By Michael Tomko (auth.)
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Extra info for British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity, 1778–1829
However, Colin Haydon has shown in Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England (1993) that a tradition of anti-Catholic discourse, embedded high and low in British culture and society, was a major factor in the riots. Rage against Catholics also channelled uneasiness over the state of international affairs in which Britain was prosecuting a war with Protestant America. Robert Kent Donovan has argued that rioters were reacting against what was seen as the 1778 Relief Act’s ‘hidden agenda’ – the recruitment of Irish and Scottish Catholic soldiers to fight the American colonists with whom Dissenters and Scottish Presbyterians sympathized (84).
He asserts that not only was a promise made but that the Union was the tangible assurance of Catholic Emancipation. In addition to the common meaning of ‘assurance’, the word had a strong bridal connotation as in ‘pledging one’s troth’ (OED). Playing on marital rhetoric, Fox implies that a union had been enacted but that the pledge of the wedding vow had been betrayed by the government. In other words, by disavowing Catholic Emancipation, the ‘pre-marital’ Act of Union made Ireland a mistress, not a legal wife, through a dishonourable political conquest.
In a 1780 speech, Burke represented the nationwide ‘no popery’ bigotry as a ‘ghost’ that arose out of the ‘trouble and confusion’ of Britain’s religious history to move secretively and shamefully in ‘a free country’ and haunt ‘an enlightened age’ (‘Speech’ 143–4, 156). Contemporaries and historians have attempted to assign one single meaning or cause to the disturbance, but the collection of anxieties surrounding the riots captures the challenge that even the spectre of Catholicism presented to British national identity.