Lady Antonia Fraser at the London Jesuit Centre (was amazing)

Historian Antonia Fraser joined us at the London Jesuit Centre for the latest in the Good Books series, which sees prominent authors coming to discuss their recent works. Fraser’s latest offering marks a departure from her previous publications, many of which have focussed on the Tudor period. 


The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Rights 1829 tells the story of Catholic emancipation, covering the period from the Gordon Riots of 1780 to the Catholic Relief Act of 1829. Fraser’s narrative gives a lively picture of the key figures, including Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and Daniel O’Connell, and deftly navigates the political currents of the period. Reviewing the book, fellow historian Jessie Childs describes it as beautifully written, sensitively handled and with a ‘tremendous sense of fun.’1


Fraser was joined by Stephen Withnell, deputy head at Stonyhurst School and currently pursuing a DPhil in architectural history at Oxford. The discussion was wide-ranging: whether Catholic emancipation owed more to ‘the Irish question’ than to developments in England, and whether emancipation marked a turning point for Catholicism in England, from the distinctive Catholicism of the recusants, to a Catholicism more influenced by the Irish and continental mainstream.


Many of the book’s themes, from xenophobia to religious freedom, find an echo in current events. Asked why the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots - in which over 1,000 people died - were not more widely known about, Fraser commented that our national narrative tends not to foreground such unflattering events, but that the Gordon Riots should encourage us to reflect on our own prejudices, and whether we ourselves hold attitudes that would be incredible to our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.


The Good Books series continues on January 22nd, with Henry Wansborough OSB talking about the revised translation of the New Jerusalem Bible. Henry Wansborough will be in conversation with Nicholas King SJ, whose own translation of the Bible was published in 2016.