The mental world of a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman
Author: Geoff Baker

This book examines the activities of William Blundell, a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman, and using the approaches of the history of reading provides a detailed analysis of his mindset. Blundell was neither the passive victim nor the entirely loyal subject that he and others have claimed. He actively defended his family from the penal laws and used the relative freedom that this gave him to patronise other Catholics. In his locality, Blundell ensured that the township of Little Crosby was populated almost entirely by his co-religionists, on a national level he constructed and circulated arguments supporting the removal of the penal laws, and on an international level he worked as an agent for the Poor Clares of Rouen. That he cannot be defined solely by his victimhood is further supported by his commonplace notes. Not only did Blundell rewrite the histories of recent civil conflicts to show that Protestants were prone to rebellion and Catholics to loyalty, but we also find a different perspective on his religious beliefs. His commonplaces suggest an underlying tension with aspects of Catholicism that is manifest throughout his notes on his practical engagement with the world, in which it is clear that he was wrestling with the various aspects of his identity. This examination of Blundell's political and cultural worlds complicates generalisations about early modern religious identities.

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Geoff Baker

This introductory chapter discusses the theme of this volume, which is about the activities and mental world of William Blundell, a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman in Lancashire, England. The first part of this book considers the extent to which his public activities corroborate his claims of passive victimhood and the second examines Blundell's reading practices as documented in his commonplace books Adversaria and Historica. This volume also evaluates the extent to which Blundell's reputation was justified by his actions and suggests that he was neither the passive victim nor the entirely loyal subject that he and others have claimed.

in Reading and politics in early modern England
Geoff Baker

This chapter considers William Blundell's activities in relation to his family and friends in connection with his claim of passive victimhood. It suggests that far from being a victim, Blundell created a series of defence mechanisms that protected him from the full force of the penal laws. He maintained kinship and social networks that provided him with both personal security and protection for his estate and he used the freedom that these strategies afforded him to protect other Catholics in his networks.

in Reading and politics in early modern England
Geoff Baker

This chapter examines William Blundell's claims that he was a loyal subject in light of his activities related to the removal of the penal laws and the admission of Catholics into every area of English social life. It suggests that Blundell's claim of being a loyal subject represented loyalty to the monarchy and not the regime, which Blundell undermined. This chapter also argues that Blundell made a significant contribution to safeguarding the prospects of English Catholicism and his activities were a direct threat to the Protestant state.

in Reading and politics in early modern England
Geoff Baker

This chapter considers how William Blundell constructed his commonplace books Adversaria and Historica. It evaluates the extent to which these commonplace books support the argument that by the end of the seventeenth century commonplace authors abandoned the forms expounded in printed guides on structuring commonplace books and exerted autonomy over the style that they employed. It suggests that Blundell did not stick stringently to established methods of commonplacing and he designed a method that suited his purposes and accorded with his reading practice.

in Reading and politics in early modern England
Geoff Baker

This chapter analyses William Blundell's entries on devotional writing and religious histories in his commonplace books. It considers how Blundell used his reading to bolster his own religious beliefs and discusses religious beliefs based on his engagement with the Bible and other devotional works. The analysis of his commonplace books indicates that certain aspects of Catholicism caused him problems, particularly the details of saints' lives. This chapter also describes how Blundell read and rewrote Catholic and Protestant history to add credibility to the former.

in Reading and politics in early modern England
Geoff Baker

This chapter examines how William Blundell's anxieties about aspects of Catholic belief and practice affected his practical engagement with the world. The analysis of the entries in his commonplace books regarding social order, the place of women and natural phenomena shows that Blundell was frequently torn between an approach to the world concomitant with his religious beliefs. This chapter concludes that the effect of this tension was that Blundell steered a distinctly idiosyncratic middle way through the two approaches.

in Reading and politics in early modern England
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Geoff Baker

This chapter sums up the key findings of this study on the political and religious beliefs of William Blundell, a seventeenth-century Catholic gentleman in Lancashire, England. Blundell's surviving papers clearly demonstrate that he actively ensured his own survival and played a prominent part in local and national politics. This chapter suggests that Blundell's political culture was not solely defined by his recusancy and that his standing in the social order and his gender also had an impact on his worldview.

in Reading and politics in early modern England