Historical Note, Revenge and Retribution

When Matthew Graham decided to move his family from Scotland to the Colony of Maryland, he based that decision to a large extent on Maryland’s Act of Toleration, which allowed for all Trinitarian faiths to co-habit in peace in the colony. After years hearing his church and beliefs vilified back in Scotland, Maryland offered a haven from persecution – but Matthew was expected to accept that he would be sharing his new home with Catholics and Anglicans as well as strict Presbyterians (Puritans, if you will) like himself.

The Act of Toleration was introduced in 1649, repealed in 1654 and reinstated in 1656. It was to survive until the reign of William and Mary, when such a lenient approach to papists was quite impossible to accept. Approximately ninety years later, the Maryland Act of Toleration would influence that rather impressive document, the American Constitution – more precisely its First Amendment.

Revenge and Retribution opens in 1684. The previously so tolerant attitude to other Christian faiths is changing into a religious form of xenophobia. The Protestant majority in Maryland (Lord Calvert, the colony’s Catholic owner, wanted as many immigrants as possible, and did not question people about their faith. Besides, the government back in England would have disapproved had Calvert refused Protestants entry to Maryland) was beginning to complain about their papist overlord. This was very much in line with the general climate back in England, where anti-papist sentiments were extremely high – especially with the Catholic Duke of York being next in line to the throne.

Over the coming five years, Maryland was to suffer the same religious upheaval that plagued England. And by the time the dust settled, in 1692, Catholic rule in Maryland had been overthrown, never to be reinstated. In 1702, the colony formally became Anglican – which can’t have pleased the Puritans in the colony all that much.

In England, Catholics who aspired to public office had been since some while back obliged to comply with the Test Act. As per this rather odious piece of legislation, only those who received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as per Anglican rites and rejected the concept of transubstantiation (a central tenet in the Catholic faith) could serve as officers of the court, parliament, the military. Further to this, any person aspiring to public office had to take an Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance, in effect placing their loyalty to the king of England before that to, for example, the pope.

The precursor of the Test Act, the Corporation Act, was introduced by James I (James VI of Scotland). The original legislation did not require actually receiving communion in the Church of England as a prerequisite for holding office, it merely stated that all such people should receive the sacrament. As the century wore on, the Protestants in England began seeing Catholic boogeymen in every ditch, hole and cellar, and so in 1673 the first Test Act saw the light of the day.

In 1678, Parliament in its wisdom decided the Test Act needed to be reinforced. The original wording excluded the country’s peers from having to take the oath, which in practise meant that Catholics still had representation in both houses of Parliament. The new 1678 Test Act required all peers and members of Parliament to declare against transubstantiation, the existence of saints and the sacraments of Mass, thereby effectively ousting all Catholics from Parliament. The Catholic lords fought back as well as they could and succeeded in delaying the act plus managed to weaken it substantially by sneaking in an exception for the Duke of York.

All of the above serves to explain why Matthew’s closest neighbours, the Chisholms, choose to be so careful when they are visited by a Catholic priest. In 1684 it was not illegal to perform Mass in Maryland, but the Catholic communities tended to be clustered in the area around St Mary’s. The Chisholm family, however, had settled in the western “highland” area of Maryland – maybe due to a hankering for their Scottish roots – and were therefore an isolated island of Catholicism, surrounded by mostly Puritan settlers. By 1684, a Catholic priest risked abuse at the hands of the more fanatically inclined Puritans, and so Father Carlos Muñoz travels very much incognito.

Revenge and Retribution features Lucy Jones, an intelligent young person that has to overcome the double handicaps of being both deaf and female. She is lucky to be living in Providence, as the Presbyterian faith was strong on teaching all children to write, thereby making it possible for Lucy to communicate with the people around her. She was unfortunate in that everyone “knew” deaf people were simple, and so treated Lucy with irritating condensation. Having been deaf all her life, Lucy was resigned to this particular handicap. She found it far more difficult to accept that her husband would shun her bed and go in search of other women.

To Lucy, her husband’s philandering was insulting, but the moral standards of the times were very different for men and women. A man who committed adultery was definitely a sinner – and should officially be punished just as harshly as an adulterous woman. But where a woman who committed adultery could expect to have the full force of the law – including being condemned to hang – thrown at her, men with a wandering member were at most slapped over the wrist and reprimanded severely, at least as long as they stayed away from married or otherwise honourable women. As Matthew says, adultery in a woman was perceived as much more serious, as it could potentially raise questions about her children’s parentage.

As my more faithful readers have already noticed, I stubbornly stick to the name Providence for present day Annapolis. The correct name at the time would have been Anne Arundel’s Towne (abbreviated to Arundlton before becoming Annapolis in 1694) but those feisty Puritan settlers who built the town – and named it - back in the 1650’s would not, I believe, have taken kindly to having their little settlement named after a Catholic lady, wife to Lord Cecil Calvert, no less.