Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: How Catholicism Survived the Penal Laws

There was great political and social, really personal , upheaval when Henry VIII decided to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the pope did not give his permission. After long negotiations and threats, Henry declared himself head of the church in England. The king’s decision affected his realm well into the nineteenth century.

Not all of the aristocrats, much less the people, were one hundred percent convinced that this was a good idea so Henry imposed a series of laws that outlawed Roman Catholic worship in the realm. Catholics could not attend university, own land or serve in Parliament.
How did Catholicism survive?

-After decreasing to only one percent of the population in the mid-1700s, the numbers of Catholics began to climb with the immigration of Irish and Italian craftsmen and workers. It is estimated that in 1780, there were 80,000 Catholics in the country.
-Sons were often brought up in COE to preserve their rights of inheritance, while daughters were schooled at home in the Catholic way. A husband might attend COE services without his wife and children.

-Catholic families of means sent their sons abroad to train as priests, although that was illegal. They returned to England and ministered to congregations in small, but illegal family or estate based chapels. There were few legal public chapels until after the Catholic Relief Act of 1791. See below.
-In London, each embassy of a Catholic country was allowed to have its own chapel, but their registers indicate they served a greater population.

-There were pockets of Catholicism where laws were not enforced vigorously – Lancashire and rural Yorkshire – areas about as far away from London as you can get. Certain large cities also gave some relief from oppression.
The Catholic Relief Act was passed in 1791, allowed Catholics to enter the legal profession and granted toleration for their schools and churches.  In 1829, full equality was given by the Catholic Emancipation Act.  In 1850, the Catholic Church organized into dioceses again, but it was after World War I before geographical parishes were set up.  In the intervening time, people could choose their own place of worship. This may account for your finding your family records in a variety of registers.

At the beginning of civil registration of births, deaths and marriages, the government asked for the clergy to turn in their old registers. Only a few Catholic ones were included. See next week’s blog post to find out how to get UK Catholic information.
Source: Christensen, Dr. Penelope. Researching English Non-Anglican Records. Toronto, Canada: Heritage Productions 2003.

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating, Susan. I'm heading over to your next post to learn more so I can start searching for those records. Wish me luck!