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How rife was anti-Catholicism in Downton Abbey’s time?

After all, the Earl of Grantham’s estate was stolen from the Church

By on Monday, 15 October 2012

Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.

Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey, which I confess to not watching very attentively, is now broaching the question of anti-Catholicism.

Up to now I have been puzzled by the way Tom Branson, the Fenian ex-chauffeur and son-in-law, seemingly has no religion. I assumed he was a Protestant (some Irish nationalists were), but it turns out that, no, he is a Catholic after all. Funny it has only surfaced now, as I am pretty certain that someone like the Earl of Grantham, a self-proclaimed anti-Catholic, would not have employed Catholic staff, and would have died of apoplexy att he thought of his daughter marrying one.

How rife was anti-Catholicism in the 1920’s?

Drawing on my admittedly partial knowledge, among the upper classes it was common. It is possible that the aristocracy were less anti-Catholic than the people in the rungs directly below them: after all the Earl of Grantham would have known several Catholic peers, whom he would have seen regularly at the House of Lords. (The Earl in Downton never seems to go there, which is one of the many historical oddities of the series, but let that pass.) Edward VII, the recently deceased King, had several Catholic friends. So, one would imagine that Catholics were socially acceptable in the highest ranks of society, though this would not have extended to intermarriage, partly because of the Church’s laws on that. But further down the social ladder it was a different matter altogether.

Recently, talking to my last surviving aunt, I made the astonishing discovery that when a maternal uncle of mine married a Catholic, some time in the late 1930’s, in Chile, my maternal grandparents refused to attend the wedding. My mother, too, married a Catholic, my father, but I imagine that my anti-Catholic grandparents must have been sufficiently intimidated by him never to play the anti-Catholic card.

The odd thing is that both my anti-Catholic grandparents were descended from lapsed Catholics. My grandfather’s mother came from a well-known Catholic family in the North, that had given a martyr to the faith; on my grandmother’s side, her maternal antecedents were Irish, and presumably, judging by the surname, what an Irish friend of mine called “soupers” – Catholics who turned Protestant.

My theory is that anti-Catholicism springs from guilt, specifically the guilt for the crimes of the Reformation – but many people have scoffed at this idea. Please note, though, that the Earl of Grantham lives in an Abbey, that is, his estate was stolen from the Church at the time of the Reformation. One can never like those whom one has unjustly defrauded of their rights.

Who knows how or when the soap opera of Downton will end? One possible ending is that Branson’s Catholic daughter will inherit the lot. That would be some conclusion.

  • Mar Bogofski

    There was a whole lot of difference between Catholics of the upper classes and those of the middle classes, or worst the lower middle classes.
    The upper classes travelled abroad, had houses abroad, even intermarried whilst the middle classes went abroad as tourists or for trade.
    The upper classes met Catholic on the continent the middle classes met the Irish, often as servants or  labourers, or worst, as aspirant members of their class.

  • nytor

    Many of the best aristocratic families were and still are Catholic, as are many ancient families of the gentry. The problem with Branson isn’t so much his Catholicism as his Irishness.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    The British are a nation of shop-keepers and Freemasons. Of course there is anti-Catholicism, and now we already have the beginnings of what will be a particularly nasty form of it called ‘persecution’, in which blood will be shed.

  • Lampyris

     “we already have the beginnings of what will be a particularly nasty form of it called ‘persecution’, in which blood will be shed”
    How can you honestly justify this statement

  • Lampyris

     What do you mean by “the best aristocratic families”?

  • Anna Graham

    As a historian, I have to say that Catholicism existed in all stratas of the society. Starting from Queen Elizabeth the state policy was to send orphaned Catholic heirs and heiresses to the Court of Wards. The Court of Wards gave/sold their gusrdianship to a trusted Protestant peer. This way young potentially Catholic aristocrats were brought up Protestants. Some aristocratic families managed not to lose the heads of the families and brought up theie scions as Catholics. They had to pay recusants fines. They considered it a small sacrifice for their faith. SO, the Earl of Grantham might be from genuinely Protestant aristocracy (Earl of Lecester, Earl of Essesx, Lord Burghley, Earl of Salisbury< Francis Walsingham, Sir Philip Sydney and so on).

  • nytor

    The ones of oldest provenance and greatest seniority – cf the duke of Norfolk (premier duke of England) and the earl of Shrewsbury (premier earl of England), both of whom come from families of medieval origin.

  • firstparepidemos

    Anyone who follows Mr Carter’s comments is well aware of his tendency to make unsubstantiated statements so I do hope that you are not in expectation of a rational response. I must say that I find his link between owning shops and anti-Catholicism to be delightfully amusing.

  • firstparepidemos

    Ah, by ‘best’ you mean ‘prestigious’; now I understand your reasoning.

  • teigitur

    Dear Father, when you live in Scotland you don t need to go back in time at all to find still fairly rife Anti-Catholicism.

  • firstparepidemos

    Especially in the West and on certain islands.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Glad you were amused! A play on Napoleon’s description.

    Can anyone deny that Catholics are being killed every day in many parts of the world, and that the latest form of atheism, this ugly, nasty, aggressive militant atheism seen all too often for instance on Catholic blogs does not have the potential to turn violent? 

    As the secularists seek to exclude religion entirely, then there will be those who will be put in the position of denying Christ or losing their lives. A generation or two more.

    What is not substantiated?

  • chiaramonti

    I watch Downton mainly to spot the mistakes. I particularly liked the reference to the Protestant Archbishop of York as a “Prince of the Church.’  Fellowes should know better. That has been restricted for decades to a Cardinal and a protestant bishop in those days would have been mightily offended to be so described. But you are right, Father, when you say a protestant peer would not have employed a Catholic, certainly not outside Ireland. There are many examples in biographies of otherwise seemingly decent members of the aristocracy refusing to employ Catholics as a matter of principle.some of them only recently deceased. Finally, the fact that Downton is referred to as Downton Abbey does not mean that it was necessarily an Abbey before the reformation. Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire was a priory of Augustinian Canons, erected by Henry II as one of his many penances for the murder of Thomas Becket. After it was surrendered and passed through many hands, it became known as Newstead Abbey, probably because the owner wanted the status of ‘Abbey’ rather than ‘Priory’ in the description of his mansion. My sympathies are entirely with the monks! (or, to be accurate, the Canons.)

  • Acleron

    Oh, so we are violent thugs now?

    Have a look at the societies that are gradually losing their religion, they tend to be the least violent. Now look at the societies that are deeply religious.

    But there is a good reason why atheists are unlikely to be violent en-masse in the way that believers are; we have learned to think for ourselves, consider actions and are the least likely to follow demagogues. Atheists may dislike you and dislike your actions, but for real hate of catholics you have to look at the other religions.

  • paulpriest

     Were you quoting Mao or Stalin?

  • Papa Sisto

    But does Scottish anti-Catholicism arise from Scottish anti-Irish racism, or did anti-Irish racism arise from Scottish anti-Catholicism?  Discuss.

  • Acleron

    Perhaps you would like to show how not believing in your god has any relationship to them being bloody dictators.

  • teigitur

    Equal amounts of both I should have thought. But there are also considerable numbers of Italian Catholics , at least in my part of Scotland. They seem to feel the same.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Violent thugs?

  • Acleron

    So no evidence then. Typical.

  • firstparepidemos

    I would agree with teigitur that it is, most likely, a combination. Interestingly enough, whilst reading for a course on Scottish Catholicism (many moons ago) I read that when the Irish came to Scotland during the 19th century, they were unwelcome in some Catholic parishes; supposedly, the extant Scottish Catholics were concerned that the influx of Irish would bring unwanted attention from certain Protestant circles.

  • Parasum

    “My theory is that anti-Catholicism springs from guilt, specifically the guilt for the crimes of the Reformation – but many people have scoffed at this idea”
     
    ## Too simple, at least if meant as a universal explanation. It fails to take account of the reasons for being anti-Catholic. Granted, the reply could be made: “That is an intellectual justification for a non-intellectual problem”. The trouble there is, that this reply can be used against Catholicism too. There is the further difficulty of defining what constitutes being anti-Catholic. It is a mistake for X to imagine that because his religion matters to him, it must occupy the thoughts of those who have another religion or none. The Evangelical who is not interested in the Assumption, is not the same person as the Evangelical who sees it as a Christ-denying blasphemy inspired by Satan. The two kinds of non-Catholicism differ too much to be fairly described as the same kind.
     
    One reason people reject Catholicism:
     
    It is a Satanic deception inspired by the devil. It is thoroughly evil, and is nothing but downright devil-worship. What appears to be Christian in it, is a deception to enslave the unwary and to damn them. Romanism is of Satan, an infernal travesty of Biblical Christianity.
     
    This is a vigorous and unapologetic attitude, with no nonsense about ecumenism to spoil it. It is a logical inference from a number of facts and ideas: not mere unreasoning hatred. “The Two Babylons” is a well-known, widely-read, and extremely influential expression of this view, which once far more common than it is. There are Spanish, French, German & (I believe) Russian translations of it – it is still effective.  Ian Paisley’s attitude to the CC is strongly coloured by TTB. Ecumenists would learn a lot about how many Christians think, if they would read it. But TTB was written by a 19th century Free Church minister, and such people tend not to be in the bibliographies of ecumenists.
     
    But if ecumenists are to do anything better than woffle among themselves, they can’t read only the academically respectable books – they need to read the violent & uncompromising rejections of all the Churches they are in stand for. They are too scholarly, & don’t pay attention to the loopier but often very powerful reasons people reject the CC. Vatican ecumenists need to read to TTB – not because it is a good book (it is not – fascinating, yes; good, not), but because it has been, and is now, so influential. The JWs are indebted to it. Many ordinary Evangelicals read the publications of Jack Chick - his notion of the CC is based almost entirely on TTB, as his tracts show. And these tracts have been published by the 100 million, in many languages. They have been a very powerful means of spreading the message of TTB. Their more exotic charges against the CC make sense only if one is familiar with the book. These charges include things like:
     
    Catholicism is the religion of Babylon, slightly titivated for Christian consumption. (That is one of the main theses of the book.)
    Confession is a Babylonian practice 
    IHS on the Host has a Christian meaning – and a pagan meaning; it was made deliberately ambiguous so as to get pagans to enter the Church.
    Easter is taken from the name of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar – it is a pagan feast.
    The Gamut ? That’s from Egypt – so it is Babylonian by descent.
    Mitres ? Assyrian and bad. As are crosiers.
     
    The method is a mess, the logic is a mess, the use of language is a mess, the history is a mess - but a lot of people don’t worry about that, because they often lack the critical skills; they notice the conclusions, not the out-dated scholarship or its exceedingly wonky foundations. TTB sells in many editions on Amazon. The people equipped to demolish it have better things to do, so they don’t, so it continues to be used to demolish the faith of Catholics.
     
    There is a 1903 edition, which is roughly in Downton Abbey’s time.
     
     

  • firstparepidemos

    Mr. Carter, Yes, I noted the play on the saying attributed to the little corporal and did, as I mentioned, find it quite amusing.

    I certainly concur that there appears to be a rise in miltant atheism which sees no value in faith never mind religion. I blame (perhaps wrongly) the likes of Richard Dawkins who is, to my way of thinking, a fundamentalist ‘scientist’.  Even some of his fellow atheists find Professor Dawkins to be an embarrassment. Although many would refer to Mr Dawkins as a liberal, true liberals defend the freedom to have faith and to exercise that faith in what we call religion. However, as to the idea that within a generation or two, it will be dangerous to be a Christian, I am much more optimistic than you – and am confident that we both hope that I will end up being right.

    Regarding your mention of violence and Catholic blogs; my own sadness is at the bitterness and judgemental attitude which is so often vented between Catholics.

  • firstparepidemos

    Acieron, I would certainly not generalise by saying that all atheists are thugs. However, I take issue with your insinuation that only atheists think for themselves; that is also a generalisation, and one which is rather insulting to the many scientists who are also people of faith.

    As for your assertion that those societies which are non religious are less violent, I ask that you consider the 20th century. Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler were all non-believers and promoted atheism. I hope you would agree that the societies they encouraged were truly some of the most inhumane. violent and oppressive that the world has endured.

  • Kwasylowski

    I believe Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, is Catholic and specifically wanted to address this issue, which I admire because religion is rarely considered in popular shows.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    My opinion is the same as that of several US Catholic Bishops who have said publicly exactly what I have said. 

    I think militant atheists and their secularist brothers in arms, coupled with certain other developments, could very easily develop into open persecution of Catholics in the West. Elsewhere, we are already being killed daily: Nigeria, Pakistan, India, the Middle East, Turkey. 

    I don’t think it’s a question of optimism or pessimism. More a reading of the signs. 

  • Parasum

    Scottish anti-Catholicism arose from Calvinism. To understand Calvin, his thinking, his work, his strengths and his limitations, is a good introduction to Calvinist Christianity, and so, to Scots Calvinist Christianity since 1560.

    The Westminster Standards include documents like the National Covenants of 1580 & 1638 that embody strongly anti-Catholic sentiments – which makes them very illuminating. It helps if one is aware of the extremely high status within Calvinism of the Bible. But it would be wrong to exaggerate the animosity – which is not all on one side.

     

  • Parasum

    Please, not the “argument from respectability” :)  !

  • Acleron

    Have you any references to atheists who find Dawkins an embarrassment?

    There are certainly those who disagree with him but more on tactics not his logic which hasn’t been shown to be faulty.

  • Acleron

    I won’t argue about the lack of thinking, but the rest has been answered so many times in so many different fora. Saying that Mao etc (excluding Hitler who was a catholic!) are atheists and that caused their violence is just silly.

    It is the equivalent of saying that they were white or yellow or brown and that caused their violence. 

    However, we can pinpoint specific acts of violence done in the name of religion. Historically many of the examples were the catholics, in modern times it is the moslems. Both have declared war and say that some deity is on their side.

  • Acleron

    Oh I see now, you have the same opinion as your leaders therefore you must be right. 

    And firstparepidemous took me to task for implying you didn’t think.

  • aearon43

    Well, Mr. Carter, we can always count on you to say something like that. I myself am of half Irish descent, and my grandfather was born in occupied Ireland. I’ve heard no end of stories from him of the persecution of the Irish by the English. Still, though, there was always a subtext that it was, overall, an honorable fight, and that there is, in fact, much to be respected in the English. (That came more overtly from my grandmother, who is a big fan of Masterpiece Theater.) English industry, discipline, and practicality (which you deride as “nation of shop-keepers”) is something lacking in the Irish race.

  • aearon43

    Stalin and Mao, committed atheists both, were the worst mass murderers in human history.

  • aearon43

    Sure. Once you do away with human rights as divinely ordained, then you are left only with human rights as a pleasure of the state.

  • Charles

    English Catholics should focus less on their past defeats and more on future victories. The church of England owes about 30 Cathedrals and 200 pre-Reformation Churches that should be returned to the Catholic church. Focusing on justice and fairness requires that they be returned, and no Catholics don’t owe maintenance fees for what was stolen from them. Although  many passive and spineless Catholics feel that this is unreasonable, Catholic emancipation was also once an unreasonable dream that became a reality due to the vision and courage of great individuals.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    200 or 2,000?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Did I say I “must be right”?

    I hope that I am not.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    After the collapse of the Roman Empire, we had the “barbarians of the senses”.

    As our civilisation collapses, we already have the “barbarians of thought”.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Typical lack of atheist sense of humour!

  • teigitur

    I believe that, to an extent, that was indeed the case. But that such numbers of Irish turned up the native Catholics, which were few, were quicly swamped.

  • Brian Cox

     How daft. They are being killed by fellow theists, nor atheists!

  • nytor

    We really can’t afford the upkeep, though.

  • Acleron

    But did the fact that they didn’t believe in any god make them mass murderers?

    And remember they just didn’t believe in one more god than you don’t believe in.

  • Acleron

    But then Buddhists should be mass murderers.

  • Alasdair Frew-Bell

    Exporting Catholics to the colonies reduced numbers. A high percentage of Scots settlers in Canada were Catholic for example.

  • firstparepidemos

    Agreed, especially in the case of the Glasgow area and, to a lesser extent, Dundee. However, in places such as Edinburgh the Irish continued to be less than welcome in Catholic churches.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    I wrote above “One or two generations”.

    Can’t people read?

  • Acleron

    It is a shame when facts are presented rather than beliefs.

    The world civilisation may collapse, but it will not be caused because people don’t believe in living their lives as jews did in the Bronze Age.

  • karlf

    As Brian Cox says, the actual killing of Catholics which you mention is being carried out by your fellow theists. But your fear seems to be focussed on a prediction that Dawkins followers will turn into psychotic killers.

  • Alasdair Frew-Bell

    Gaelic speaking Catholics in particular resented the Irish influx because they tended to bring their own priests, customs and attitudes which the locals found overwhelming. They were also rather more anglophone. A similar issue occurred among French Canadians who resented the new arrivals and their dominance among the hierarchy. In the US there were frequent territorial spats between bishops of German and Irish background. Irish Catholicism has big muscles.