Against Popery: Britain, Empire, and Anti-Catholicism. Edited by Evan Haefeli

Colin Haydon

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article reviewpeer-review


Against Popery is an excellent volume. The essays are all of high quality: erudite, properly argued, carefully constructed and well-written, and based on a wealth of reading as highlighted by the notes. Each essay is valuable in itself, but, additionally, many of the essays contribute to overarching themes: chiefly, perhaps, that anti-Catholic ideology/ideologies, not uniform but protean, could promote political and cultural cohesion in Britain itself and its empire but could also erode or fracture it. The volume is also generally well—and usefully—illustrated.Hostility to Popery—political and ecclesiastical tyranny—is a very complex subject, as Anthony Milton stresses. Tim Harris and Evan Haefeli emphasize this too, examining the varying and not always consistent definitions of “anti-Catholicism” and “anti-Popery”; the charge of “Popery” could be used not only against Catholics but also against Protestant rivals or enemies. Haefeli demonstrates such complexity when discussing Ireland from the Reformation to the eighteenth century where antagonism to Popery was sharpened by fear of the Catholic majority, ethnic hostilities, Protestant splits, politics, and wars and bloodshed. Craig Gallagher describes the strength of Presbyterian anti-Popery in Scotland between 1550 and 1690, and the political consequences; and Peter W. Walker carefully explains how both anti-Popery and anti-Puritanism were deployed in the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century campaigns to extend religious toleration in Britain. In the American and other colonies, “anti-popery and anti-Catholicism forged a powerful affinity between colonists and the metropole”, Haefeli argues, “through laws, political culture, religion, history, and more” (p. 204). Yet, in the later eighteenth century, with an increasing number of Catholics in the empire, the London government’s pragmatic conceding of toleration (notably with the Quebec Act of 1774) provoked charges of crypto-Popery while its treatment of the American colonists preceding and during the War of Independence seemed a potential “popish” throttling of civil and perhaps religious liberties. That twist—a “war against Anglophone history”—is ably analyzed by Brendan McConville, though he also highlights the horror felt by many colonists at the alliance with Catholic France (p. 242). And that horror was to be expected, given centuries of Protestant propaganda in Britain, Ireland, and the empire; as Cynthia J. Van Zandt shows, anti-Popery ideology was embedded in the Virginia colony from the outset. That ideology was disseminated in numerous forms. Clare Haynes describes the endeavors of Benjamin West (born in Pennsylvania) to raise Protestant, doctrinally pure, biblical painting above splendid, but superstitious, and potentially idolatrous, Catholic art. Comparably, Laura M. Stevens charts how the Virgin Mary was “transformed in [English] Protestant eyes from a despised object of popish devotion to a model of spiritual emulation” (p. 170). Very differently, Andrew R. Murphy, Gregory Smulewicz-Zucker, and Susan P. Liebell uncover the political messages of a 1679 pack of playing cards depicting the Popish Plot. Of course, cultural artifacts invite different readings. (Did the cards’ manufacturer partly, like Dickens’s Fat Boy, “wants to make your flesh creep” as entertainment? Did some players pay as much attention to the cards’ politics as Monopoly-playing children pay to the meaning of “Annuity matures”?)
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Church and State
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2022

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