The English were highly anxious about the threat of ‘papistry’ from the time of Queen Mary I, who had attempted to reverse the reformation in England. For its part, the Catholic Church didn’t act to allay suspicion, but instead openly sought to dismantle the English protestant government by declaring Queen Elizabeth I a heretic and seeking to depose her from the throne. As a result of this mutual tension, the English were institutionally anti-Catholic to some degree throughout the 20th century; the rule banning heirs to the throne from marrying Roman Catholics was not lifted until 2013. Catholics were demonized and blamed for many things in the 17th century, including the Great Fire of London and the Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament. This history of terror was still a part of the conversation during the rise of the Gothic novel. In fact, suspicions were heightened because the number of Catholics and Catholic priests in England was increasing as many of them fled France during the revolution. The result was an increase in anti-Catholic suspicion and sentiment, which was fodder for the Gothic novelists who sought to titillate readers by inscribing their worst nightmares in vivid ink on the page. Character types such as the wicked abbess, the unchaste or pregnant nun, and the lascivious monk are manifestations of the naked anti-Catholic projects of the Gothic. The monastery, convent, cloister, and burial crypt are also often used as settings in the Gothic to portray Catholics in an unholy light. In MG Lewis’ The Monk, for example, the Catholic crypt is used by the wicked abbess in two ways: as a dungeon and a burial ground for the nuns’ newborn babies.
Courtesy of Wendy Fall, Marquette University
See also: religion
Hoeveler, Diane Long. "William-Henry Ireland, T. I. Horsley Curties, and the Anti-Catholic Gothic Novel." European Romantic Review 24.1 (2013): 43-65. Print.
Wright, Angela. Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820 : The Import of Terror Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2013, 2013. Print.
Horatio and Camilla; OR, THE NUNS OF ST. MARY. A TALE OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson