In the seventeenth century, one of the Catholic strongholds of Britain had lain on the southern Welsh borders, in those areas of north Monmouthshire and southern Herefordshire dependant on the Marquis of Worcester at Raglan, and looking to the Jesuit mission at Cwm. Abergavenny and Monmouth had been largely Catholic towns, while the north Monmouthshire countryside still merited the attention of fifteen priests in the 1670s—after the Civil Wars, and the damaging conversion to Protestantism of the heir of Raglan in 1667. Conspicuous Catholic strength caused fear, and the ‘Popish Plot’ was the excuse for a uniquely violent reaction, in which the Jesuit mission was all but destroyed. What happened after that is less clear. In 1780, Berington wrote that ‘In many [counties], particularly in the west, in south Wales, and some of the Midland counties, there is scarcely a Catholic to be found’. Modern histories tend to reflect this, perhaps because of available evidence. The archives of the Western Vicariate were destroyed in a riot in Bath in 1780, and a recent work like J. H. Aveling's The Handle and the Axe relies heavily on sources and examples from the north of England. This attitude is epitomised by Bossy's remark on the distribution of priests in 1773: ‘In Wales, the mission had collapsed’. However, the question of Catholic survival in eighteenth-century Wales is important. In earlier assessments of Catholic strength (by landholding, or number of recusants gaoled as a proportion of population) Monmouthshire had achieved the rare feat of exceeding the zeal of Lancashire, and Herefordshire was not far behind. If this simply ceased to exist, there was an almost incredible success for the ‘short, sharp’ persecution under Charles II. If, however, the area remained a Catholic fortress, then recent historians of recusancy have unjustifiably neglected it.
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