English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553–1829: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

English Catholics and the Supernatural, 1553–1829

1st Edition

By Francis Young


320 pages

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pub: 2013-02-15
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In spite of an upsurge in interest in the social history of the Catholic community and an ever-growing body of literature on early modern 'superstition' and popular religion, the English Catholic community's response to the invisible world of the preternatural and supernatural has remained largely neglected. Addressing this oversight, this book explores Catholic responses to the supernatural world, setting the English Catholic community in the contexts of the wider Counter-Reformation and the confessional culture of early modern England. In so doing, it fulfils the need for a study of how English Catholics related to manifestations of the devil (witchcraft and possession) and the dead (ghosts) in the context of Catholic attitudes to the supernatural world as a whole (including debates on miracles). The study further provides a comprehensive examination of the ways in which English Catholics deployed exorcism, the church's ultimate response to the devil. Whilst some aspects of the Catholic response have been touched on in the course of broader studies, few scholars have gone beyond the evidence contained within anti-Catholic polemical literature to examine in detail what Catholics themselves said and thought. Given that Catholics were consistently portrayed as 'superstitious' in Protestant literature, the historian must attend to Catholic voices on the supernatural in order to avoid a disastrously unbalanced view of Catholic attitudes. This book provides the first analysis of the Catholic response to the supernatural and witchcraft and how it related to a characteristic Counter-Reformation preoccupation, the phenomenon of exorcism.


'… this work is a nice addition to the literature of English Catholic belief during this time period. [Young’s] conclusions are well supported by the sources he cites; he makes the case that English Catholic belief in the supernatural world of witches, ghosts, haunted houses, and other oddities fits more nicely within the context of their English setting than in that of any primary influence from continental Catholicism.' Sixteenth Century Journal 'An undoubted strength of Francis Young’s study is his sensitivity to the cultural context within which Catholics encountered the supernatural… This understanding informs a study that engages with current scholarship on the nature of the Catholic community, as well as a burgeoning literature on all aspects of pre-modern supernatural belief, which continues to enhance our comprehension of contemporary religious cultures.' Recusant History '… Young presents a rich and balanced picture, thoroughly contextualizing ideas about the supernatural within the wider religious and political context and changing internal dynamics of the English Catholic community.' History 'English Catholics and the Supernatural certainly provides some fascinating insight and I would recommend this to anyone interested in the history of Catholicism, the intellectual and religious history of post-Reformation England, and early modern engagement with the supernatural.' Reviews in History '… this monograph remains a thought-provoking and appealing read, which offers a rich, well-documented and intelligent analysis of a so-far neglected subject.' E-rea 'The strength of this book lies in its overall intention to understand English Catholics' relationship with the supernatural primarily from a Catholic perspective. Young achieves this by using a variety of well-known collections as well as controversial works, although Protestant works are discussed where Catholic sources are silent.' Journal of Ecclesiastical History 'English Catholics

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction; Early modern Catholics and ’superstition’; Catholicism, Enlightenment, and ’superstition’; Ghosts and apparitions in the English Catholic community; Catholics, witchcraft, and magic in Reformation England; Catholics and witchcraft in the age of Enlightenment; Dealing with the Devil: Catholic exorcisms; Appendices; Bibliography; Index.

About the Series

Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700

Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700
Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700 addresses all varieties of religious behaviour extending beyond traditional institutional and doctrinal church history. It is interdisciplinary, comparative and global, as well as non-confessional. It understands religion, primarily of the 'Catholic' variety, as a broadly human phenomenon, rather than as a privileged mode of access to superhuman realms. Catholic Christendom, 1300-1700 will appeal to academics and students interested in the history of late medieval and early modern western Christianity in global context. The series embraces any and all expressions of traditional religion, books in it will take many approaches, among them literary history, art history, and the history of science, and above all, interdisciplinary combinations of them.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Modern / 17th Century