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‘A Welsh Lancashire’? Monmouthshire Catholics in the Eighteenth Century

  • Philip Jenkins

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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1 Many of the sources for this article were covered nearly forty years ago by Lynch, G. J. J., in The Revival of Catholicism in south Wales’ (M.A. thesis, University of Wales, 1941). However, the work is clearly not sufficiently well known, and needs revision—for instance, he was not aware of the valuable Huddleston MSS. in the Cambridgeshire Record Office, and more can now be said about the place of Catholics in Monmouthshire politics and economic development. Berington, J., State and Behaviour of the English Catholics (London, 1780), p. 114; Aveling, The Handle and the Axe (London, 1976), pp. 251–2; Bossy, J., English Catholic community (London, 1975), p. 224–5; Ward, B., Eve of Catholic Emancipation (London, 1911), pp. 186–7; and see my ‘Anti-popery in the Welsh Marches in the 17th century’, Historical Journal vol. 23, no. 2 (1980). Magee, B., English Recusants (London, 1938); Reeves, N., ‘Herefordshire Recusancy’, Worcestershire Recusant 26 (1975), pp. 911; Linker, R. W., ‘English Catholics in the 18th century’, Church History 35 (1966), pp. 288310.

2 Compton Census in William Salt Library, Stafford; Davies, E. T., ‘Popish Plot in Monmouthshire’, Journal of Hist. Soc. of Church in Wales 25 (1976), pp. 3235; Hemphill, B., Early Vicars Apostolic of England (London, 1954), pp. 136–8; H. Foley, 4, pp. 331-490; 5, pp. 869-946; Attwater, D., The Catholic Church in Modern Wales (London, 1935), pp. 2665; Whyte, J. H., ‘The Vicars Apostolics’ Returns of 1773’, Recusant History 9 (1967–68), pp. 205–14; Holt, T. G., ‘Note on Some 18th century Statistics’, Ibid., 10 (1969), pp. 39.

3 The 1719 list is in C.R.S. 3; the 1706 is National Library of Wales, Tredegar MSS. 93/53-56; M. Rowlands, ‘Catholics in Staffordshire from the Revolution to the Relief Acts’ (M.A., Birmingham, 1966), pp. 100-06, 291ff; Aveling, ‘Catholic Recusants of the West Riding’, Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society 10, part 4 (1962-63), p. 191; Little, B., Catholic Churches (London, 1966), pp. 29, 105.

4 Foley 4, p. 533; Davies, L. T., Welsh Life in the 18th Century (London, 1939), pp. 154–8; numerous articles by J. H. Canning in St Peter's Magazine, Cardiff (1921-26); Clement, M., Correspondence relating to the SPCK in Wales (Cardiff, 1952), pp. 11-12, 117-18, 173.

5 Bradney, J. A., History of Monmouthshire (London, 1904–32); Mooney, H. M., The Mornington letters’, Worcestershire Recusant, 21 (1973), pp. 819; Aveling, The Handle and the Axe, pp. 258-64; and his Northern Catholics (1966), pp. 398-400; J. H. Matthews on the Perthir register in C.R.S. 1, p. 271.

6 NLW Tredegar MSS. 93/53-6; Estcourt, E., English Catholic Nonjurors (London, 1885); my ‘New Source for Monmouthshire in the 18th century’, forthcoming in Monmouthshire Antiquary; Foley 4, pp. 522-8; for Catholicism in Bath, see the account in C.R.S. 65; the Llanarth register was edited by Matthews in C.R.S. 2, pp. 144-80; A. C. F. Beales, Education under Penalty (London, 1963), pp. 198-202, 230.

7 Bradney, Monmouthshire, for genealogical evidence; and the Huddleston MSS. discussed in my ‘New Source’, notably 488. CL. BL. 1-103; HD 30-6; JH 1-97; MF 15-19.

8 Little, Catholic Churches, p. 31; Foley 5, p. 372; Cardiff Central Library, diary of William Thomas, (2 December 1764); Aveling, The Handle and the Axe, pp. 255-6; Huddleston MSS. JH 44; Ellis, T. P., Welsh Benedictines of the Terror (Newtown, 1936), p. 196; Maziére, Brady, Episcopal Succession (Rome, 1877), pp. 288304; for local registers, see C.R.S. 1 (Perthir), 2(Holywell and Llanarth), 9 (Monmouth), and 27 (Abergavenny).

9 Foley 5, pp. 877-912; Bradney; C.R.S. 2, pp. 105-35.

10 My ‘Anti-Popery'; Kissack, K., Monmouth (London, 1975); P.R.O. SP 35/32, fol. 148; JP lists in P.R.O. C.234/15 and 87; C.R.S. 2, pp. 105-35; for elections, see Glamorgan Record Office, Kemys-Tynte MS. D/DKT 1/39.

11 Huddleston MSS. e.g. JH 64-70 etc.; P.R.O. SP 36/21 fols 22-25; C.R.S. 9, pp. 164-5; Life of Howell Harris (Trevecka, 1791), pp. 45-47; Williams, A. H., John Wesley in Wales (Cardiff, 1971), p. 93; Maziére Brady; Bede, Jarrett, English Dominicans (London, 1921), pp. 191–3; Matthews, J. H., The Vaughans of Courtfield (London, 1912); Jarvis, R. C., Collected Papers on the Jacobite Risings (Manchester, 1972) 2, p. 313; for an example of the 1750s controversy, see Archibald Bower's Affidavit against Papist Accusations (London, 1756); my ‘New Source’.

12 C.R.S. 9, pp. 133-8, for oaths under the Act of 18 George III, c. 60; C.R.S. 27 for Abergavenny; The Autobiography of Arthur Machen (London, 1974), pp. 2325; Gwent Record Office, Llanarth MSS., D2. 136-157; Duffy, E., ‘Joseph Berington and the English Catholic Cisalpine Movement’ (Ph.D. Cambridge, 1973), p. 222.

13 The Courtfield register is in C.R.S. 4, pp. 411-29; the three parishes examined in 1719 areRockfield, St Maughan's and Llangattock vibon Avell.

14 C.R.S. 27, pp. 102-03; and 9, pp. 164-5.

15 C.R.S. 9, pp. 133-65; Cardiff Central Library MS. 4.92 and diary of William Thomas, 22 January 1764; Aveling, The Handle and the Axe, pp. 268-9; see my ‘Jacobites and Freemasonsin 18th-century Wales’, Welsh History Review, vol. 9, no. 4 (1979), pp. 391406; C.R.S. 4, pp.413-29.

16 Perthir register; Swansea University Library, Morris MSS. ‘History of the Copper Concern’; Aveling, The Handle and the Axe, pp. 287-8,295; Berington, State, p. 120; Mooney, ‘Mornington Letters’; St Peter's Magazine (1929), p. 42.

17 Rowlands, ‘Catholics in Staffordshire’; Maziere, Brady; Little, Catholic Churches, pp.7475; Foley 5, pp. 881, 910.

18 Attwater, Catholic Church, p. 70; Davies, E. T., Religion and the Industrial Revolution inSouth Wales (Cardiff, 1965), pp. 187–91; C.R.S. 1, pp. 271-2, for J. H. Matthews's remarkson the causes of recent Catholic decline; Howell, D. W., Land and People in 19th-centuryWales (London, 1977), for the agricultural background). As late as 1851, there were fiveCatholic chapels in the registration districts of Monmouth and Abergavenny: Llanarth, Courtfield, Skenfrith, and the towns of Monmouth and Abergavenny. They reported a totalof 930 places, and on registration day, there were 676 at morning services as against 177 in theafternoon. It is noteworthy that 379 of the worshippers (44%) still attended the three ruralchapels: Jones, I. G. and Williams, D., The Religious Census of 1851 (Cardiff, 1976), 1, pp. 1970; Parl. Papers, 1852-53, vol. 89, for the Herefordshire figures.

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