In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Anti-Catholicism and Anti-Popery

  • Introduction
  • Anti-Catholicism in Ideologies and Identities: The British Context
  • The Dutch Atlantic
  • The Irish, the Empire, and Anti-Catholicism
  • Transnational Anti-Catholicism

Atlantic History Anti-Catholicism and Anti-Popery
Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Tyler Cline, Jeffrey Jones
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 November 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 November 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0358


It is hard to overestimate the extent to which anti-Catholicism structured the Atlantic world. As much as Catholicism itself was a transatlantic force (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History article “Catholicism” by Allyson M. Poska), the counter-response to Catholicism had a pervasive influence, especially in the Protestant-dominated North Atlantic (see “Protestantism” by Carla Gardina Pastana). It was, as Chris Beneke and Christopher Grenda have observed, “nimble and ubiquitous” (The First Prejudice, p. 15). The past decade has witnessed significant growth in the scholarship on anti-Catholicism. The most important overall advancement is our growing understanding that anti-Catholicism was more than just a knee-jerk prejudice. It was a complex, varied, and protean phenomenon that warrants close analysis. To a great degree, the growing sophistication of the historiography on anti-Catholicism across the Atlantic basin builds on the work of historians of early modern England and Britain, who have been carefully documenting and analyzing the phenomenon since the 1970s. Because this work is relatively narrow in its geographic scope—often limited to a particular county or region, individual, group, or theme—it is not covered here; but this historiography has been hugely important in providing a foundation for the works that are represented. The bibliography covers scholarship on anti-Catholicism from the 17th through the 20th centuries with a necessary focus on the North Atlantic world. It pays special attention to the British context not only because the literature is most developed for that region but also because it was the British who were most responsible for transferring anti-Catholic ideas, identities, institutions, and policies across the ocean. That said, historical examination of anti-Catholicism in the Dutch world is growing and is thus represented here as well. Overall, the works were selected either for their influence on studies of anti-Catholicism in the Atlantic world in various times and places, or because they adopt a wide geographical lens and deal directly with the Atlantic dimensions of anti-Catholicism. Indeed, one of the trends in the historiography is a shift from early modern and nation-centric studies to transnational investigations that include the 19th and 20th centuries (scholarship on the 18th century, while growing, still lags somewhat behind the early modern and 19th-century literature.) Other trends include efforts to distinguish anti-Catholicism from its closely related corollary, anti-Popery, and to explore the relationship between them; growing calls for interdisciplinary approaches to the study of anti-Catholicism; analysis of cross-fertilization of various forms of anti-Catholicism evident in the Atlantic world; and a commitment to studying how those targeted by anti-Catholicism navigated the systemic oppression it created.

General Overviews

The works in this section present concepts and methodological considerations that are useful for thinking about anti-Catholicism in a broad range of specific contexts and as a long-term phenomenon. Lake 1989 is a required conceptual starting point, cited in most works on this topic. Haydon 2013 (an updated overview of his 1993 monograph, which is annotated in Anti-Catholicism in Ideologies and Identities: The British Context) and Wolffe 2015 both present useful typologies of anti-Catholicism that are also widely cited. Haydon defines three aspects of anti-Catholicism: political (distrust of a Catholic’s loyalty); theological (disagreement with Catholic doctrines); and popular (fear and persecution of Catholics as heretics, traitors, etc.). Wolffe builds on and refines Haydon’s typology, adding a fourth type, sociocultural anti-Catholicism (defined as the widely held “perception of the Roman Catholic Church as fostering immorality” [Haydon 2013, p. 194]). Overall, Wolffe has made a signal contribution to the scholarship by writing not only focused monographs but also several big picture syntheses, such as his examination of continuities and changes in anti-Catholicism over the longue durée in Wolffe 2020. In addition to long chronologies, wide geographic units are also increasingly adopted in the study of anti-Catholicism. Stanwood 2011 positions the anti-Catholicism of colonial Americans in the broad cultural and geopolitical contest between early modern empires, while Harland-Jacobs 2015 shows how examining anti-Catholicism in widely ranging imperial contexts reveals interesting dynamics with its opposite, accommodation. Finally, there is a trend toward examining anti-Catholicism from multiple disciplinary perspectives, building on and pushing forward the long-established historical scholarship. Brewer and Higgins 2002 offers one of the few sociological investigations of anti-Catholicism, while Gheeraert-Graffeuille and Vaughan 2020 emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary treatment of the phenomenon. The same can be said for Haefeli 2020, which presents research from art historians, literary scholars, and political scientists, as well as historians. Together they clearly demonstrate the complexities, variety, and importance of both anti-Catholicism and anti-Popery, as well as the relationship between the two (covered in the subsection Anti-Catholicism versus Anti-Popery?).

  • Brewer, John, and Gareth Higgins. Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600–1998. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2002.

    Presents anti-Catholicism as a sociological process by exploring how it has served as “a political, economic and cultural resource” available to Protestants in Ireland historically and in contemporary times. While it focuses on the British Isles, the book provides useful background for and analysis of the groups like Orange Order and the Ribbonmen that took root across the Atlantic.

  • Gheeraert-Graffeuille, Claire, and Géraldine Vaughan, eds. Anti-Catholicism in Britain and Ireland, 1600–2000. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

    Collected essays on various aspects of anti-Catholicism in the British Isles from the Reformation to the present, including three chapters on the development of anti-Catholicism in Scotland, which has been relatively under-studied compared to England and Ireland. Aims to offer a “polyphonic history” that brings together historians, philosophers, literary scholars, and sociologists. Primarily concerned with how discourses of anti-Catholic prejudice have been elaborated and perpetuated rather than exploring specific instances of assaults against Catholics.

  • Haefeli, Evan, ed. Against Popery: Britain, Empire, and Anti-Catholicism. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2020.

    Recent critical intervention that offers both important theoretical advancements and highly illustrative examples drawn from across the “British-American world,” from the 16th through the early 19th century. Promotes the study of anti-Popery specifically as vital to understanding early American history. Complex, adaptable, and durable, anti-Popery “helped knit the Protestant British-American world together—and tear it apart” (p. 16).

  • Harland-Jacobs, Jessica. “Incorporating the King’s New Subjects: Accommodation and Anti-Catholicism in the British Empire, 1763–1815.” In Special Issue: Transnational Approaches to the History of anti‐Catholicism in the Modern Era. Edited by Timothy Verhoeven. Journal of Religious History 39.2 (June 2015): 203–223.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9809.12183

    Uses the expanding British Empire to explore the interplay between anti-Catholicism and accommodation in British imperial policy toward Catholics. Pragmatic considerations of incorporating new imperial subjects prompted a shift toward accommodation that complicates the straightforward equation of Britishness with anti-Catholicism.

  • Haydon, Colin. “Eighteenth-Century English Anti-Catholicism: Contexts, Continuity, and Diminution.” In Protestant-Catholic Conflict from the Reformation to the Twenty-First Century. Edited by John Wolffe, 46–70. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2013.

    Updated overview of the arguments presented in the author’s seminal 1993 monograph (see Haydon 1993 in Anti-Catholicism in Ideologies and Identities: The British Context). Considers the methodological challenge of determining just how deeply and insidiously anti-Popery operated and calls for sustained research into localized contexts. Explores what 18th-century English anti-Catholicism has to tell us about prejudice toward outgroups in other times and places, paying particular attention to the self-confirming character of similarly “ironclad” ideologies.

  • Lake, Peter. “Anti-Popery: The Structure of a Prejudice.” In Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics 1603–1642. Edited by Richard Cust and Ann Hughes, 72–106. London and New York: Longman Group UK Limited, 1989.

    Important theoretical work that presents anti-Popery as more than just a prejudice; rather, it was a process of identity construction, in which English Protestants defined themselves and their values through the inversion of supposed Catholic faults. This inversion included notions of Protestant rationality, liberty, and personal embrace of God as opposed to Catholic opposition to education, absolutism, and the imposition of human interlocutors between individuals and God.

  • Stanwood, Owen. “Catholics, Protestants, and the Clash of Civilizations in Early America.” In The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America. Edited by Chris Beneke and Christopher S. Grenda, 218–240. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.9783/9780812204896.218

    Explains Protestant Americans’ obsessive hatred of Catholics by applying the scholarship on anti-Popery in early modern Britain to the colonial American context and situating Catholic-Protestant tensions there within the broad frame of geopolitical rivalries among Britain, Spain, and France. Anticipates many of the lines of argument developed in Haefeli 2020.

  • Wolffe, John. “A Comparative Historical Categorisation of Anti-Catholicism.” In Special Issue: Transnational Approaches to the History of anti‐Catholicism in the Modern Era. Edited by Timothy Verhoeven. Journal of Religious History 39.2 (2015): 182–202.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9809.12182

    Elaborates on a useful typology (originally proposed in Haydon 1993) to categorize anti-Catholicism. The categories include constitutional-national, theological, sociocultural, and popular. Although the categories are fluid and overlapping, they are precise enough to be analytically helpful. The article also emphasizes the diversity and multifaceted character of anti-Catholicism and draws examples from the British Isles, Europe, and North America to demonstrate how its how pervasive and persistent it has been.

  • Wolffe, John. “Conclusion: Taking the Long View of Anti-Catholicism.” In Anti-Catholicism in Britain and Ireland, 1600–2000. Edited by Claire Gheeraert-Graffeuille and Géraldine Vaughan, 289–300. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-42882-2_17

    Synthesizes the contributions to the volume to argue that the trend has been toward the marginalization of anti-Catholicism over the long term. By the 20th century, the early modern anti-Catholic consensus had been supplanted by secularity. Wolffe cautions, however, against positing a linear decline in anti-Catholicism’s history by identifying continuities across the centuries as well as particular manifestations in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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