with Francis Young
(Assistant Director of Sixth Form, Teacher of Religious Studies & Classics, The King’s School, Ely)
at Sutton Hoo
Saturday, 29th March 2014.

In spite of the Reformation, the ‘Old Religion’ never went away in East Anglia; Catholicism survived through the patronage and influence of a close knit group of gentry families. This course examines those families, the unique challenges they faced, and their historical legacy.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15: Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15: Why did Catholicism live on in East Anglia?

Catholicism has existed in East Anglia since the Reformation where many wealthy families continued to maintain the ‘Old Faith’. The region also supported unbroken urban Catholic communities, comprising the whole social spectrum, in Norwich and Bury St Edmunds. This first session will explore why and how Catholicism survived and flourished in a region where the Reformation was so successful. We will trace the effect of the Reformation on parish life in villages and towns in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth, the revival of Catholicism under Mary, and explore the phenomena of conservatism, conformists and popish recusants.

11.15 – 11.45: Coffee break

11.45 – 12.45: Who were the Catholics? East Anglia’s Catholic families. This session will introduce the principal Catholic families of Norfolk and Suffolk, many of whom remained Catholic from 1559 until their extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries (and, in one case, up to the present day). East Anglian Catholics of the 16th and 17th centuries were a mixture of ancient local families, incomers from other counties, and converts from Protestantism. So influential were the gentry Catholics that, although few in number, they dominated some localities in spite of the success of Protestantism amongst ordinary people. However, a rising Catholic population from the late 18th century meant that the Catholic gentry’s desire to control the mission could do more harm than good, and this period saw the development of independent Catholic congregations and enhanced power for the clergy.

12.45 – 14.00: Lunch break

14.00 – 15.00: The Catholic mission. This session will examine Catholic missionary activity in East Anglia and the role of priests and the different religious orders – Jesuits, Benedictines, Dominicans and Franciscans – as well as the grisly fate they faced if captured by the Elizabethan and Jacobean authorities. It will explore how priests used the network of Catholic families to conduct their dangerous ministry and assess how successful they were in preserving the ‘Old Faith’ and converting non-Catholics in this part of England. We will also consider the evidence for East Anglians who travelled to the Continent to be trained as Catholic priests.

15.00 – 15.20: Tea break

15.20 – 16.20: Surviving the ‘Penal Laws’. Catholics were the great survivors of early modern England, braving the persecution that followed the Act of Uniformity (1559), the Spanish Armada (1588), the Gunpowder Plot (1605), the Civil War (1642-51), the Popish Plot (1678), the Glorious Revolution (1688), and the Jacobite rebellions (1715 & 1745). We shall explore how Catholics in East Anglia coped with these challenges by switching allegiances, ingenious legal ploys, and outright resistance. It will concentrate on the importance of land, secure finances, creative estate management and, above all, marriage alliances to the Catholic community, and evaluate how much of a threat England’s anti-Catholic laws really were to East Anglian recusants.

c.16.20: Thanks and Close

About Dr Francis Young

Francis Young is a teacher and historian who has written extensively on the history of English Catholicism, with a particular focus on East Anglia. He holds a doctorate in history from Cambridge University and is the author of English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553-1829. His book on the Gage family, The Gages of Hengrave and Suffolk Catholicism, 1640-1767, will appear in October 2014; his edition of the papers of the Rookwood family for the Suffolk Records Society is currently at the editorial stage.

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Gordon Blackwood, Tudor and Stuart Suffolk (Carnegie: Lancaster, 2001)

Lynn Boothman and Richard Hyde Parker (eds), Savage Fortune: An Aristocratic Family in the Early Seventeenth Century (Suffolk Records Society: Woodbridge, 2006)

Eamon Duffy, Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations (Bloomsbury: London, 2012)

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Suffolk and the Tudors: Politics and Religion in an English County 1500-1600 (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1986)

Joy Rowe, The Story of Catholic Bury St. Edmunds, Coldham and Surrounding District (Bury St Edmunds, 1981).

Joy Rowe, ‘Roman Catholic Recusancy’ in David Dymond and Edward Martin (eds), An Historical Atlas of Suffolk (Suffolk County Council: Ipswich, 1988), pp. 88-89

John Walter, Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution: The Colchester Plunderers (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1999)


Please phone or email to check the availability of places. Study Days are £36 per person, which includes a full day of lectures, access to the NT site, parking, coffee and tea throughout the day, and access to the NT exhibition. Once you have reserved your place please send payment to confirm the booking. For your first booking please complete the application form to ensure that we have recorded your contact details correctly.

Wuffing Education,
4 Hilly Fields,
Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4DX
tel : 01394 386498

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