor issues: religious dress - that of nuns, monks and priests - could not lawfully be worn in the streets. Ostenta­tious signs of the Catholic religion, such as the sound of bells being tolled at Catholic chapels, were specifically forbidden. Furthermore, there is an important clue to the world which lay beyond the arid sentences of the law: anyone who chose to provide information leading to the conviction of a Catholic priest could expect a payment of £100 (about £7,500 today). Nor had this law been a dead letter in recent years: in 1767 the Informers Act was used to secure the successful prosecution of a priest. The informer was one William Payne, who made a living out of such dubious activities. As a result of this denunciation a certain Father Maloney was sentenced to life imprisonment, although subsequently released after four years with a Royal Pardon on condition he left the country to become 'an exile for Christ', in the words of a Catholic bishop.   What then did this Act for Relief, so savagely resented, provide for? First and perhaps most importantly, the laws concerning the arrest and prosecution of Catholic priests were repealed, and the keeping of a Catholic school was no longer punishable by life imprisonment. Catholics could buy land and inherit it just like anyone else, according to the laws of the country, without the potential menace of a Protestant heir, however remote, intervening. All of this affected the lives of ordinary people, or at any rate those prominent enough in society to attract the attention of the land law.   The existence, however, of that notorious controlling author­ity, the foreign Pope, was not ignored. Catholics were now explicitly commanded in a new Oath of Allegiance to deny that the Pope had any 'temporal' (worldly) jurisdiction as opposed to spiritual authority; which meant that the Pope could not any more declare Catholics able to murder their 'heretic' Protestant princes (or princesses) without sin. The Pope was also no longer allowed to absolve Catholics from keeping faith with heretics - in so far as he ever had. On the positive side, there were to be prayers for the King in the Catholic churches and chapels newly freed from their illegal status.   The leader - the initiator - of the ferocious protests against this mild relaxation of the Anti-Catholic laws was a curious individual even to his contemporaries. Lord George Gordon's unusual appearance - long red hair to his shoulders, and slightly protuberant blue eyes - added to the startling impression which he left upon observers, and inspired Horace Walpole to call him 'the lunatic apostle'. Whether it detracted from the effect he had, or secretly added to it, Gordon had the reputation of a libertine in his private life. It was significant that when he denounced the Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury as 'the Whore of Babylon' for his Catholic sympathies, a wit commented that this particular whore was the only whore that Gordon disliked.   Lord George was the sixth child of the Duke of Gordon. His education at Eton College was conventional, a note of eccentricity in his family circle being struck by his mother, the Duchess: on being widowed, she chose to marry a young American soldier. It was the Duchess who decided on her son's early career in the navy. Lord George was twenty-nine at the time of the Gordon Riots, and had been a Member of Parliament for Ludgershall in Wiltshire since the age of twenty-two: it was a seat, in the un- reformed House of Commons, which had been bought for him by General Simon Fraser, the Member of Parliament for Inverness.   Gordon was a complicated character. His fierce hostility to the idea of Catholic Relief should be contrasted with other views which would be considered positively liberal in the modern sense of the word (liberal used here as an adjective, meaning generous and tolerant, would come to be used in a critical political sense: but there was no Liberal Party as yet in Britain). Undoubtedly possessing great personal charm, he was kind and tender to his social inferiors. Mistreatment of the sailors during his naval career appalled him and he said so: he was 'the sailor's friend', in the words of a biography written shortly after his death. Visiting Jamaica, he studied the conditions in which the inhabitants lived and was indignant at what he called 'the bloody treatment of the negroes'. In America, by way of contrast, he admired the free-and-easy way of life and independent spirit which he found in the people. Later, as an MP, influenced by Burke, he was marked by his violent opposition to the 'mad, cruel and accursed American war' against the would-be independent colonies.   This was also a man who, as the son of a duke, felt entitled to call on King George III, and exercised his birthright twice. In the second of the two interviews, he chose to indulge himself in a rant about the historic banishment of the House of Stuart for its encouragement of Popery and arbitrary power, with the obvious implication for the future of the King himself, given the Relief Act he had sanctioned. Unsurprisingly, Gordon was denied access to the royal presence a third time.   As all this demonstrates, as well as the charm and the compassion, there was something deeply erratic in Gordon's nature. On the one hand, it enabled him to exercise a hypnotic influence over large numbers of people. On the other hand, it could take an extremely aggressive form which brought its own consequences. Horace Walpole's lunatic apostle was on another occasion described by him as Lord George Macbeth. There was a saying that there were three parties in Parliament, the ministry, the Opposition and Lord George Gordon - to which the man himself characteristically responded that he belonged to a fourth party, the party of the people. Another reference was made to the 'whirligig' nature of his political speeches, which contrasted with the 'elegant young gentleman of engaging manners' who went out in Society.   When the Catholic Relief Bill was originally introduced into the House of Commons on 15 May 1778, not many Members were present and interest in it was lacklustre. It was not long, however, before stories began to spread and play upon the sus­ceptibilities of what seemed like a self-perpetuating Anti-Catholic mob. In Scotland a separate bill was proposed in 1779, but met with organized hostility in which Gordon took a keen personal interest. As a result, he was elected leader of the Scottish Protestant Association.   One anecdote seems to sum up that mixture of good man­ners and ardent Anti-Popery which characterized Edinburgh. As the good Catholic Bishop Hay was returning home, a woman explained to him with great courtesy why the way was blocked: 'Oh, Sir, we are just burning the Popish chapel and we only wish we had the Bishop to throw in the fire.' She evidently believed her behaviour to be perfectly normal, or at any rate to need no further justification. There were torchlight processions in Glasgow and other demonstrations; Gordon was able to report to the House of Commons that many of the Scots were quite sure that King George III was actually a 'Papist'. The Bill was abandoned in February 1779.   All of this was highly encouraging to the English Anti-Papist zealots: in the autumn of 1779 an English Protestant Association was formed with the declared aim of getting the Relief Act repealed. The title page of the Appeal from the Protestant Association by Bishop Sherlock did not mince words: 'To design the Advancement of POPERY is to design the Ruin of the State, and the Destruction of the Church, it is to sacrifice the Nation to a double Slavery, to prepare chains for their Bodies and their Minds.' This theme was continued in the text. Popery had long been 'chained' in Britain and the consequences of unchaining it would be dreadful to posterity: 'to tolerate Popery is to encour­age what by Toleration itself we mean to destroy, a spirit of persecution of the most notorious kind'. In parallel, Gordon's speeches in the House of Commons, never calm, became notably wilder as the months passed.   Excerpted from The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829 by Antonia Fraser All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. ix
Author's Notep. xi
Acknowledgementsp. xiii
Prologue: Sky like Bloodp. 1
Part 1 The Dangerous Mixture
Chapter 1 That Fallen Worshipp. 17
Chapter 2 Nothing to Fear in Englandp. 35
Chapter 3 The Royal Consciencep. 49
Chapter 4 Green Shores of Libertyp. 63
Chapter 5 Cardinal Tempterp. 78
Chapter 6 Grattan the Greatp. 95
Part 2 The Abominable Question
Chapter 7 Serving Ireland Royallyp. 111
Chapter 8 Millstonep. 126
Chapter 9 A Protestant Kingp. 139
Chapter 10 Noise of No Poperyp. 156
Chapter 11 Mr Canningp. 170
Part 3 The Duke And The Demagogues
Chapter 12 O'Connell's Boldest Stepp. 187
Chapter 13 Brunswickersp. 204
Chapter 14 Boot-and-Spur Workp. 217
Chapter 15 From RPeel to Repealp. 230
Chapter 16 The Duelp. 244
Chapter 17 Tale of Two MPsp. 259
Chapter 18 Bloodless Revolutionp. 271
Referencesp. 283
Sourcesp. 292
Indexp. 305