Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

God's Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

God's Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England

Article excerpt

God's Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England. By Jessie Childs. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2014. Pp. xxiv, 443. $29.95 clothbound, ISBN 9780-19-939235-3; $13.19 ebook, ISBN 978-0-19-939237-7.)

Jessie Childs brings to us, with vivid storytelling and in-depth scholarship, the heroic witness to Catholic faith in a time of persecution. Modern readers, so complacent in constitutional protections of religious liberty, will be awakened by this chronicle of another time when the once-established Catholic religion was strug-. gling to stay alive in a Protestant England afraid of Catholic plots from within and Catholic Spain's attempts to reassert the ancient faith by invasion.

The book follows the activities of two generations of the Vaux family-their co-religionists of the noble classes (some thirty-one families) and everyday members of their households-through the arc of Elizabeth's reign, which, as far as English Catholics were concerned, could be divided into two epochs: before and after the failed (and subsequent) armadas of 1588.

The poles of this pre/post armada span can be denoted by two quotations given by the author. The first, asserting the intention of the Jesuit-led reclamation/resistance, is from Edmund Campion's Bragg (1580): "So the faith was planted, so it must be restored" (p. 43). The second, stating the consequence of these efforts, is from John Whitgift, archbishop of Canterbury, who in 1588 said: "We are disgraced, defaced, confined from our native countries, imprisoned, impoverished, forsaken of friends, triumphed upon by foes, scorned of all men" (p. 164). In the aftermath of the failed invasion, seventeen priests, nine laymen, and one woman were executed to pay for "the time of fright and rumour" (p. 160).

At first, Elizabeth was timid in her persecution of Catholics, attempting only to starve them out by advancing the purification begun by her brother, Edward VI, ridding her kingdom of priests-hence, killing the sacramental life essential to Catholic piety and practice. Later, after Pope Pius V's bull (Regnans in excelsis, 1570) excommunicated her and basically gave Catholics permission to disregard their sovereign's laws, the queen and her government became more vigorous and determined to suppress any fifth-column subversions, and there were many between 1569 and 1605. …

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