Solitary Sparrows: Widowhood and the Catholic Community in Post-Reformation England, 1580-1630
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This dissertation examines the gendered nature of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English Catholic community through widows’ attempts to preserve Catholicism. Catholics in post-Reformation England faced new challenges in their resolution to remain faithful to Rome following the passage of a wave of anti-Catholic laws in the 1580s. These legislative attempts to root out Catholicism resulted in the creation of a clandestine community where private households became essential sites for the survival of Catholic worship. My research extends prior studies of English women – as a general category – in the preservation of Catholicism by considering how marital status affected an individual’s ability to support and maintain the underground Catholic Church. By merging the study of widowhood with spatial analyses of Catholic households, I argue that early modern patriarchal structures provided specific opportunities inherent in widowhood that were unavailable to other men and women, whether married or single. Through their legal autonomy, economic independence, and the manipulation of gendered cultural stereotypes, many Catholic widows used their households to harbor priests, host clandestine Mass, and preserve Catholicism for future generations. This argument maintains that a broader interpretation of the role of women, one that includes an analysis of marital status, is essential to understanding the gendered nature of religious survival in the face of persecution.