Yorkshire Recusants: Roman Catholics Alive and Well in Northern England, 16th-17th Centuries

Let me introduce you to a new book:  The Middleton Papers:  The Financial Problems of a Yorkshire Recusant Family in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.   Written and edited by Jose Bosworth, Pat Hudson, Maureen Johnson, and Denise Shillitoe.  Printed by the Boydell Press for the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 2010.  This book was on the new book shelf at the Family History Library today.

When I was in graduate school, the Recusant/Royalist question was of great interest to me–I read everything I could find on the subject, attended a conference on the subject, and wrote  an historical paper –now posted on my website http://arleneeakle.com  under Free Stuff–“Treason Demands Payment.”

Recusantswere persons who refused to take the political oaths in support of the Church of England.  Actually the oaths were more anti-Catholic than they were pro-Anglican; and the oaths were administered each Sabbath at worship services.  Recusants were subject to fines, legal penalties, and even death for treason.  Queen Elizabeth said she would make no windows into men’s souls.  Her subjects could believe whatever they wished in their hearts as long as they conformed to the English Book of Common Prayer and took communion one Sunday out of every four.

Royalists were persons who supported the English Crown,  including Charles I and his son Charles II, against encroaching radical Protestantism.  Those who remained loyal to the Crown and fought for the King against Parliament were in great legal peril.  Their survival depended as much on the efforts of their Protestant relatives to protect them because they were kinsmen as it did on their abilities to remain low-profile until the Act of Toleration lifted some of the close surveillance on their activities.

The Middleton Papers is a transcription of household and estate account books for Stockeld Yorkshire, 1578-1582, 1653-1655.  Stockeld was the principal seat of the Middleton family during these fateful years.  The Introduction discussed the political and religious environments.  The Glossary defines the terms that would be misunderstood by modern readers.  The Biographical Notes describe and identify 71 principal families and individuals mentioned in the accounts–who are Roman Catholic in a Protestant England.  And the Bibliography lists specific manuscripts and printed sources that accompany or support the accounts as well as the historical studies that describe the lives and times of Englishmen (and women) in these times.

With family organizations and their researchers, I am searching for Englishmen who lived through these same years–previous genealogy research on these men has failed to identify their family origins nor to extend their pedigree lines.  So guides of this caliber are a welcome resource.  And the references for suggested study, that can extend my own understanding of the political and religious backgrounds for these actual genealogy lineages are like manna. 

I encourage you to take the challenge and add this volume to your Fall reading schedule–copies available http://www.boydellandbrewer.com.  Brand new:  New insights.  New understanding of sources that have been lying dormant for centuries, awaiting a genealogist’s study.  New connections with parts of England and Ireland that your research may have overlooked.  New evidence to trace your hard-to-find ancestors to the right families.

You can also pair this new book with an older and still significant study:  Central Government and the Localities:  Hampshire, 1649-1689 by Andrew M. Coleby.  New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1987.  (Check on Amazon.com for this title as a used book.)  This book also studies a specific locality and has an extensive bibliography of original records and their specific locations with call numbers and page references.   I will make a checklist of the sources he describes, so that I can use it as a guide to searching this 1500-1700 time period for difficult ancestries.

You see, inability to trace a family lineage in England before 1700 appears to be as much a lack of knowledge of what to search as it is who to look for.

And I am constantly amazed at the books the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has in its collection and continues to acquire.  And the records and sources that have actually been acquired–on microfiche and microfilm and, more recently, in digital format.  They employ some of the best bibliographic minds in genealogy to determine what is available and how to get it to us.  Your favorite English genealogist, Arlene Eakle    http://arleneeakle.com

PS  At the October Research Retreat sponsored by Family History Expos, 30 October to 4 Nov 2011 at the Family History Library, I will speak about “Finding Your Common Man English Ancestors in Land and Property Records.”   I will also take-you-by-the hand-and-lead-you to your “lost” English ancestors.  Judy Wight and other able research assistants will be there to do the same.  Check out http://familyhistoryexpos.com  for this rich and rewarding research experience available to you for a very reasonable price tag.  There is still time to sign up and be a part of this year’s Retreat!

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