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When the United Kingdom of Great Britainmarker was created in 1707, discrimination against Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom existed from the outset as the Treaty of Union itself stated that there would be a protestant succession to the British throne. The civil rights of most Catholics continued to be severely curtailed and Catholic numbers influence and visibility were at a low ebb with very few Catholic communities surviving intact except in pockets where Catholicism remained the majority religion, such as rural Lancashiremarker and Cumbriamarker. Things only began to change for Catholics with the passing of the 'Catholic Relief Act' in 1778 which allowed Catholics to own property, inherit land and join the army. Even this measure resulted in the Gordon Riots in 1780, showing the depth of continuing anti-Catholic feeling. Over the next half century, an influx of thousands of Catholics fleeing the French Revolution plus a thawing in relations with the Catholic world during the Napoleonic Wars when the UK was allied with the Catholic states of Portugalmarker and Spainmarker as well as with the Holy See itself, meant that by 1829 the political climate had changed sufficiently to allow Parliament to pass the Catholic Emancipation Act, giving Catholics almost equal civil rights, including the right to vote and to hold most public offices.

The Great Irish Famine and the exodus of Catholics from Ireland led to a boost in the numbers of Catholics in Englandmarker, Walesmarker and Scotlandmarker. This in turn led Pope Pius IX to have Catholic hierarchies re-established in England and Wales in 1850 and restored in Scotland in 1878. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, a number of prominent individuals converted to Catholicism including John Henry Newman, Augustus Pugin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Catholicism retained its renewed strength in both England and Wales and Scotland through the first half of the twentieth century, though increased pressures of secularisation from the 1960s began to have an effect. Nevertheless, prominent converts have still joined the Church, such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Joseph Pearce. Some members of the Royal family (Duchess of Kent, her son, and grandson), and public figures such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife, Cherie Blair, have no difficulty making their Catholicism known to the public, although Blair put off bringing to public notice his "official" conversion and subsequent announcement until December, 2007, well after having left his Downing Streetmarker office. In recent years, several Catholic politicians have achieved high positions in government.

With Catholicism organised by three separate national churches within the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, there is no single hierarchy for Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom. For details of these separate churches and the history of Catholicism in the countries they serve, see:

See also


  1. Welcome, accessed 7 October, 2008
  2. The Treaty of Union 1706, accessed 15 February 2009 - see article 2
  3. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, accessed 15 February 2009
  4. Francis Beckett and David Hencke, The Survivor: Tony Blair in War and Peace, 2005, Aurum Press Ltd, ISBN 978-1845131104
  5. Francis Beckett and David Hencke, "Regular at mass, communion from Pope. So why is Blair evasive about his faith?",The Guardian, September 28 2004
  6. Ruth Gledhill, Jeremy Austin and Philip Webster, "Blair will be welcomed into Catholic fold via his 'baptism of desire'", The Times, May 17 2007

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