For nearly three centuries after the Reformation, Catholics in England were outlaws.
But in the turmoil and persecution that followed the break between King Henry VIII and Rome, noble families such as the Stonors clung to their faith, "in spite of dungeon, fire and sword," as the Victorian hymn "Faith of our Fathers" put it.
"We're just stubborn, really," says Ralph Thomas Campion Stonor, the seventh Lord Camoys, a title bestowed on an ancestor for valor in the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
Pope Benedict XVI will recall the years of persecution during his upcoming tour of Britain Sept. 16-19. He will visit Westminster Hall, the medieval chamber within the Houses of Parliament where the Catholic Thomas More was tried and convicted of treason in 1535. More refused to swear an oath accepting the annulment of King Henry's marriage, thus becoming one of the first of the legion of English Catholic martyrs.
The Stonor family's history mirrors the vicissitudes of Catholics, both noble and humble, who defied the law and risked death to preserve their faith through times of persecution until they regained full legal rights in the 19th century.
The Stonors were among those described as respectable "recusants," people who refused to attend Church of England services; respectable because they did not join in any plots to overthrow the monarchy.
It was possible, even in the turbulent times of Queen Elizabeth I, to be openly Catholic and still enjoy royal favor. A notable case was the composer William Byrd, who wrote music for the Chapel Royal and for the Catholic Mass.
The Stonor family sheltered another famous martyr, the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion. Campion's printing press was discovered at the Stonor house after Campion was arrested in 1581. Dame Cecily Stonor, who had already been paying yearly fines equivalent to 50,000 pounds ($77,000) in today's money, and her son John were arrested as well, [... read more...]