Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

UK Christianity, Out With A Whimper

In Tudor England, religious conflict was a blood sport. Thank God that's past. But now Christianity there is gasping its last
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The other day I wrote about how the Church of England, which faces total extinction in the 2060s if it doesn't turn around its decline, is instead spending its time and energy arguing over whether to marry same-sex couples, and change God's pronouns. Progressive Christianity is a poison pill. The Catholic Church in the UK is on exactly the same glide path to oblivion, in the same time period, but look at how the Archdiocese of Liverpool is meeting the crisis. Couldn't get the entire tweet to embed, but here's a screenshot of the top part:


I don't mean to say that the concerns of LGBT Catholics and Anglicans and their allies are unimportant. I mean to say that it's insane for the leaders of these institutions to focus on this, when the death of everything they stand for is only a generation, maybe two, away. It's like arguing over dinner seating as the Titanic sinks.

What brought this to mind today was reading Ed West's latest Substack newsletter, in which he focuses on the hideous, violent culture war between the newly Protestant establishment in Elizabethan England, and Catholics. Excerpts:

The persecution of Catholics is just one theme of many in Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England, the second of a now four-part series that runs from the medieval period to the Regency. It’s hugely successful, and deservedly so for being such fun popular history; but the parallels between the Tudor period and today always stick with me. And it’s hard not to empathise with the losers.

Compared to her zealous brother Edward, Elizabeth I self-consciously saw herself as a moderate on religious affairs; it was the pesky Catholics, after all, who were starting a culture war by resisting every new innovation and putting their conscience above the law of the land. 


This is a golden age of torture, far crueller than anything devised in the Middle Ages: ‘Some of the extreme cruelty that we usually associate with the medieval world,’ Mortimer pointed out, ‘is in reality more common in Elizabeth’s reign’. At the Tower of London there are seven types of torture used on priests, among them the dungeon (where a man cannot stand tall), the rack, the Scavenger’s Daughter (an iron ring that brings head, hands and feet together until they form a circle), something very cruel-sounding called the Iron Gauntlet, and the chains and fetters.

Fr John Gerard, another Jesuit taken to the Tower in 1597, describes how: ‘They fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it slipping, and then, removing the wicker steps one by one from beneath my feet, they left me hanging by my hands and arms fastened above my head. The tops of my toes, however, still touch the ground and they had to dig away the earth from under them.’ Henry VIII had even introduced boiling alive but Elizabeth — the bleeding heart liberal — abolished it.

There is also peine forte et dure, in which a victim who refuses to plead is crushed to death beneath a board on which seven or eight hundredweight of stone are placed. In order to increase the suffering, a sharp stone is also placed beneath the victim’s spine. Margaret Clitherow, a 29-year-old from York, is the most famous victims of this horror, in 1586. Many Catholic ‘traitors’ afterwards had their heads displayed in public, and a visitor to the capital in 1600 would have seen about 30 of them rotting at the Great Stone Gate on London Bridge.

The ramping up of persecution did nothing to stop the endless supply of plots against Queen Elizabeth. There was the Anthony Tyrell plot in 1583, the Throckmorton plot and the Parry plot. In 1585 Gilbert Gifford was arrested in Sussex and confessed to yet another plan. He agreed to become a double agent and provided spymaster Francis Walsingham with information about the Babington conspiracy to overthrow the Queen and replace her with her cousin Mary, all of whom are caught and executed in 1587 (including, of course, Mary.) Unsurprisingly, then, the Elizabethan regime builds up quite an effective secret police network under Walsingham.

The state was paranoid but by now the Pope was openly calling for the Queen’s overthrow. Relations with the Catholic Church were further worsened by Robert Parsons’s De Persecutione Anglicana, a counterpart to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, read everywhere in Rome.

In 1588 came the Armada and, obviously, things got even worse afterwards. In 1591 commissions were set up in every county to examine people’s beliefs and test church attendance. Two years later an act was passed stating that those not attending Anglican services for a month are to be imprisoned. Catholics now cannot travel more than 5 miles from home, on pain of forfeiting all property. They must register with local authorities and obtain a licence if they wish to go anywhere. The Catholic population shrinks, increasingly concentrated in the North.


Here's the tweet to which Ed links. It looks like the greatest concentration of Catholic martyrs of the period was in Lancashire, the most Catholic part of England ... which is to say, around Liverpool:

One more:

The new religion succeeded by portraying its rival as un-English, unpatriotic and alien, but as this was an age of great political violence, the culture war was mostly won with the noose and the rack: between 1571 and 1603 around 250 Catholics were executed as traitors; countless others were impoverished by lower-intensity persecution. As life became worse for this shrinking minority, the average Englishman or woman would have known fewer and fewer open Catholics. The memory of what the country was once like would have started to fade; the festivals, the rituals, the time before the scriptures were preached, would have died out with the followers of the old religion. The younger generation growing up might not have known it was once merry, and those in positions of power would have told them it was all a lie, and it was dangerous to hark back. A way of life had died, the cost of losing a culture war.

We can all thank God that the days of Christians killing Christians in England are long past. However: to think that the ferocious Anglican church that was doing all the persecuting is expiring from agonies over God's pronouns, and the English Catholic church of Campion, More, and Fisher is doddering to its end decorating its sanctuaries with crosses made out of Post-It notes arranged to look like the Pride flag. Verily, a way of life is nearly dying, the cost of losing a later culture war.

Meanwhile, the great Douglas Murray reports on how the British government is waging culture war on its own people by warning them off, via the Prevent program, of certain books that could turn them extremist -- including Murray's own. Excerpts:

But one of the most interesting is what he uncovered about Prevent’s saunter into ‘right-wing extremism’. Because of course it was never going to be enough for a government programme set up to tackle one form of extremism to look only into that form of extremism. It is almost inevitable that the people taking part will come to feel that there are other forms of ‘extremism’ that they must also focus on and that there is something almost bigoted about pursuing the specific thing they were set up to address. Thus does the great boondoggle of government justify itself.

In any case, it transpires that the programme’s attempts to address right-wing extremism were even more inept than some of its attempts to address Islamist extremism. In part this is because the Prevent programme was advised by left-wing activist groups like Hope not Hate. Such groups have long believed that the definition of far-right should encompass, for instance, many people who supported Brexit. From campaigning against the National Front and the BNP, such groups ended up campaigning against Ukip. In other words, they ended up trying to stigmatise opinions that were in many cases (such as on Brexit and immigration) shared by a majority of the British people. Quite the hustle, that.


When I first saw these documents I felt a sort of white-hot anger. But then I read on and saw that these same taxpayer-funded fools provide lists of other books shared by people who have sympathies with the ‘far-right and Brexit’. Key signs that people have fallen into this abyss include watching the Kenneth Clark TV series CivilisationThe Thick of It and Great British Railway Journeys. I need to stress again that I am not making this up. This has all been done on your dime and mine in order to stop ‘extremism’ in these islands.

There is also a reading list of historical texts which produce red flags to RICU. These include Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, as well as works by Thomas Carlyle and Adam Smith. Elsewhere RICU warns that radicalisation could occur from books by authors including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Aldous Huxley and Joseph Conrad. I kid you not, though it seems that all satire is dead, but the list of suspect books also includes 1984 by George Orwell.

If only Britain had a Tory government, these things would never happen! Oh, wait...

The point seems to be that any reading material that encourages one to love God, country, non-Marxist political philosophy, and English history, might turn people into violent right-wing lunatics, according to the UK government's anti-terrorism watchdog. This, of course, is what the activist Left is doing to Americans too -- but so far, at least, the US Government is not fully on board with it. For now.