In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section English Catholic Music after the Reformation to 1750

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Royal Chapels

Music English Catholic Music after the Reformation to 1750
Andrew Cichy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0009


As late as 1970, the Oxford Companion to Music still claimed that, apart from the embassy chapels, music for the Roman Catholic liturgy in England had been “necessarily extinct” from the time of the English Reformation—when the Church of England, under the influence of Protestantism, severed ties with Rome and replaced the Catholic Church as the established church in England—until the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in the 19th century. The falsehood of this claim, however, has been highlighted by substantial research contributions to the subject—initially through studies of the life and work of William Byrd and other English Catholic composers, and more recently through studies of music in English Catholic households. Also of importance has been the recent research on the Catholic Royal Chapels, established to serve the Catholic spouses of England’s monarchs (who also governed the Church of England)—namely Henrietta Maria of France (wife of Charles I), Catherine of Braganza (who married Charles II), and Mary of Modena (second wife of James II). Research on music at the exiled court of James II, and on the seminaries, colleges, Convents and Monasteries that were established in Continental Europe by English Catholic refugees has demonstrated the significant musical activity of English exiles and their institutions. Further contributions to the study of post-Reformation English Catholic music have been hampered by a scarcity of primary sources—caused in England by the need to conceal Catholic activity to avoid prosecution and through destruction in riots and revolutions, and on the Continent largely as a consequence of the suppression of the Jesuits and the French Revolution. Owing to the rarity of Musical Sources, the study of English Catholic music has often only been addressed tangentially in studies of early modern history connected with English Catholics in England or on the Continent. Any musicological approach to English Catholic music, therefore, requires a thorough understanding of the political, social, and theological issues affecting the English Catholic community after the Reformation. The reader is referred to the Oxford Bibliographies: Renaissance and Reformation articles “English Reformation” by Stella Fletcher, “Council of Trent” by Frederick McGinness, “Elizabeth I” by Sarah Covington, and “English Puritans, Dissenters, Quakers, and Recusants” also by Sarah Covington for suitable background reading for the subject. This bibliography (with a few exceptions) only surveys the musicological research on English Catholic music after the Reformation to 1750.

General Overviews

As an emerging subject, there are aspects of English Catholic music which remain severely underresearched, and a comprehensive study of English Catholic music in the post-Reformation era remains to be written. Something of the circumstances in which the subject emerged, however, can be understood by considering Hodgetts 1976, a response to the entry on English Catholic music in the 1970 edition of the Oxford Companion to Music (Scholes and Ward 1970).

  • Hodgetts, Michael. “Recusant Liturgical Music.” The Clergy Review 61.4 (1976): 151–156.

    Challenges the idea (prevalent at the time of publication) that there was no Catholic liturgical music in England after the Reformation until the 19th century; cites contrary examples from recusant households, the (Catholic) Royal Chapels, and English Catholics in Continental Europe.

  • “Roman Catholic Church Music in Britain.” In The Oxford Companion to Music. 10th ed. rev. and reset. Edited by Percy Alfred Scholes and John Owen Ward. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.

    The original entry on “English Catholic Music” in the Oxford Companion to Music, which states that Catholic music was virtually nonexistent in England from after the Reformation until the Catholic emancipation in the 19th century. A useful summary of the assumptions that previously restricted research in the field.

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