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Publication of A History of the Bishop’s Palace at Ely

Today is the official publication date of A History of the Bishop’s Palace at Ely: Prelates and Prisoners which has been published by the Ely Society with the support of King’s Ely. The book marks the re-opening of the Old Bishop’s Palace in September 2012 after its acquisition by King’s Ely in January 2010.

The book tells the story of the Bishop’s Palace from 1486, when the East Tower was built by Bishop Alcock, to the present day, and traces the transformation of a mediaeval palace into the form of an 18th century country house.

On Wednesday 10th October I shall be speaking to the Ely Society about the history of the Palace, and on Friday 12th October I shall be signing copies of the book in the Palace itself. The book is on sale in Ely bookshops Topping and Co., Burrow’s, the Cathedral Shop and Ely Tourist Information Centre (Oliver Cromwell’s House) for £3.99.

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Jacket Design for English Catholics and the Supernatural

Ashgate’s cover design for English Catholics and the Supernatural, to be published on 28 February 2013, has been released. The image on the cover is Rushton Triangular Lodge, built by Sir Thomas Tresham in 1593 following an experience during his imprisonment at the Bishop’s Palace in Ely. Tresham and a servant heard three loud raps on the inside of a skirting board whilst reading a devotional work on the Trinity. Tresham, who was obsessed with numerology, interpreted this as a sign that he should build a structure honouring the Trinity (see the section in Chapter 1 on ‘Mystical Recusancy’ for more on this story.

 

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At the 55th Catholic Record Society Conference

Yesterday evening I spoke briefly at the annual Catholic Record Society Conference at Liverpool Hope University to introduce my book English Catholics and the Supernatural. I described the book as a revisionist approach that confronts three problems that have troubled and still trouble Catholic historiography:

1) The tendency of some historians to view English Catholicism through the lense of anti-Catholic literature, assuming that all or some of the allegations made against Catholics in that literature were true. This is most evident in the assumption that Catholics were superstitious and politically and culturally conservative.

2) The temptation to view post-Reformation English Catholicism through the lense of late mediaeval religion, assuming that Catholics in the 1580s and after thought in much the same way as the Catholics of Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars

3) The temptation to accept Victorian romantic fictions about English Catholicism as fact

In relation to the question of how ‘superstitious’ Catholics were in early modern England, the anti-Catholic voices have been allowed to drown out what Catholics themselves actually thought, and this book seeks to set the record straight. The key aims of the book can be summarised as follows:

1) To demonstrate that Catholics were no more or less ‘superstitious’ than anyone else in early modern England

2) To demonstrate that the association between Catholicism and ghosts is a combination of anti-Catholic fiction and Victorian invention

3) To demonstrate that the idea Catholics were persecuted as witches is a historical fiction

4) To give a complete account of Catholic exorcism in early modern England, arguing that exorcism was an inherent and important part of the missionary agenda, for which priests were prepared to exploit people’s fears, including fears of witchcraft

There were some interesting comments on the presentation from conference delegates and Ashgate helpfully included a summary of the book’s contents in the booklet they printed for the Conference.

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Essex Connections of Norfolk and Suffolk Recusants

On the afternoon of Saturday 7th July I spoke to an audience of around 40 members of the Essex Recusant Society in Brentwood on ‘Essex Connections of Suffolk and Norfolk Recusants’. I concentrated on three families from Suffolk who at some point held lands in Essex – the Kytsons of Hengrave, the Tasburghs of Flixton and the Rookwoods of Stanningfield. Of these, the Rookwoods were the most significant Essex landowners, holding the manors of Claverings and Shrieves in Colne Engaine from before the Reformation until the mid-eighteenth century. Many questions remain unanswered about Catholics who held lands in counties other than their own – what was the effect on local people of an absentee landlord who also happened to be a Catholic? My paper, which was drawn from my research on these families, did not do as much as I should have liked to answer that broader question, but I believe it is certainly one that is worthy of further investigation.

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English Catholics and the Supernatural available for ordering

My book English Catholics and the Supernatural has become available for pre-ordering on the Ashgate website, and now has a publication date of April 2013. There is also a helpful blerb on the book and a contents list.

Hopefully some pictures of the front cover and fliers will come soon…

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Tasburghs of Bodney

My article ‘The Tasburghs of Bodney: Catholicism and Politics in South Norfolk’ has been published in volume 46 of Norfolk Archaeology (pp. 190-198). It is one of a pair of articles on the Tasburgh family; the other one, on the Flixton branch of the Tasburghs, is due to be published this year in Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History.

The Tasburghs were an ancient Norfolk family and were probably descended from the Doomsday landlords of the village of Tasburgh from whom they took their name. They later moved to South Elmham St. Peter where they lived at St. Peter’s Hall, one of the few remaining mediaeval manor houses in Suffolk (which now houses the headquarters of an excellent brewery). At the time of the Dissolution of the smaller priories, the Tasburghs acquired ownership of nearby Flixton Priory, a house of Augustinian nuns. The Tasburghs were not unusual among families that would later be recusants in benefitting from the Dissolution (the Kytsons of Hengrave are another example), but the Tasburghs were unusual in that they did not become recusants until the late 1620s under the influence of Lettice Cressy, the wife of Sir John Tasburgh (d. 1629). The majority of East Anglian recusant families either clung onto the faith from the Marian period (Sulyard, Bedingfield, Drury, Rookwood and Jerningham for instance) or moved from elsewhere in the country (Gage). There were families with both Protestant and Catholic branches but the Tasburghs are the only example I have encountered of an East Anglian family that converted back to Catholicism (I do not count the Jermyns since isolated members of the family converted to Catholicism rather than all of them together).

The Bodney Tasburghs were a late development, the descendents of one of the sons of Sir John Tasburghs, but their importance lies in the fact that they outlasted the senior branch at Flixton and remained active in local politics beyond the period when most Catholic families had given up such ambitions. If you want to know more I would encourage you to read my article…