The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829

Written by Antonia Fraser
Review by Monica Spence

In her latest historical non-fiction work, Antonia Fraser brilliantly brings attention to the struggles for emancipation and full citizenship by English and Irish Catholics.

Fraser begins with the Gordon Riots of 1780, which were triggered by an act of Parliament designed to loosen the two-century-long yoke of oppression on the Catholics, and the ensuing political fallout. She sees the Riots as a turning point in the argument between Protestant and Catholic factions, though she “goes back to the beginning” to trace the lawful persecution of the Roman Catholics from the reign of King Henry VIII to those of George III and George IV. She clearly explains the fears of the Protestants, who felt any mercy shown would be a sign of weakness to their old foe, the Pope, and the Catholics who wanted the right to worship freely.

Since I come from a Catholic family with roots in both side of the debate, I found the book to be engrossing and chock-full of enlightening facts. However, it is the stories of the interpersonal relationships of the players that kept me reading. Those interested in the political or religious history of Great Britain, or readers of English or Irish descent history are recommended to seek out this wonderful book.

Highly recommended.