The conventional view of early modern English Catholicism is one of persecution up to 1650 subsequently settling into stable coexistence. I seek to problematize and challenge this view, utilising two insights from studies of Europe which have to date had limited impact in the historiography of Britain. I will apply the concept of the Long Reformation (most literature focuses on subsets of this 200-year period) to position changes in the context of long-term continuities, and using studies of bi-confessional communities in France, Germany and the Netherlands as templates I will investigate the means by which Catholics maintained their identity within close-knit communities where everyday survival necessitated good relations with one’s neighbours.
I will explore these themes in the microhistory of a county, which allows the necessary depth of analysis via record linkage. Local studies of Catholicism invariably focus on its heartlands: in contrast I have chosen Cheshire as a Protestant stronghold more typical of England overall, but with added dimensions (strong Catholicism in the surrounding counties, the principal route between the north and Catholic Ireland).
Beyond academia, studies of faith groups inform debate on the role of religion today. There are parallels between contemporary British Muslims and early modern Catholics (mostly law-abiding but with a perceived supranational loyalty and a small radicalised minority within their ranks). The study also has implications for an archaeological project to determine whether human remains discovered in 2015 at Holywell may be those of a Cheshire martyr of 1679.
My research is funded by a scholarship from the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures (BRIHC).