This book explores the changing aspirations, attitudes and identities of English Catholics in the late eighteenth century, a period which marked a critical moment of transition in their spiritual, political and intellectual culture. It is based on the experiences of the English Catholic baronet, Grand Tourist and politician Sir Thomas Gascoigne (1745-1810). Gascoigne was born on the Continent into a devout Catholic family based in Yorkshire; however, following an unusual Continental upbringing and extensive series of Grand Tours to the courts of Catholic Europe, he would abjure his faith for a seat in Parliament. Throughout his life, he was an important advocate of agricultural reform, a considerable coal owner interested in mining engineering, as well as a keen developer of spa culture. By examining the experiences of Gascoigne and his milieu, this book explores English Catholic attitudes towards continental Catholicism, the influence of the European Enlightenment upon their education and outlook, and how this affected their Christianity, their estates and their conception of national identity. It demonstrates how increased toleration entailed a gradual rejection amongst English Catholics of a pious separatism for a more ecumenical and, ultimately, Enlightened approach to religion. Although this risked the loss of English Catholics to Anglicanism, many - like Gascoigne - remained crypto-Catholic in sympathy. They adapted their faith to the Enlightenment and regarded it as a matter of personal conviction and private choice.
ALEXANDER LOCK is Curator of Modern Historical Manuscripts at the British Library.