Report September 2015

Report on monthly talk on Friday 18th September
For the Kineton Group’s first talk after the summer break Dr Ruth Barbour discussed the proposition “Brailes: an 18th century catholic hotspot?” Ruth is studying the catholic presence in Warwickshire in the troubled centuries following Henry VIII’s break with Rome. It seems to be a story of gradual relaxation of the controls and penalties suffered by catholics, albeit with flare-ups of intolerance, persecution and bigotry. She is particularly interested in how the two religions co-existed in tight-knit rural communities and the experience of the “middling sort” of villager. Brailes stood out as having a particularly active catholic congregation, with a catholic Lord of the Manor. Ruth noted the two meanings of “hotspot” – one an innocent recognition that there were many catholics, and the other implying trouble.
She warned against taking at face value the figures collected by various authorities at various times, but concluded that there were indeed more catholics in Brailes than in most other villages in the county. Ruth concluded that in the country as a whole in the 18th century catholics probably comprised about 1% – 2% of the population, but in Brailes the figure may have been as high as 10%. Members of the Bishop family were notable, providing an early illegal priest, sending a daughter to a French convent, and a son to join an Irish regiment to fight against the English at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. This was the year of Bonny Prince Charlie’s failed Jacobite uprising.
As to whether the catholics were a source of trouble seems more debateable. Ruth charted the gradual lifting of legal restraints, and the evidence for coexistence of the two communities in Brailes, including the proximity of the early catholic place of worship and the Anglican parish church. A grave slab in the church bears a cross and the letters RIP, denoting catholic beliefs. Against these tokens of tolerance she recounted the antics of a Welsh curate who mounted a campaign of abuse against papacy and the Lord of the Manor, much like a modern twitter troll. Eventually he was removed by an ecclesiastical court. Ruth again cautioned against taking sensational incidents as being typical of the general situation, the 18th century catholic community and its leaders in Brailes seem to have belonged to the large population of English catholics who were content to live under an Anglican monarch and political establishment, but who wished to be allowed to worship in their own way.
Following questions, some raising issues of local ghosts and witchcraft associated with popular superstition, Rachel Mander gave the vote of thanks for a stimulating talk. The meeting then adjourned for tea, biscuits and gossip in the traditional fashion.
Local expert Clive Thomas will bring examples of medieval European swords to illustrate his talk at our next meeting on the 16th October. Visitors are welcome at the Village Hall at 7.30.
DF 22.09.2015