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Reading and politics in early modern England: The mental world of a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman

Reading and politics in early modern England: The mental world of a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman

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Reading and politics in early modern England: The mental world of a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman

Comprimento:
444 página
6 horas
Lançado em:
Jul 19, 2013
ISBN:
9781847797544
Formato:
Livro

Descrição

This book examines the activities of William Blundell, a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman, and using the approaches of the history of reading, provides a detailed analysis of his mindset.

Blundell was neither the passive victim nor the entirely loyal subject that he and others have claimed. He actively defended his family from the penal laws and used the relative freedom that this gave him to patronise other Catholics. Not only did he rewrite the histories of recent civil conflicts to show that Protestants were prone to rebellion and Catholics to loyalty, but we also find a different perspective on his religious beliefs. Blundell’s commonplaces suggest an underlying tension with aspects of Catholicism, a tension manifest throughout his notes on his practical engagement with the world, in which it is clear that he was wrestling with the various aspects of his identity.

This is an important study that will be of interest to all who work on the early modern period.
Lançado em:
Jul 19, 2013
ISBN:
9781847797544
Formato:
Livro

Sobre o autor

Geoff Baker is Senior Academic Advisor at the Centre for Integrative Learning, University of Nottingham

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Reading and politics in early modern England - Geoff Baker

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Introduction

On Friday 25 May 1660 William Blundell, a Catholic gentleman from Lancashire, joined Charles II’s entourage on his return from exile. During the trip across the Channel, which Blundell recorded with glee in his commonplace books, he noted that the occupants of the ship measured themselves against each other, notching their heights on a beam. On examination of the notches Blundell found that he was five inches shorter than Charles, which he was quick to emphasise was the result of an injury sustained in the King’s service during the Civil War.¹ Blundell’s notes from this period continue in euphoric form and suggest that he was overwhelmed not only by the return of monarchy but also by the anticipated removal of the penal laws in recognition of Catholic loyalty to the throne, which he believed was epitomised in the injury that he gladly bore for the King.² Yet within one year Blundell complained that due to the advice of ‘Eevel Councellors about the King’ the persecution of ‘his Majesties most faithful subjects’ continued, a grievance that stayed with him till his death in 1698.³ Throughout his life Blundell projected the image of a staunch recusant who voluntarily drew an easy distinction between religion and politics, being at once both a loyal Englishman and a devoted Catholic. The few secondary works that consider his life have generally accepted these claims at face value, distinguishing him from his namesakes with the epithet ‘the Cavalier’.⁴

This book considers the extent to which Blundell’s reputation was justified by his actions. His surviving correspondence provides an overview of the activities that he was involved in, from which it is clear that he was neither the passive victim nor the entirely loyal subject that he and others have claimed. Blundell actively defended his family from the extremes of the penal laws, particularly through creating sprawling kin and social networks, which included both Catholics and Protestants. The relative freedom that this support offered Blundell allowed him to patronise other Catholics. In his locality he ensured that the township of Little Crosby was populated almost entirely by his co-religionists, on a national level he circulated arguments supporting the removal of the penal laws, and on an international level he worked as an agent for the Poor Clares of Rouen. This view of Blundell’s life is further supported by the notes on his reading. Not only did Blundell rewrite the histories of recent civil conflicts to show that Protestants were prone to rebellion and Catholics to loyalty to monarchy, but we also find a different take on his religious beliefs. Though he was a committed Catholic, his commonplaces suggest an underlying tension with a number of central tenets of Catholicism, which do not accord with the image of an unquestioning believer. This tension was manifest throughout his notes on his practical engagement with the world, which reveal the nuances and anxieties in his thinking across a wide spectrum of social, political and personal issues. Blundell’s papers offer a unique insight into the political culture of an early modern Catholic and a valuable contribution to our understanding of Catholic agency and gentry reading practices. An examination of his political and cultural worlds complicates generalisations about early modern religious identities and challenges a historical determinism which removes Catholics from the mainstream of early-modern society. Before we turn to consider these points in detail it is vital that this book is situated within its historiographical context.

I

Until the 1970s English Catholicism was generally excluded from mainstream historiography. Catholics were either ignored altogether or portrayed as effeminate, absolutist in inclination and subversive of all that it meant to be English.⁵ Consequently, the writing of Catholic history has often been left to Catholic historians, which has led to another set of problems. In an effort to show how Catholics were marginalised and persecuted, emphasis was placed on the penal laws, without consideration of the extent to which they were applied. Contemporary Catholics were thus presented as a homogeneous group of victims.⁶ This is not to say that this work can be dismissed lightly. J. C. H. Aveling, a one-time Benedictine monk, wrote a number of extensively researched studies of post-Reformation Catholicism in the north of England which, though inclined to highlight the victimhood of contemporary Catholics, successfully drew attention to previously ignored Catholic archives, as well as reinvigorating interest in this topic through an animated writing style.⁷ However, while such work is often based on detailed engagement with particular archival material, the approach tends to be uninformed by broader work on the period, which has led Ethan Shagan to remark that Catholicism has become ‘a historiographical sub-field or occasionally a ghetto’ and Christopher Haigh to state that Catholic history remains ‘an intellectual backwater, mainly worked at by Catholics who publish in house journals’.⁸

In the 1970s John Bossy completed his seminal study of English Catholicism, a work that radically challenged widely accepted axioms. Crucially he argued that, far from being a decreasing minority in its death throes, English Catholicism was a thriving nonconformist sect. Losing its state sponsorship gave Catholicism a vitality that it had hitherto not enjoyed, and through the efforts of entrepreneurial missionary clergy Catholicism developed a distinctive identity. However, though not for confessional reasons, Bossy’s work agreed that by the seventeenth century English Catholics formed a homogeneous, politically inactive and hermetically sealed community, properly Catholic only when it was fully separated from Protestantism.⁹ For Bossy, 1603 witnessed the Catholic ‘retreat from the political engagements which had marked the Elizabethan period’.¹⁰ Therefore, though Bossy’s work highlighted the vigour of early modern English Catholicism, his conclusions still removed it from mainstream historiography, allowing Catholicism to retain its status as an interesting, but largely irrelevant, subfield of English history. This remained into the 1990s a staple of mainstream historiography, the focus of which was the language used to articulate anti-popery and the impact that these fears had on English politics, as opposed to the actual activities of Catholics.¹¹

Over the last twenty years post-Reformation English Catholicism has received increasing attention. Historians such as Peter Lake, Michael Questier and Alexandra Walsham have paved the way for a new approach that views Catholics not as a homogeneous group but as individuals who played an active role within both their communities and the body politic.¹² Although the focus of these studies is English Catholicism in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, their arguments significantly revise our understanding of early modern English Catholicism in general.

Recent work on early modern England has challenged the view that religious belief necessarily marked distinct delineations within society. Instead, for many, religious belief was fluid and contemporaries gravitated between varieties of worldviews that defy precise categorisation.¹³ Changing views on religious polarisation in this period have been, in part, a result of revisionist work on the English Reformation. It is now generally accepted that England’s conversion to Protestantism was not an overnight phenomenon and that the pre-Reformation church was not crumbling with dissent. Instead many contemporaries slowly took on Protestant forms of worship, harbouring sympathies for the old religion.¹⁴ This has a direct impact on how we view Catholicism in the early modern period.

The main focus of Catholic histories has been recusants, those Catholics who refused to attend Anglican Church service. Indeed, the foremost journal of English Catholic history is entitled Recusant History, while Walsham states that the history of post-Reformation English Catholicism has been ‘traditionally and unashamedly recusant history’.¹⁵ Recusants provided a perspective of post-Reformation English Catholicism that suited the needs of early modern Catholic clergy keen to emphasise the staunch commitment of lay Catholics, as well as according with more modern-day views that maintained that they were a homogeneous group of victims. Furthermore, recusants are relatively easy to identify as their failure to attend church often meant that they were proceeded against by the authorities and left a quantifiable paper trail behind.¹⁶ The main sources for the study of recusants are the recusant rolls that record the fines they paid for failure to attend church.¹⁷ On the basis of these sources most estimates maintain that recusants accounted for around one per cent of the English population during the seventeenth century.¹⁸ However, to end any study of English Catholics here would present a distorted picture, and it is vital that views of recusancy should be supplemented by two further categories of Catholic: the exile and the church papist.

Exiles were those who felt bound by their conscience, or were forced by government authorities, to flee the country and live abroad in parts of Catholic Europe, particularly France.¹⁹ Many entered religious orders and kept in regular contact with family and friends in England, forming an important component of the networks that many English Catholics operated within. During the Interregnum exiled Royalists made vital use of these networks, sending messages through the complex mail service that had developed between nuns in the Low Countries and their family and financiers in England.²⁰ Many studies of English Catholicism fail to consider exiled English Catholics because of pragmatic factors: records pertaining to them are often held in foreign record offices and written in a foreign language. None the less, excluding exiles from a study of English Catholicism fails to highlight an important component of the English Catholic population.

The final group of English Catholics are the so-called ‘church papists’, individuals who attended Anglican Church service while secretly committed to the Catholic faith. Categories of church papist include heads of Catholic households who conformed to protect their property and those who attended Anglican services but refused to accept Holy Communion. As their identities resided in the mind, church papists ‘defy statistical analysis’.²¹ A central presupposition underlining Bossy’s work is that the church papist had virtually disappeared by 1600.²² Walsham has shown that this was far from being the case: fear of church papists continued throughout the seventeenth century, a number of previous conformists exposed their Catholic faith as the Stuart court became more sympathetic to Catholicism, and the small amount of Catholic correspondence that survives for this period regularly acknowledges the existence of church papists. Furthermore, the statistically high occurrence of law-abiding heads of household with recusant wives supports the view that occasional conformity was a widespread practice.²³ That church papists have often been ignored is partly a reflection of the difficulties in identifying them and also a product of the picture that Catholic contemporaries sought to project of a unified Catholic population staunch in their religious belief and unified in their suffering.²⁴ However, this was propaganda and should not be accepted at face value. Though it is impossible to measure numbers of church papists, to see Catholicism as a set of beliefs as opposed to an easily definable criterion (church attendance) is historically more accurate.²⁵ This recognition gives some credence to Protestant fears of a Catholic fifth-column, demonstrates that English Catholics must be viewed as an ideologically heterogeneous group and ‘may well subvert persisting notions of the Catholic community – if not the Protestant nation itself’.²⁶ This is not the only flaw in traditional conceptions of the English ‘Catholic community’.

The notion that English Catholics formed an isolated enclave in the seventeenth century was perpetuated both by contemporary Catholics who portrayed themselves as removed from traditional spheres of influence and by Protestants seeking to fuel fears of popish conspiracies. This view still holds ground with many modern-day historians. The argument that there was a discernible Catholic community in early modern England was best articulated in the work of Bossy, most notably in his monograph The English Catholic Community.²⁷ Bossy’s position was subsequently revisited by Caroline Hibbard, who maintained that Catholics were detached from parish communities and instead operated within a network of Catholic family alliances: the so-called ‘Catholic connection’.²⁸ Certainly, there is significant evidence to support this view. Post-Reformation English Catholicism emerged as a predominantly seigneurial religion, surviving under the protection of households of Catholic Lords of Manors.²⁹ Catholics shared secret marriage ceremonies and a unique educational upbringing that usually entailed periods in seminaries on the continent.³⁰ Furthermore, in many cases Catholics congregated in areas with other co-religionists, particularly evident in Lancashire and Yorkshire.³¹ However, there are important qualifications to this view concerning the nature of the confessional divide and the level of unity amongst contemporary English Catholics.

The blurred boundaries between Catholicism and Protestantism undermine attempts to identify any clearly defined Catholic community. The option of occasional or even outright conformity for church papists meant that Catholicism was not confined to seigneurial status. Church papistry was often undetectable to government authorities, meaning that the individual did not require the protection of a Catholic Lord of the Manor to avoid the penal laws.³² Furthermore, recent work on the relationship between Catholics and Protestants has shown that recusants were regularly protected by Protestant friends and family and rarely persecuted to the full extent that the law allowed. Many Protestants continued to hold a deep fear of ‘popery’ as a malign political force, but went out of their way to protect their Catholic neighbours from the laws that had been put in place as a result of that fear.³³ Anthony Milton has argued that, though it may have been ‘politically correct’ for contemporaries to vehemently hate all things Catholic, early modern English society was littered with remnants of the old religion and many harboured sympathy for some aspects of Catholicism. For Milton, anti-Catholicism was not outright prejudice but a form of qualified intolerance that allowed its adherents to protect Catholic friends secretly, while at the same time calling for stricter enforcement of the penal laws.³⁴

The traditional conception of an English Catholic community also fails to recognise the depth of intra-Catholic division, an embarrassment that both early modern and modern-day Catholics have tried to ignore.³⁵ Debate over occasional conformity caused internal fissures within English Catholicism, with a number of Catholic clergy critical of their colleagues who demanded staunch recusancy from an already heavily persecuted minority.³⁶ It also separated many lay Catholics from clergy, as a number of zealous Catholic clergy placed severe restrictions on already struggling lay Catholics.³⁷ Further divides were brought about by regular clergy obstructing efforts to appoint English bishops. A group of secular priests, known as Appellants for their regular appeals to Rome, supported Episcopal government, and between 1598 and 1602 conducted a propaganda campaign against Jesuits, branding them a political fifth-column. The debate over the leadership of the English Catholics continued throughout the century, with the full impact being evident in the late 1620s when Jesuits effectively procured the resignation of Bishop Richard Smith by reporting him to the regime.³⁸ These squabbles obstructed efforts to present English Catholicism as a unified community, and into the Restoration period anti-Jesuit literature written by Catholics was being released into the public forum which ‘was as virulent as any Puritan publication’.³⁹

A further central issue that separated English Catholics in the early seventeenth century surrounded loyalty to a temporal ruler. In 1606 English Catholics were divided over how to respond to an oath of allegiance, the main area of contention being whether the Oath concerned religious belief or merely civil order. Questier has argued that the Oath successfully provoked internal argument within the Catholic community as it raised the much-debated papal deposing power, while juxtaposing it with statements that covertly suggested Roman doctrine was heretical.⁴⁰ These internal controversies were made public in a tirade of pamphlets that seriously damaged the Catholic pretence of a unified community, and internal division was cited by contemporaries as being responsible for the apostasy of many Catholics throughout the period.⁴¹ In light of these findings it is clear that early modern Catholics did not form a homogeneous and unified community, and neither were they fully excluded from mainstream Protestant society.

That early modern Catholics were distinguished solely by their victimhood has also been the subject of recent debate. This view does hold some ground. Throughout the majority of the seventeenth-century English Catholics were subject to a wide range of penal laws that imposed social and financial restrictions on them owing to their religious persuasions.⁴² Despite promises and hopes to the contrary James I and Charles I brought little relief for Catholics, Charles II made sporadic attempts to introduce some form of limited toleration but was forced to abandon his efforts to get financial support from Parliament, James II’s reign was despairingly brief and William never succeeded in introducing a toleration based on the model in the Netherlands.⁴³ However, to end on this note would give an unbalanced view of the place of Catholics in early modern English society.

The focus of many Catholic historians on the penal laws can be misleading. As Hibbard argues, ‘the existence of harsh legislation was often mistaken for evidence that it was enforced’.⁴⁴ In light of arguments that Protestants and Catholics were not as opposed as once thought, it is hardly surprising to find reluctance on the part of many Protestants to bring about prosecutions for recusancy. In many cases openly recusant families escaped fines for years at a time, while some avoided being charged altogether. In a rare case in Sussex, a county with strong Catholic links, Henry Compton of Brambletye, the head of a staunchly recusant family, held office as a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant from the early 1620s to 1642, when he was presented for failure to attend communion.⁴⁵ Elsewhere, in the early eighteenth century the recusant Nicholas Blundell was selected by his Protestant neighbours as the local church warden.⁴⁶ Even in cases where Catholics were legally attacked for their recusancy, Hibbard claims that while religion may have served as the pretext there were often ulterior financial or social motives.⁴⁷ Finally, a focus on the penal laws fails to consider Catholic responses to them. The thrust of recent work on English Catholicism emphasises Catholic agency in developing strategies to survive in a Protestant environment, which often involved hiding both the extent of their wealth and their Catholic practice from government commissioners.⁴⁸

Catholic agency also included political machinations. In light of recent work on the early modern period, Bossy’s claim that 1603 signalled the Catholic ‘retreat from the political engagements which had marked the Elizabethan period’ has become increasingly untenable.⁴⁹ Throughout the seventeenth century Catholicism held an influential position in the Stuart court, with the Stuart kings developing a penchant for Catholic wives, mistresses and courtiers.⁵⁰ The zenith of Catholic influence at court in this century was the deathbed conversion of Charles II to Catholicism and the accession of the openly Catholic James II to the throne in 1685.⁵¹ However, Catholic involvement in politics was not limited to the court. Throughout the seventeenth century Catholic aristocratic and gentry families used the importance their wealth conferred to periodically influence politics on both a local and a national level. Arguments by Keith Lindley that Catholics were overwhelmingly neutral throughout the Civil War have been discredited on the grounds that the evidence he used excluded vital data about Catholic activity.⁵² Other studies, most notably by Peter Newman, have shown that ‘the Catholic commitment to armed support of the King was out of all proportion to the size of the community’.⁵³ During the Interregnum, Catholics played a vital role in the survival of the exiled Royalists, distributing money and messages between the exiles and England as well as offering lodgings.⁵⁴ Catholics were even responsible for ensuring the safety of Charles Stuart when he fled the Battle of Worcester in 1651.⁵⁵ Their involvement in James II’s efforts to Catholicise public office have been well documented, and throughout his reign Catholics held the most senior governmental posts.⁵⁶ That this was the case goes some way to explaining contemporary anti-popery, a factor that becomes more apparent when their interactions with their co-religionists on the continent are considered.

The activities of English Catholics, and Protestant fears of these activities, can be understood only in relation to Catholicism within the British Isles and Europe as a whole. A. D. Wright has argued that the internal problems in English Catholicism, such as the division between secular and religious clergy, mirrored wider issues that were exported to the missions.⁵⁷ In a comparison of English Catholicism with early modern Catholicism in Sicily and Japan, Wright highlights the similarities between each, and asserts that ‘the English Catholic community was part of the European Catholic world, not just an insular denomination’.⁵⁸ This position is given credence by the workings of the Catholic educational system, which relied on a ministry of priests trained abroad, making English Catholics unlike any other sectarian group.⁵⁹ Therefore, while the English recusant community may have been relatively small, to understand fears of Catholicism one must take a wider perspective. Daniel Szechi asserts that by c.1692 ‘if we take into account the religious demographies of the British Isles as a whole … about 20 per cent of the population was Catholic’.⁶⁰ Furthermore, in Europe Protestantism was on the defensive and Jonathan Scott estimates that it had been reduced by armed force from fifty per cent of the land area of Europe to less than twenty per cent throughout the century.⁶¹ Thus, essential to any understanding of English Catholics is a notion of how they related to their co-religionists abroad both in real terms and in the minds of their Protestant contemporaries.

These new approaches to Catholicism are often based on a disparate range of sources because of a paucity of surviving material. A significant amount of primary material, including much of the information in the State Papers, concerns Protestant fears of Catholicism, which were often exaggerated by contemporaries for political purposes. Recusant rolls give some idea of how many Catholics refused to conform, but little more, while records of Quarter Sessions and Episcopal Visitations often fail to distinguish between Protestant Dissenters and Catholics.⁶² Surviving material allowing these issues to be explored in relation to individual Catholics is scanty. In many cases all that survives for this period, in otherwise rich family archives, are estate records and leases. Much can be gained from these sources concerning family connections and economic standing, however, much is left to speculation as there are often huge gaps in the family correspondence. The Aston (Staffordshire), Brudenell (Northamptonshire) and Giffard (Staffordshire) families, for example, all fall into this category. Despite their having an abundance of surviving correspondence for the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, comparatively little or no correspondence or personal papers survive for the seventeenth century.⁶³

In the last decade or so a number of groundbreaking studies have followed the fortunes of particular early modern Catholics, considering both their political activity and the extent to which their Catholicism had an impact on their lives. Most notable are Questier’s study of the Viscounts Montague from the mid-sixteenth century to the outbreak of the Civil War, Sandeep Kaushik’s work on Thomas Tresham (1543–1605), and Gabriel Glickman’s study of Catholic Jacobites.⁶⁴ However, while Questier and Kaushik provide new interpretations of pre-Civil War Catholicism, and Glickman reassesses Catholicism after the Revolution of 1688, the late seventeenth century has received comparatively little attention. This is particularly perplexing given the central role that both Catholics and Protestant fears of popery played in English politics throughout this period. Through a study of William Blundell, this book contributes to redressing this imbalance.

II

William Blundell, who lived from 1620 to 1698, was the head of a staunchly recusant landowning family that had been based at Crosby Hall in Lancashire since the mid-fourteenth century.⁶⁵ He inherited the family estates in 1638 as a minor, following the death of his grandfather and namesake, as his father had died in 1631. In 1642 Blundell accepted a Captain’s commission and fought for the King, receiving a serious wound in his first engagement that disabled him for life, earning him the nickname ‘Halt-Will’ due to the bizarre gait he developed as a result.⁶⁶ With his bald head, ‘grosse full body’ and cumbersome walk, Blundell felt it necessary to warn those who saw him for the first time since the outbreak of war to ‘not you feare for … the thing is no Goblin; but the very party we talk on’.⁶⁷ To avoid imprisonment he left his estate in the hands of his wife and sister and spent two periods of less than a year during 1646 and 1648 in exile on the Isle of Man and a brief, unspecified, period living a low-key existence in Wales, though concern for his estate at Crosby quickly drew him back home.⁶⁸ While he adopted the name Cicely Burton in two of his surviving letters to keep his identity secret, the fanciful claim of his biographer and kinswoman, Margaret Blundell, that he dressed as a woman and spent long periods sitting in the kitchen, unfortunately finds no corroboration in surviving evidence.⁶⁹ In 1646 an Ordinance was passed that held that no popish delinquent could compound for his estate; accordingly Blundell’s property was seized and held by commissioners for almost a decade. Throughout the Interregnum Blundell was imprisoned on a number of occasions, later noting that ‘I was 4 tymes imprisoned and paid my ransom twice’, and in 1660 on the eve of the restoration of monarchy he made his way to Breda and accompanied the future Charles II on his voyage to accept the throne.⁷⁰

Despite Blundell’s initial hopes, it rapidly became clear that the plight of English Catholics would not be relieved by Charles and in 1680 Blundell was driven into exile, recording in his application for a travel pass that ‘The reason I would give for my travel is very true … to avoyd the penal lawes which we hear have been lately ordered to be put in Execution’.⁷¹ Having spent over a year abroad he returned to Crosby, where in 1685 his wife Ann died. Far from submitting to grief, Blundell soon made his way to London, taking full advantage of the lull in the penal laws brought by James II’s accession. His letters show that he was in London for at least a year, during which he lodged in Vere Street.⁷² While there he successfully brought a law suit at Chester Consistory Court against the Churchwardens of Sefton who had tried to force him and his tenants to pay for the creation of a road to Sefton Mill.⁷³ Blundell immersed himself in city life, his letters recording that he frequently drank wine or ‘took a dish at the Coffee house’ with friends, that he saw James II deliver an Address at Hampton Court, and that he went ‘sometimes to the Court to gaze & look about as some others do; sometimes I go to pray & to hear the sermons’.⁷⁴ In May 1687 he spent seventeen days in Gravelines, after picking up ‘an unexpected wind’, where he left his granddaughter Margaret.⁷⁵ On his return he petitioned John Warner, who was shortly to become Royal Confessor, to recommend him ‘for some small advantageous employment upon a civil account’, though apparently without success and by September 1688 he had returned to Little Crosby.⁷⁶

Following the Revolution of 1688 Blundell noted that he was imprisoned for eight months, and after his release claimed he wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life in the country.⁷⁷ His peace was shattered in 1694 when commissioners for the new regime brought a warrant for his arrest, which claimed that he and a number of other Lancashire Catholics had been involved in Jacobite conspiracy.⁷⁸ Finding him to be a sickly old man they fraudulently took his son and namesake instead. After a brief trial his son was released and Blundell lived the last four years of his life relatively unmolested until his death in 1698.⁷⁹ He was buried at his request in Sefton Church alongside his ancestors, an act which highlighted the complex relationship that many Catholics had with the Church of England.⁸⁰

Throughout a marriage of nearly fifty years Blundell and his wife Ann, daughter of Sir Thomas Haggerston of Northumberland, had fourteen children. Three boys and seven girls survived into adulthood. Blundell’s eldest son Nicholas chose to join the Jesuits rather than inherit the family estates, a vocation also followed by the youngest son Thomas. Blundell’s heir was his second son and namesake who married Mary Eyre, daughter of Rowland Eyre, a prominent Derbyshire recusant.⁸¹ Of his seven daughters, five joined the Poor Clares: Jane, Margaret, Alice, Mary and Clare Frances. His daughter Emilia married Richard Butler, the heir to the Mountgarret estates. After encouraging his youngest daughter, whom he affectionately referred to as ‘the thing called Bridget’, to take religious orders, Blundell eventually relented and in 1692, at the age of thirty-three, she married John Gerard ‘Dr of Phisick’, of whom Blundell was to comment in 1694 that ‘They live in the City of Durham and have yet no issue’.⁸²

The extent to which Blundell’s position differed from other English Catholics is open to debate. Seventeenth-century Lancashire held the largest concentration of Catholics in England at the time.⁸³ Bossy maintained that this was a result of Lancashire’s geographical isolation, the limited perspective of most gentry who focused all their attention on events in Lancashire, and the high number of missionary priests in the county.⁸⁴ While geographical isolation may be one factor in the survival of Catholicism in the rugged terrain of the north of Lancashire, in the easily accessible south-west this interpretation holds little value.⁸⁵ Conversely, Haigh has argued that Lancashire remained Catholic as Protestantism never took hold in the county, conservative ministers throughout Lancashire were protected by the gentry, while church discipline was always weak. Thus, missionary priests merely helped reinforce Lancashire’s Catholic links, as opposed to building up from a grassroots level.⁸⁶ But as recent work on the divisions between Protestantism and Catholicism and the rediscovery of church papistry has shown, one need not have lived in an area dominated by recusants to find individuals sympathetic to Catholicism.⁸⁷ For this reason, it is increasingly accepted that the dichotomy between a backward and Catholic north of England and a progressive Protestant south is a false one.⁸⁸ As Questier argues, ‘Put bluntly, what it means … is that many English counties were more like Lancashire than everyone has thought’.⁸⁹

Although Blundell was subject to the same laws and undertook the same common religious practices as other recusants, in many ways he was exceptional. He lived for seventy-eight years and, despite regularly claiming that he was ‘old & crasy’, his writings indicate that he was fully in control of his faculties at least until the year of his death, though it appears that the length of his life was a surprise to him as he had been saying his goodbyes to friends and family from his early fifties.⁹⁰ Unlike many contemporaries, and in spite of both his physical disability and the restrictions placed on him because of his recusancy, Blundell travelled widely within the British Isles and continental Europe.⁹¹ The surviving records that he made on these trips vary greatly in detail. For his visit to Scotland in 1657 he kept a meticulous travel diary, though for other trips we are left with less descriptive material, sometimes as little as brief mentions in an account book explaining gaps in entries or references in his commonplace books to his having engaged with a particular culture during a visit. From these sources it is apparent that he lived in both Wales⁹² and the Isle of Man⁹³ for a period during the Civil Wars, he visited London at least seven times, often for extended periods,⁹⁴ Scotland in 1657⁹⁵ and York in 1673,⁹⁶ Ireland at least four times,⁹⁷ and continental Europe at least three times, during which he visited Flanders, Holland and France.⁹⁸ Most important is the sheer volume of his surviving writings.

Responsibility for his estate from an early age meant that Blundell never received the education abroad that many of his co-religionists shared. Little is known of his education or any formative pedagogical influences, though it seems likely that he attended the Catholic school at Scarisbrick Hall.⁹⁹ If so, he would have been taught by a Jesuit tutor who had been educated at St Omer.¹⁰⁰ He persistently complained of a lack of grammar and Latin, though his letters specifically state, and his reading practices imply, that he could read and speak Latin far better than he could write it, no doubt a reflection of the way he had been taught.¹⁰¹ However, the extent of Blundell’s failings may have reflected false modesty, as in his commonplace books he kept lists in which he criticised others’ use of Latin.¹⁰² Despite his lack of formal education he developed a love of learning. It seems apparent that by his twenties Blundell had become a compulsive reader and writer. It may be that his experience of exile played an important part in this. The importance of writing as a means by which to stay in touch with those who remained in England was central to adjusting to life in exile. Geoffrey Smith argues that ‘opportunities for communication with family and friends in England, for both personal and economic reasons, were a factor that determined both the choice of place of exile and the duration of the ordeal’.¹⁰³ In his study of the reading practices of William Drake, Kevin Sharpe discusses the urgency of Drake’s reading during the Civil

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