Historical perceptions of Roman Catholicism and national identity, 1869-1919

Corio, Alec Stephen (2014). Historical perceptions of Roman Catholicism and national identity, 1869-1919. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d5bb


This thesis seeks to illustrate and explain the fundamental changes which occurred in English attitudes to Roman Catholicism, and in the construction of English national identity, in the late nineteenth and early twentiethcentury. It argues that the excltisivist Protestant identity of the nation, which had hitherto been maintained by an anti-Catholic historical narrative, was challenged by the development of a confident Roman Catholic historical consciousness which was believed to be based on an authoritative, 'scientific' appreciation of England's medieval past. The thesis offers the first systematic analysis of Francis Gasquet's historical works. It examines their intellectual origins and formation, and situates Gasquet in relation to the increasingly respected academic discipline of history. It argues that his writing played an important role in reshaping scholarly and popular attitudes to the role Roman Catholics had played in the national past, and should play in the contemporary public sphere. Gasquet's historical credentials were essential to the English Roman Catholic Church's campaign to secure a papal condemnation of Anglican orders. This thesis analyses the role historical consciousness played in the inter-Church polemics of the 1890s. It argues that these texts reinforced popular recognition of the historical consistency of Roman Catholicism, and transferred much of England's residual anti-Catholic animus to Anglican ritualism. The thesis concludes by exploring how Anglo-Vatican diplomacy, stimulated by the national security imperatives of World War One, highlighted the political value of the new position of the Roman Catholic Church in the English public sphere. Through a study of the British Mission to the Holy See based on extensive use of British and Roman archives, it argues that English national identity was finally freed from its traditional opposition to the role of the papacy within Roman Catholicism.

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