Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion, C. 1550-1640

By Marshall, Peter | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion, C. 1550-1640


Marshall, Peter, The Catholic Historical Review


Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion, c. 1550-1640. By Michael C. Questier. [Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2006. Pp. xxii, 559. $80.00.)

The title of Michael Questier's important and ambitious study is an undisguised tribute to John Bossy's seminal book on The English Catholic Community (1975). Bossy's account of the first generations of post-Reformation Catholic history told a story of "seigneurialization," and of increasing political quietism, as the generally conformist attitudes of the gentry triumphed over the grander ambitions of their seminarist chaplains. It was also a largely "internalist" narrative, with English Catholicism treated sociologically as a species of religious nonconformity. Questier's interpretation differs on both scores: he questions the notion of a retreat from political engagements on the part of Catholic elites, and at the same time presents a model of a Catholic "community" fundamentally structured and determined by its interactions with the rest of English society.

The point of entry for these explorations is a single aristocratic fanuly: the Brownes of Cowdray and Battle in Sussex (raised to the peerage in 1554 as Viscounts Montague). The main protagonists are the first Viscount (d. 1592), a broadly moderate and conformist figure (though not, Questier argues, as moderate or conformist as he has been painted), and his grandson the second Viscount, a much more overt nonconformist, convinced that his infant son had died because he allowed him to be christened in the Church of England. However, this is no conventional family history. The main focus is an analysis of what Questier usefully terms the Brownes'" entourage" - a variegated cluster of kin, client, and ideological connections - and particularly the activities of the family's chaplains. One of the central, provocative insights of the book is that English Catholicism in this period is best understood, not as a uniform entity, a gathered Church of right-minded individuals, but as "a conglomeration of social attitudes, political allegiances, parish frictions, marital links and patronage/clientage conections"(p. …

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