Thursday, November 10, 2005

'No popery'

The mid-1670s saw a burgeoning of republican literature that was often circulated in manuscript through the taverns and coffee-houses of London. In November 1675 A Letter from a Person of Quality to his Friends in the Country was published - possibly written by Shaftesbury and John Locke. The House of Lords ordered the pamphlet to be burned.

In 1677 Andrew Marvell published anonymously An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government (1677):
There has now for divers years a design been carried on to change the lawful government of England for an absolute tyranny.
The stages of this alleged conspiracy are traced from the triple alliance to Charles's adjournment of parliament in July 1677; the declaration of indulgence is presented as a Catholic subterfuge, The tract, timed to appear before the next session of parliament in April 1678, alarmed the government, which in the Gazette for 21 February – 5 March offered £50 for the discovery of author and publisher. (See the article on Marvell in the New Dictionary of National Biography.)

The association of ‘popery’ and ‘arbitrary power’ was a familiar theme of English political life. Anti-Catholicism was reinforced by the Marian persecutions, the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot and the Irish crisis of 1641. In 1667 the Commons had tried hard to ‘prove’ that the Catholics had started the Fire of London.

The conjunction of events seemed especially ominous. The queen, the heir to the throne, his recently pregnant second wife and the king’s current favoured mistress were all Catholics and nobody knew whether to believe the king’s denials of a secret treaty. Meanwhile Louis XIV was attacking Protestant Holland, and though the king explicitly denied (in 1675) the existence of a secret treaty with France, nobody knew whether to believe him. A religious survey instigated by Danby in 1676 revealed that Catholics were no more than 5% of the population, but the main cause of fear of popery in England was what was happening in Europe, and especially in France’.