Catholic Record Society Conference 2015: Marian Catholicism and its legacy

A lovely summer's day in Cambridge, looking across the grass at Downing, while heading to dinner on Day 2.
A lovely summer’s day in Cambridge, looking across the grass at Downing, while heading to dinner on Day 2 of the conference.

This year’s Catholic Record Society (CRS) Conference was held at beautiful Downing College, Cambridge, during 20-22 July 2015. I was part of a panel on Marian Catholicism and its legacy, with Fred Smith (University of Cambridge,@Fred_E_Smith) and Ceri Law (Queen Mary, University of London,@Ceri_Law). It proved to be three days of vibrant and stimulating discussion, and was organised with great efficiency by Liesbeth Corens (University of Cambridge,@onslies) and Hannah Thomas (Durham University,@HannahJane85). Our abstracts are outlined below and full details of the conference and the Society can be found here:


(You can also follow the CRS on Twitter:@CatholicRS.)


Dr Elizabeth Evenden – Catholicism under Philip and Mary: English and Spanish perspectives and the Elizabethan propaganda machine

It is hard to escape the influence of John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments on the history of English religious history; its perception of events persists, even in the media and heritage industries of England today. Perhaps the most provocative piece of propaganda of its age, Foxe’s narrative of the reign of Philip and Mary was relentless in its depiction of the alleged evils of Catholicism. At the apex of this evil practice was Spanish Catholicism. This paper will consider what Foxe had to say about the Spanish but also what the Spanish clerics and courtiers in England at the time had to say about the English (a viewpoint inevitably ignored by Foxe).

By examining Foxe and other contemporary printed sources, this paper sets them in the context of the manuscript sources available for those who were at the heart of the Spanish contingent in England. It considers the events in England that involved Spanish clerics – what influence they had in catholic practices and the notorious burning of heretics – and it considers why Foxe used certain tactics to discuss their involvement. It reveals how Foxe’s original remit for discussing the Spanish changed during the writing of the 1570 (second) edition, and consider the reasons why this was so.

Fred Smith – Pillars of Consciences: Deprived

Whereas an older generation of scholars saw the Marian restoration as a half-hearted attempt to resuscitate a dying breed of Catholicism, historians such as Eamon Duffy have recently opened our eyes to the vibrancy, zeal and strength of the Marian Church. This church was already developing the heightened interiority, stricter regulation and greater reverence for the papacy which were to become the hallmarks of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in the wake of the Council of Trent.

Despite this revolution in our understanding of the Marian Church, no similar reinterpretation of early-Elizabethan Catholicism has followed. The 1560s continues to be regarded as a decade of confusion and chaos in which English Catholics suffered a crisis of leadership, direction and identity. In the face of such uncertainty, most settled for a muddled compromise with the Elizabethan regime – finding ways of demonstrating their religious identity whilst still attending the services of their parish church.

Through examining the activities of a group of clergymen who were the vanguards of Marian spirituality, the cathedral clergy, this paper explores how an alternative view of 1560s Catholicism is possible. The large number of these clergymen deprived upon Elizabeth’s accession remained dedicated to the faith they had helped build under Mary, and worked to spread their understanding of what it meant to be Catholic amongst the English laity through print and preaching. An analysis of these printed tracts, as well as the opinions of laypeople who came into contact with these clergymen, reveals that they were in no way confused following the death of their queen. On the contrary, they seem to have been united in a firm ‘Marian’ understanding of the faith – an understanding which had no place for ‘lukewarm’ Catholics who conformed with the demands of Protestants.

Dr Ceri Law – Elizabethan memories of the Marian regime

The restoration of Catholicism in England under Mary I was only brief, but historians now increasingly recognise the deep cultural impact that it had upon English Catholicism.  However, the way that subsequent generations of English Catholics recalled, constructed and used the memory of this period has received very little attention.  This paper focuses upon the way that Elizabethan exile writers of Catholic polemics invoked both Mary I and her reign.  Taking the works of Nicholas Sander and Robert Persons as central case studies, it argues that we can see a shift in how these later writers sought to explain the apparent failure of Marian attempts to restore Catholicism.  In examining these Elizabethan constructions of the recent past, it is apparent how deeply these accounts are shaped by later circumstance, and how far this has affected their and subsequent judgements of Mary’s reign.


My interest in the Spanish clerics who came to England during Mary’s reign was sparked by work for the British Academy John Foxe Project (www.johnfoxe.org), when I was writing mini-biographies of everyone mentioned by Foxe in his accounts of the reign of Mary I. (I cross-referenced the first four English editions, printed by John Day during Foxe’s lifetime – 1563, 1570, 1576, and 1583.) My work with Spanish sources for the period, as part of my current research project, has afforded me the opportunity to explore this topic further.

Although Foxe mentions Philip and his retinue on occasion throughout his narrative of Mary’s reign, he never places them centre-stage (not even Philip, as Consort); they remain on the periphery of his discussion. If you only read Foxe’s account of the return to Catholicism under Mary, you could be forgiven for thinking that Philip’s involvement was minimal and that the involvement of his Spanish clerics was negligible.

Then would she needes bryng in kyng Philip, and by her straunge Mariage with him, make the whole Realme of England subiect unto a straunger … With kyng Philip also came in the Pope and his Popishe Masse: with whom also her purpose was to restore agayne the Monkes and Nonnes vnto their places, neither lacked there all kynd of attemptes to the uttermost of her abilitie: and yet therin also God stopt her of her will, that it came not forward.

From ‘The unprosperous successe of thinges under Q. Marie’, in John Foxe, The ecclesiasticall history contaynyng the actes and monumentes of thynges passed in euery kynges tyme in this realme, especially in the Church of England principally to be noted: with a full discourse of such persecutions, horrible troubles, the sufferyng of martyrs, and other thinges incident, touchyng aswel the sayd Church of England as also Scotland, and all other foreine nations, from the primitiue tyme till the reigne of K. Henry VIII  (London, 1570) STC 11223, p. 2297.

This is, perhaps, to be expected. While Foxe could have chosen to attack them for their involvement in the restoration of Catholicism in England, they were not his primary target. Nor was his paper supply infinite (particularly in the case of the second edition, where Foxe expanded his text considerably). His primary targets were the English clerics and English nobility who assisted in the ‘persecution’ of English Protestants.


Yet despite their shadowy appearance in Foxe’s text, several Spanish clerics were involved in the dismantling of Edwardian Protestantism and the revival of Catholicism under Mary and Philip. Many of them arrived with Philip in England on 20 July 1554, just five days before Philip’s marriage to Mary at Westminster Cathedral.


Prior to Philip’s arrival, the marriage treaty made it abundantly clear that he could not involve foreigners in key decisions and positions in England, during his time as Consort:

he shall not promote, admit, or receive to any office, administration or benefice in the said realm of England and the dominions thereunto belonging any stranger or person not born under the dominion and subjection of the said most noble lady, Queen of England. [Paul L. Hughes, and James F. Larkin (eds), Tudor Royal Proclamations, 3 vols (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964–69), II, p. 25.]

But that is not to say that Philip’s Spanish clerics were not in England in some quasi-official capacity, to assist in the restoration of Catholicism, and that Philip could not aid this restoration. The research of John Edwards (University of Oxford, http://www.mod-langs.ox.ac.uk/jedwards) has done much to reveal the extent to which Fray Bartolomé Carranza was involved in that restoration; indeed, he was pivotal in the reintroduction of the old heresy law ‘On the burning of heretics’ (of 1401) in England. (Carranza’s Comentarios, written during his time in England, is detailed elsewhere on this blog.) He was consulted not only on the day-to-day running of parishes but also on how to deal with English heretics. (Carranza had previously worked as a consultor to the Spanish Inquisition in Valladolid.)

Two Dominicans, Fray Pedro de Soto (Confessor to Charles V) and Fray Juan de Villagarcía, were among those who had made the journey to England, and they were both involved in the questioning of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer after his arrest. [For Foxe’s interpretation of the events leading up to Cranmer’s execution see Foxe, A&M [1563], pp. 1129–33. On the role of Villagarcia and de Soto, see Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 584–99.]

Carranza would later confirm that he was central in ensuring that the former archbishop be condemned as a heretic. [See John Edwards, Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen (Yale University Press, 2013), pp. 261–3 and John Edwards, ‘The Spanish Inquisition Refashioned: The Experience of Mary I’s England and the Valladolid Tribunal, 1559’, Hispanic Research Journal, 13 (2012): 46.]

The paper I presented at the CRS Conference was something of a ‘taster’ for my forthcoming chapter in Catholic Renewal and Protestant Resistance in Marian England (see below), which explores in greater detail this involvement of Spanish clerics in the revival of Catholicism in England. It also considers the Spanish perspective on events at the time, by detailing accounts written by Spaniards who traveled amongst Philip’s retinue, and who witnessed events first-hand.

We thoroughly enjoyed delivering our panel on Marian Catholicism and its legacy at the Catholic Record Society Conference. It seemed to go down well…

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Suggested further reading / listening

John Edwards, Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen (Yale University Press, 2013), pp. 261–3
_____, ‘The Spanish Inquisition Refashioned: The Experience of Mary I’s England and the Valladolid Tribunal, 1559’, Hispanic Research Journal, 13 (2012): 46
Elizabeth Evenden, ‘Spanish Involvement in the Restoration of Catholicism during the Reign of Philip and Mary’ in Catholic Renewal and Protestant Resistance in Marian England, ed. Elizabeth Evenden and Vivienne Westbrook (Ashgate, forthcoming 2015)
Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 584–99

Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’: Podcast about Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’, featuring Diarmaid MacCulloch, Justin Champion and Elizabeth Evenden as guest experts

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