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From retribution to toleration


For English Catholics the plot was a disaster, tainting all with the treason of a handful of men; and when Parliament met in January 1606, there were calls for action against Catholics from strongly Protestant MPs.

James I argued that the majority of Catholics were loyal. However he supported legislation which made them swear an oath affirming loyalty to the King and denying the power of the Pope.

The Gunpowder Plot seems to have marked the end of active Catholic conspiracy in England, Wales and Scotland, but Protestant suspicion lived on. Life for Catholics remained uncomfortable.

In the 1630s Protestants thought that Charles I's religious policies were leading the English church too close to Catholicism and their belief in a Catholic plot helped to draw Parliament into war with the King in 1642.

From the late 1660s onwards, during the reign of Charles II, many people thought that Catholics were planning to take over the government of the country. Their fears became intense when it was known that the heir to the throne, Charles's brother James, had converted to Catholicism.

From 1678 to 1681 the idea of 'The Popish Plot' - which turned out to be entirely fictional - obsessed the country and was supposed to have been designed to assassinate Charles in order to bring James to the throne.

When James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, his replacement by King William III and Queen Mary II was seen as rescuing Protestantism in England from the Catholic threat.

With the final defeat of James' heirs in the Rebellion of 1745, politicians no longer saw Catholicism as a danger. The penalties against Catholics exercising their religion were rarely enforced and some of the penalties against them were removed.

Although 'Popery' was still capable of raising powerful popular emotions throughout the 18th and into the 19th century, Roman Catholics were increasingly accepted in English politics and society.

In 1829 most remaining legal disabilities placed on Catholics were finally removed by Parliament in the Catholic Emancipation Act.

Also within Living Heritage


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James VI & I
Charles I
Charles II
James II
William III
Mary II

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