Persecution of Catholics in England
You’ve heard how the Pilgrims fled religious persecution in England, but have you ever heard how Catholics were persecuted there?
Recent scholarship such as Eamon Duffy’s book The Stripping of the Altars show that the vast majority of the English people did not freely choose to leave the Catholic Church, but were coerced into it. In fact, prior to King Henry VIII’s break with Rome, England was known throughout Europe as “Mary’s Dowry” because of its great piety. But under King Henry, Queen Elizabeth I, and others, failure to outwardly conform to the new state religion resulted in fines or imprisonment. Hiding a Catholic priest was considered a treasonable act punishable by death. Many suffered dearly, including famous martyrs like Sir Thomas More, or the 40 English martyrs that Pope John Paul II canonized.
Those openly professing Catholicism were barred from important positions in government and society well into the 1800s, and English law to this day prohibits a monarch from being Catholic.
Convincing evidence also shows that William Shakespeare was one such underground Catholic and that his plays included veiled appeals to the Queen for religious toleration.
So let us thank God that we can freely and openly practice our Faith, and honor all those who could not.