I’ve changed tack a bit this week.  Instead of doing random keyword searches or looking up all the records in English for each year on EEBO, I looked up recusant women on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, made some notes on them and then started trying to find references to them on EEBO, State Papers and British History Online.  It’s quite interesting, though it hasn’t particularly turned up anything stunning (so far?).  What strtikes me is that women bring up the children, and presumably are responsible for passing on Catholicism to their offspring, and then they marry them into recusant families or send them abroad to seminaries and convents.  Is it going down the female line?  I’m not sure that this theory doesn’t fall down as soon as women get married into a recusant family.  Unsurprisingly, Catholic families like the Arundells, Howards and Vauxes intermarry.  Margaret Clitherow was converted to the old faith, and although her husband remained Protestant, the children were brought up Catholic.  One at least went abroad to be trained as a seminarian.  I wonder what is known of the rest of them – I’d have to check.

Is it easier, in a way, for a woman to be a recusant than a man?  They don’t face the same social, legal and work restrictions that a Catholic man would because they don’t apply to a woman anyway.  It’s not as if a woman is going to be barred from a career because of her beliefs!  Quite a few of the devout women I looked up seem to be married to church papists (men who went to church but didn’t communicate and still held Catholic belief in private).  For the wives of church papists, is it possible that their husbands would object to their overtly Catholic activities because they were afraid that their womenfolk would hold them back?  Or is it possible that they let their wives shelter priests and hold Masses in their homes because they secretly sympathised with their faith?  Indeed, what could they in fact have done to stop them?

I’m also interested in the way that having a confessor in the house shifts patriarchy from the male head of the family to the male confessor.  I know that there has been work done on it, but there just haven’t been enough hours in the day and week to look into it yet.

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