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I’m an independent researcher exploring a network of Catholic recusant families in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.

This blog grew out of my family history research, and more specifically an interest in my Kent and Sussex ancestors, some of whom seem to have held on to their Catholic faith, either openly or covertly, through the turbulent events of the Reformation (though my more recent forebears were protestant nonconformists of various kinds).

Now that my research has strayed into exploring a network of families only loosely connected with my own ancestors, I’ve decided to relocate this part of my research to a separate site. (New readers are encouraged to start here.) I’m hoping that taking a genealogical approach to recusant history, exploring the links between individuals and families, might uncover hitherto hidden connections.

I have a longstanding interest in the interwoven subjects of faith and identity. Long ago I wrote a PhD thesis on the articulation of Christian belief in twentieth-century poetry.  More recently, my academic interest in social identities has drawn me back to questions of belief, and in particular how individuals sustain complex and changing religious identities in writing.

Finally, on a more personal note, as someone who has undergone a number of conversions and reversions in my life, I continue to be fascinated by the ways in which individuals experience and manage this process, and intrigued by those who remained true to their deepest beliefs in the most difficult of times.

Martin Robb

St Ippolyts



You can email me at: mprobb@btinternet.com

The header image shows part of the Hawkins family monument in the parish church of Boughton-under-Blean, Kent

Historical note

In the history of England and Wales, recusancy was the state of those who refused to attend Anglican services; these individuals were known as recusants. The term, which derives ultimately from the Latin recusare (to refuse or make an objection) was first used to refer to those who remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and did not attend Church of England services, with a 1593 statute determining the penalties against ‘Popish recusants’. 

The ‘Recusancy Acts’ began during the reign of Elizabeth I and were repealed in 1650. They imposed various types of punishment on those who did not participate in Anglican religious activity, such as fines, property confiscation, and imprisonment. Despite their repeal, restrictions against Roman Catholics were still in place until full Catholic Emancipation in 1829. In some cases those adhering to Catholicism faced capital punishment, and a number of English and Welsh Catholics executed in the 16th and 17th centuries have been canonised by the Catholic Church as Christian martyrs

‘Recusancy’, Wikipedia

On 29 April 1559, the English House of Lords by 33 votes to 12 passed a bill abolishing papal supremacy over the Christian church in England, and establishing the supremacy of the English monarchs over it. Also in April 1559, a bill abolishing the Mass and imposing an English language Book of Common Prayer liturgy passed in the House of Lords by a majority of three and was implemented on 24 June of that year. To refuse to take an oath of belief in royal supremacy over the church became a crime punishable by removal from public office and inability to hold any office. To defend papal authority over the church became punishable in the first offense by loss of goods; the second by imprisonment for life; the third offence was considered treason punishable by death. 

The 1559 bills made English Catholics guilty of high treason—a crime English law punished by hanging, drawing, and quartering offending men, and by burning offending women. The bills made a political offense out of a matter of conscience—belief in a universal church under God. As in the Roman Empire in which early Christians who refused to burn incense before statues of the emperor were condemned to death for sedition, in Elizabethan England, Catholics were killed because they did not believe an act of Parliament changed what a fifteen-century-old Christian tradition told them: that the Church was a universal institution and the Bishop of Rome was its spiritual leader. To say or attend the Catholic Mass became a criminal act punishable by fines and imprisonment. All parishioners had to attend church on Sundays and holy days under penalty of a shilling for each absence.

Rafael E. Tarrago (2004) ‘Bloody Bess: The Persecution of Catholics in Elizabethan England’, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 7.1, 117-133



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