The story of Catholic Emancipation begins with the violent Anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in 1780, fuelled by the reduction in Penal Laws against the Roman Catholics harking back to the sixteenth century. Some fifty years later, the passing of the Emancipation Bill was hailed as a ‘bloodless revolution’.
Had the Irish Catholics been a ‘millstone’, as described by an English aristocrat, or were they the prime movers? While the English Catholic aristocracy and the Irish peasants and merchants approached the Catholic Question in very different ways, they manifestly shared the same objective.
Antonia Fraser brings colour and humour to the vivid drama with its huge cast of characters: George III, who opposed Emancipation on the basis of the Coronation Oath; his son, the indulgent Prince of Wales, who was enamoured with the Catholic Maria Fitzherbert before the voluptuous Lady Conyngham; Wellington and the ‘born Tory’ Peel vying for leadership; ‘roaring’ Lord Winchilsea; the heroic Daniel O’Connell. Expertly written and deftly argued, The King and Catholics is also a distant mirror of our times, reflecting the political issues arising from religious intolerance.