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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
Roman Catholics

The success of the *Reformation in England, Wales and Scotland meant that those who remained loyal to the Roman Catholic faith could worship only discreetly, becoming known as 'recusants' (from the Latin for 'refuse', meaning that they refused to attend the services of the *Church of England). In practice recusants were limited to the richer classes, who could afford chapels at home. Many old English houses boast a 'priest's hole', a secret chamber where a visiting priest could be hidden; but such precautions were necessary only at a few periods of extreme tension, particularly in the 16C. In normal times Catholic families were not directly persecuted (the case of the *Earl Marshal is the most striking example), but they were excluded from public life and from university education under restrictions suffered also by the *Nonconformists.

Pressure for change came from *Ireland, the only part of the king's realm with a large Roman Catholic population, indeed a majority. Unrest there put *emancipation firmly on the political agenda from the late 18C. This was followed in the early 19C by a large influx of Irish labourers to Britain's west-coast ports and developing industrial cities. By the 1840s there were also many influential converts from the Church of England in the wake of the *Oxford Movement. By 1850 these developments persuaded Pope Pius IX to restore a Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy to Britain with the appointment of Cardinal *Wiseman as archbishop of Westminster.

Today there are also archbishoprics in Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, Southwark, St Andrews (with Edinburgh), Glasgow and Armagh. The centuries of hostility between Protestants and Catholics are now no more than a distant fact of history except in *Northern Ireland, where Protestant settlements in the 17C and subsequent restrictions on Roman Catholics lie behind the unrest of recent decades.

The archbishop of *Westminster is the head of the church in England and Wales, as the archbishop of *Glasgow is in Scotland and the archbishop of *Armagh in Ireland – where no distinction is made in ecclesiastical terms between north and south. In the early 1990s there are estimated to be nearly 6 million Roman Catholics in the United Kingdom (for the numbers attending church in England see *Christians).

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