Following the formal proscription of the formation of Catholic religious houses in England in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, English Benedictine communities were established on the Continent from 1606 onwards. At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, there were three independent houses belonging to the English Benedictine Congregation in France. The Revolution presented the English monks with a very real and tangible threat to their existence and securities, introducing a series of decrees that impacted on monastic life greatly. The monks responded to these incursions not by assuming the role of passive victims, or religious refugees caught up in a foreign conflict, but rather showed themselves to be shrewd operators, adept at playing the game of revolutionary politics and by navigating legal niceties. This article will illustrate that the monks’ sophisticated networks of information gathering and sharing allowed them to coordinate more coherent response strategies to the Revolution amongst other British and Irish exiled communities, whilst also permitting themselves to employ a series of delaying tactics. The impact of the monks’ responses to the Revolution, however, extended beyond British and Irish exiles, and impacted directly on the local French populations, through their work in the ‘refractory Church’.
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