Roman Catholics

The separation of the Church of England from Rome was completed in 1559 with the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, completing the process started by Henry VIII. Most bishops and many priests were ejected from their posts and celebration of the Catholic mass was forbidden. Catholics (also known as papists) were persecuted until the Catholic Relief Acts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Catholic priests were sometimes jailed or even executed and Catholics were denied the vote and barred from most official posts. They also suffered extra taxation and there were periodic enforcements of acts requiring Catholics to take various oaths (with fines levied on those who refused).

Many Catholics were baptised, married or buried in Anglican churches and therefore appear in Anglican parish registers. However, many Catholics are not recorded in Anglican parish registers, either because a Catholic family refused to attend an Anglican church, or because its incumbent refused to conduct baptism, marriage or burial ceremonies for papists. Catholics were generally buried in the parish churchyard but the register may not record them. Many Catholics were baptised or married (usually secretly) by their own priests. 

Although the Catholic Church ordered its priests to keep registers of baptisms and marriages from 1563, the clandestine nature of the organisation means that very few early Catholic registers have survived. Couples who celebrated a Catholic marriage ceremony were often prosecuted in the (Anglican) church courts. Consistory court records (Cheshire Archives and Local Studies reference EDC) may therefore record Catholic marriages which don’t appear in surviving registers.

From 1754 to 1837, most Catholics complied with Hardwicke’s Marriage Act and married in Anglican churches to ensure that the marriage was valid under English law. However, many couples also had a Catholic marriage ceremony. It was only following the Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791 that a Catholic church could be legally registered as a place of worship and that Catholics felt it safe to keep registers which identified them. Subscription to the Roman Catholic church in Cheshire tends to be confined to urban areas. 

Cheshire Archives and Local Studies holds records for a number of Catholic churches (reference ERC).