Gentry Royalists or Independent Diggers? The Nature of the English Catholic Community in the Civil War Period of the 1640s

Science and Society 57 (3):313 - 348 (1993)
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Abstract

The extensive recent county and village studies of 17th-century England are used to examine the English Roman Catholic community. Contrary to the traditional picture of English Catholics during the Civil War of the 1640s as gentry royalists, they were mainly laboring people who sided with the Independents and levelers. Even in the southeast, where the Catholic gentry were most prominent, gentry were less than 20% of the Catholic population. Most Catholics lived in the poorer areas of the north and west of England and made their living by manual labor. In such areas, Catholicism not only survived but expanded, because the Anglican clergy were unwilling to serve in such areas. The laboring English Catholics professed an antinomian spirituality with little reference to the crown, to Parliament, to the landlords, or to the monopolists. During the war the Catholics along with their laboring Protestant counterparts made gains in obtaining land reform, including rent-free or reduced-in-price leases and the halting of enclosures. They also won electoral, tax, tithe, pension, and military reforms and obtained anti-monopoly and full-employment measures.

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