Saturday, March 24, 2012

March 24, 1829: The Emancipation of Catholics

In my previous post today I recounted the death of Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland. When she died, Elizabeth left in place a series of penal and recusancy laws aimed at punishing Catholics and discouraging Catholicism in England and Ireland. In one of those great ironies of history, 226 years later, on March 24 in 1829, the English Parliament passed the Catholic Relief Act, undoing her Parliament's laws. This Act of Parliament actually went into force on April 13, 1829:

Whereas by various Acts of Parliament, certain Restraints and Disabilities are imposed on the Roman Catholic subjects of His Majesty, to which other subjects of His Majesty are not liable: and whereas it is expedient that such restraints and disabilities shall be from henceforth discontinued: and whereas by various Acts certain Oaths and certain Declarations, commonly called the Declaration against Transubstantiation, and the Invocation of Saints, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, as practised in the Church of Rome, are or may be required to be taken, made and subscribed by the subjects of His Majesty, as qualifications for sitting and voting in Parliament, and for the enjoyment of certain offices, franchises, and civil rights; Be it Enacted by The King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the Authority of the same, that from and after the commencement of this Act, all such parts of the said Acts as require the said Declarations, or either of them, to be made or subscribed by any of His Majesty’s Subjects as a qualification for sitting and voting in Parliament, or for the exercise or enjoyment of any office, franchise, or civil right, be and the same are (save as hereinafter provided and excepted) hereby Repealed.

If you read through just a few of the speeches given by the Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords (which included the Anglican Bishops) to encourage the reading and the passage of this bill, you can certainly see how contentious this issue was in Parliament--the crux of the issue being that since Catholic attorney Daniel O'Connell had won a seat in Parliament, the King's Government in England feared an uprising in Ireland if he was not allowed to take his seat, since he was Catholic--for fear that Emancipation, removing all the penal laws, would in fact encourage the growth and spread of Popery and weaken the Church of England. Robert Peel worked on passing the Emancipation Bill in the House of Commons. Since both Wellington and Peel were Tories and were previously opposed to Catholic Emancipation, they were regarded as traitors--Welllington threatened to resign to force King George IV to give his Royal Assent to the Act.

Of course, this being a matter of politics, someone had to lose in the deal. The poorer landowners were disenfranchised as only a male with property worth 10 pounds per year could vote (the minimum had been 2 pounds per year) and the Irish still had to pay taxes to support the Church of Ireland (which led to the Tithe Wars). Most of the burden for electing O'Connell and forcing the government to acknowledge the danger of not letting him take his seat had been borne by the peasants of Ireland. The middle class Catholics of England truly benefitted from the removal of restrictions on their livelihood and political representation, although they still could not attend at Oxford or Cambridge because an oath to uphold the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England was a graduation requirement.

The act also sought to limit the growth of monasteries and the presence of Jesuits in England:

And whereas Jesuits and members of other religious orders, communities or societies, of the church of Rome, bound by monastic or religious vows, are resident within the United Kingdom; and it is expedient to make provision for the gradual suppression and final prohibition of the same therein; Be it therefore Enacted, That every Jesuit, and every member of any other religious order, community or society of the church of Rome, bound by monastic or religious vows, who at the time of the commencement of this Act shall be within the United Kingdom, shall within Six calendar months after the commencement of this Act, deliver to the clerk of the peace of the county or place where such person shall reside, or his deputy, a notice or statement, in the form and containing the particulars set forth in the Schedule to this Act annexed; which notice or statement, such clerk of the peace, or his deputy, is hereby required to preserve and register amongst the other records of such county or place, for which no fee shall be payable, and a copy of which said notice or statement shall be by such clerk of the peace, or his deputy, forthwith transmitted to the chief secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, or other Chief Governor or Governors of Ireland, if such person shall reside in Ireland, or if in Great Britain, to one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State; and in case any person shall offend in the premises, he shall forfeit and pay to His Majesty, for every calendar month during which he shall remain in the United Kingdom without having delivered such notice or statement as is hereinbefore required, the sum of Fifty pounds.

And be it further Enacted, That in case any Jesuit, or member of any such religious order, community or society as aforesaid, shall after the commencement of this Act, within any part of the United Kingdom, admit any person to become a regular Ecclesiastic or brother or member of any such religious order, community or society, or be aiding or consenting thereto, or shall administer or cause to be administered, or be aiding or assisting in the administering or taking any oath, vow or engagement, purporting or intended to bind the person taking the same to the rules, ordinances or ceremonies of such religious order, community or society, every person offending in the premises in England or Ireland, shall be deemed guilty of a Misdemeanor, and in Scotland shall be punished by fine and imprisonment.

And be it further Enacted, That in case any person shall after the commencement of this Act, within any part of this United Kingdom, be admitted or become a Jesuit or brother or member of any other such religious order, community or society as aforesaid, such person shall be deemed and taken to be guilty of a Misdemeanor, and being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be sentenced and ordered to be banished from the United Kingdom for the term of his natural life.
These latter clauses were in reaction to the restoration of the Jesuit order in England earlier that year--they were never in effect.

1 comment:

  1. At Oxford subscription to the Articles was a matriculation requirement, not merely a graduation requirement.