The Bishop of Rome and the Catholics of England

The visit of Pope John Paul II to England, Scotland and Wales, has brought to the fore interest in the complex relations which have existed between the Papacy and religion and politics in post-Reformation Britain. In the first of these articles, Eamon Duffy traces the path of the dilemmas and allegiances of English Catholics since the Reformation.

The place of the Bishop of Rome as a public enemy number one in the English Reformation is well known. The reformed Church of England was itself the product of the Royal Supremacy, the assumption in England by the Crown of spiritual powers formerly exercised throughout Christendom by the Pope. He was henceforward regarded as a foreign potentate claiming a usurped and treasonable jurisdiction. To this official line was added a growing popular detestation, fuelled both by savage caricature and pulpit propaganda, and by the association of the Catholic cause with the Inquisition, 'persuasion' by faggot and sword. The fires of Smithfield in which protestant martyrs perished in the reign of 'Bloody' Mary burned themselves into the national imagination. But the Pope as bogeyman was well established even before Mary's time. 'From all sedition and privy conspiracy' ran the Litany of Edward VI's second Book of Common Prayer, 'from the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities ‘Good Lord deliver us'.

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