top of page
  • E.G. Maladroit

Stop Believing Lazy Anti-Catholic Myths

*this is an article I wrote to be published in my school paper - but thought I'd add it here also. This is, however, why it is slightly brief and perhaps over-obvious

Anti-Catholicism is the act of discriminating against Catholics, which for a long time has been a lazy intellectual tradition in post-reformation England and across the western world. Whilst some might dismiss its effects as far behind us, it might surprise you how recently anti-Catholic sentiments persisted within the fabric of our own society; only in 2015 did British Monarchs gain the right to marry a Catholic, with Catholics being first allowed at Oxford University only in 1895. Of course, far more severe consequences of it can be seen in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the sentiment is more associated with violence. It continues today in many forms, mostly within the myths and stereotypes that have lazily persevered in the education system and our culture. Here I will focus on the ones I find to be the most persistent, mainly that of the Spanish Inquisition and ‘Bloody’ Mary.

The Spanish Inquisition, lasting 1478-1874, was a judicial institution meant to stamp out heresy within a newly unified Spain. It was intended to root out non-Catholics, encouraging conversion and executing those who refused it. Traditionally the inquisition has been characterised as one of the bloodiest religious events in history, with websites like ‘Britannica’ placing its death toll as high as 32,000 (though many ‘historians’ put it much higher). It is generally believed that it contained unrivalled brutality and torture. Where did this idea come from? Mostly propaganda, much of it directly used to arouse hatred against Catholics or Spain. The reality could not be more different; with only 150,000 ever being prosecuted across the entire period, the inquisition had a record low execution rate, with only 2.7% being killed. The result of this was that only 3000 executions occurred across the entire almost 400-year period, averaging at only around 8 deaths per year. It goes without saying that in other countries (including protestant ones) heresy executions were far more frequent, and that in almost all other countries torture was commonly used. These lower statistics are based on actually credible sources, unlike the previous accounts of the inquisition, as they benefitted from the opening of the Spanish and Vatican archives. And yet the ‘Black Myth’ of the Spanish inquisition persists today, with most of the top sites that appear in a google search for it furthering outdated and incorrect information (including the aforementioned ‘Britannica’, as well as ‘History Extra’ and ‘History revealed’). It continues to be associated with perceived Catholic violence and bigotry.

The infantile characterisation of Mary I as ‘bloody Mary’ specifically annoys me due to its persistence in pop culture, to the extent that I vividly recall Framlingham Castle holding ‘Bloody Mary’ events, despite her being the castle’s main claim to fame (other than its renowned circular chimneys). The above-average heresy death count from Mary’s reign has for a long time been an excuse to portray her as simply a fanatic, a ‘sterile interlude’ between successful protestant rulers, as A. F. Pollard put it. This could not be further from the truth; whilst Mary’s execution rate was high, the contrast to other rulers is vastly overblown due to the fact others disguised such killings as ‘treason’ executions. Besides this, it is a juvenile way to summarise her reign, considering that despite her having to combat disease and agrarian crises, her father’s bankruptcy, and her brother’s devaluation of the coinage, she managed extraordinary progress. She almost revalued the coinage (without her policies Elizabeth I would likely never have recovered it), she opened up the first trade links with Russia, carefully reformed the church – all within a 5-year period. She would likely even have reclaimed Calais, if not for her early death. And yet, the protestant Elizabeth I reaps the praise for the economy Mary fostered, whilst Mary’s reforms are ignored in favour of slandering her with traditional anti-Catholic stereotypes of violence. It is significant that despite many other protestant rulers being comparably bloody, Mary remains alone in bearing her sensationalist nickname.

These are some of many widely believed mistruths; an honourable mention goes to the ‘Dark Ages’, a myth still taught in schools, which portrays protestants as liberating intellectual traditions with their superior reason (all reputable historians say this is an unequivocal myth). However, I hope I have shed some light on the ones I see most commonly perpetuated within our culture and media, and that this will encourage you to question similar received notions going forwards.


bottom of page