Background information | Huguenots - protestant refugees

English Catholic Refugees
in northern France

Why English Catholics were persecuted
Gunpowder Plot - hatched in Saint-Omer
Safe houses in Douai

Why English Catholics were persecuted
England became officially Protestant when English king Henry VIII made himself head of the Church of England in 1530. From that time, English Catholics who stayed loyal to the Pope and to the older forms of worship were often under suspicion.

England's long-standing enemies, Catholic France and Spain, tried to recruit well-connected English Catholic families as spies - promising to put a Catholic monarch on the English throne, and to make England officially Catholic again.

As a result any known Catholic was suspected of being an agent for a foreign power. They were forbidden to hold any public offices, and had to worship in secret; Catholic priests were hidden from soldiers in "priest holes". Young Catholics were sent abroad to the Spanish Netherlands where the King set up colleges for religious training, and religious houses and chapels for refugee catholic priests and monks.
For example, when Queen.Elizabeth I faced invasion by the
Spanish Armada, it was feared that if the Spanish army did land, English Catholics would rise up in revolt to help, and to sabotage English resistance. Back to top

The 1605 "Gunpowder Plot" - hatched in Saint-Omer
1. The five conspirators in the 1605 "Gunpowder Plot"
2. Gunpowder barrels are discovered in a search of the cellars of the Houses of Parliament in London (a fanciful - and not terribly accurate! - contemporary engraving.) London Bridge and the riverThames shown in the background.

Guy Fawkes met the other ring-leaders in a Catholic college in Saint-Omer - which was then still in the Spanish Netherlands, not France. In 1605 a Scottish Protestant had been crowned as k.James I. Catholics feared even more repression, and hoped to mount a sudden coup to put a Catholic monarch on the throne instead.

The plan they hatched in Flanders was to create chaos and a power vacuum in England by blowing up Parliament on the day when it was opened by the new King. Most of England's leading Protestants would be there: the king, nobles, bishops and MPs. The conspirators hid barrels of gunpowder in the cellars - but someone talked, and the cellars were searched. The conspirators were tortured and confessed.

Ever since, English people burn effigies of Guy Fawkes on bonfires, and let off fireworks on November 5th; the cellars of the Houses of Parliament in London are always searched. It was centuries before Catholics were gain accepted in any positions of trust in England. The name of "Saint-Omer" was as notorious as the Russian Kremlin would be the 20th century. Back to top

English Catholic "safe-houses" in Douai
English Catholic exiles came to live in religious centres in catholic countries, like
Saint-Omer and Douai - where they had their own chapels and monastic institutions.
Back to top

Background information
Church & Religion
Huguenots - protestant refugees
Spanish Netherlands
Spanish Armada
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