Tag Archives: Penal Laws

April 13th

On this day in 1829 Royal assent was given to  an Act that had been passed by Parliament on 24th March. The Roman Catholic Relief Act came into being and from that day forward all left-footers were allowed to be proper auld Papists and they wouldn’t get funny looks for it or suffer in terms of their career or financial prospects. Excuse me while I sew my sides back together. Oh the hilarity!

That'll learn the bog-trotters.

I’m going to give you a bit of background to this, but it will be very much an overview. There is a very good reason for this. Most of the background involves 17th and 18th century Irish politics and believe me, you do not want to go there. I studied this shit in detail and only just came out of it alive. It’s all Penal Laws this and Test Act that and all manner of shenanigans based on being Catholic and therefore not being able to work here, do this thing, vote here, do that thing and oh sweet mother of god and all the saints in heaven! It probably wouldn’t be half as bad, but just about everyone who’s chosen to write scholarly articles on it has decided that in order to show how clever they are they must swallow a dictionary and regurgitate it randomly and with extreme prejudice. So, my readers, that is why we will not be doing anything in-depth about that particular period.

But, unfortunately,you do need a bit of background. As you may or may not know, the British were not overly keen on those of the Catholic persuasion from the time of Elizabeth I onwards. I mean they put up with them, but the whole thing got worse and worse and then they were all over Ireland like a huge fucking rash and they really did not like the Irish Catholics one little bit and before you know it there are all sorts of laws in place that make life slightly more difficult for a Catholic than it really needed to be. First, there are the Penal Laws, these weren’t a new thing in the 17th Century, but after the Irish Catholics supported James II over William and Mary – i.e. the losing side – they were amended a bit more. To be fair, the laws had been at their harshest during the commonwealth of Cromwell, when clergy were expelled and could be executed and at no point throughout most of the century could Catholics take high office, etc. But! From 1691 Catholics had to swear allegiance to W&M if they wanted to be treated right. Most of the RCs did not want to swear that oath. But, to make things more complicated some RC gentry didn’t have to take the oath because they’d surrendered earlier when the whole war thing was going on. Confused? I told you.

The Test Act is more straightforward. If you weren’t a member of the Church of England, you were screwed. It affected non-conformists as well as Catholics, but given the oath from 1673 onwards was this: “I, [Catholic McMinty], do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.” In short, RCs (Roman Catholics, I’m tired of typing out Catholic over and over again!) were to renounce one of the central tenets of their faith and if they did not, they could not enter the military or hold office anywhere, including the Houses of Commons and Lords. [Quick faith thing: transubstantiation is the belief that the bread and wine used during communion turns into the body and blood of Christ. RCs believe this, Anglicans believe that communion is symbolic and no change really happens. Yes, it’s all a bit loop-the-loop, but that’s religion for you].

That’s how it all was at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It got worse. There was a ban on inter-faith marriage (repealed 1778), non-conformist weddings were not recognised by the state, Catholics weren’t allowed firearms (rescinded 1793), disenfranchisement (repealed 1793), exclusion from the legal profession (until 1793) and the judiciary (1829), Catholics could not inherit Protestant property, Catholic property owners had to subdivide their property on death, this  had the effect of breaking up land and property. This could be circumvented if one of the kids converted to the CofI. And more. You couldn’t own a horse worth more than a fiver, you couldn’t buy land with a lease of more than 31 years, you couldn’t gain custody of an orphan unless you paid £500 to a protestant hospital in Dublin. And so on and so on.

I know, this is long-winded, but believe me, this is the shortened version! In very short, if you were a Catholic, you were fuckered

Hardly mentioned here, but he played a major role in telling the UK parliament to think on

every which way unless you converted or pretended to convert. Quite a few took the latter route. And then came the glorious day in 1829 that the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed. You’ll have noticed that the nonconformists didn’t get off lightly either, but worry not, they got emancipated a whole year before the Catholics. There was a small price to pay. Prior to the Act, anyone who owned or rented land worth 40 shillings (two quid) could vote. After emancipation, the amount was raised to a tenner, which meant that many who had the vote (which they’d got in 1793, you’ll notice there was a bit of emancipation going on then) now lost it.

It could have been worse. Jewish MPs were barred until 1858 and atheists until 1886.(Disraeli? You ask. He converted to Christianity).

Now, I’d be very bad if I didn’t point out that despite the harshness of the Penal laws, many Catholics and nonconformists didn’t suffer too much. However, it did create a heinous inequality in a country where the majority were legally sidelined from having a say in the running and future of their own country. The whole period was known as the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, and it pretty much was.

At this point I could tell you the story of how for a while the nonconformist Presbyterians and Catholics found common cause before the British woke up to divide and rule, but that’s another five million words worth, and I’ve put you through enough already. Let’s just say that emancipation was a long time coming and when it arrived, it was  little too full of compromise to taste like anything approaching victory. Nice thought though. I have it on good authority that the Jewish and atheist recipients felt much the same way later in the century.

Oh and fuckity, fuck, fuck! Before I forget, there was a whole tithe madness thing that went on for a lot longer and led to a bit of a war (or civil disobedience), from 183-1836. When people started getting duffed up and killed by the police for not paying a few shillings of tithes to the Church of Ireland (the one that they weren’t members of), the British government realised that they might have fucked it up a lot little. But that is it for now. I promise.

Today’s birthday is going to be short and sweet, given what you’ve all had to endure, but none the less heartfelt for that.  So, today raise your glasses to the greatest director of musicals who ever lived, Mr Stanley Donen. If you don’t know his name, shame on you. This man gave us Singin’ in the Rain, On the Town, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Funny Face. Granted

Stan the man dances cheek to cheek with his Oscar

I’m  not a fan of the multiple weddings of the country dancing set film, but the others. Oh my. And he directed films without music and dancing too, including Indiscreet, which is just delicious. And he never won an oscar as a director which is an utter fucking travesty. They gave him one of those “Oh you’re old now and we forgot to give you one before” awards, but he has outfoxed them by living for 13 years and counting since they gave it to him.

I love this man, he’s made films that have made me happy and he never once told me I couldn’t vote unless I had 40 shillings worth of land and had to marry my own kind and own a flea-bitten nag. These are fine qualities in a man. Happy birthday, sir, you are a shining example to us all and by golly you choreographed some mighty fine dancing in your time!

He Choreographed this. Worship him!



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