AskDefine | Define recusant

Dictionary Definition

recusant adj
1 (of Catholics formerly) refusing to attend services of the Church of England [syn: dissentient]
2 refusing to submit to authority; "the recusant electors...cooperated in electing a new Senate"- Mary W.Williams n : someone who refuses to conform to established standards of conduct [syn: nonconformist] [ant: conformist]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin recusare ‘refuse’.


  • /'rɛkjʊzənt/


  1. someone refusing to attend Church of England services, between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries
  2. anyone refusing to submit to authority or regulation


Related terms


  1. pertaining to a recusant or to recusancy

Extensive Definition

In the history of England, Recusancy was a term used to describe the statutory offence of not complying with and conforming to the Established church or State religion, the Church of England.


From the 16th to the 19th century, those guilty of such Nonconformity, termed Recusants, were subject to civil penalties and sometimes, especially in the earlier part of that period, to criminal penalties. Roman Catholics formed a large proportion of Recusants, and were those to whom the term initially was applied. Non-Roman Catholic groups composed of Reformed Christians or Protestants who dissented from the Church of England were, later, also labelled Recusants. The Recusancy laws were in force from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of George III, though they were not always enforced with equal intensity.
The first statute to address sectarian dissent from the England's official religion was issued in 1593 under Elizabeth I and specifically targeted Roman Catholics, under the title An Act for restraining Popish Recusants. It defined Popish Recusants as those convicted for not repairing to some Church, Chapel, or usual place of Common Prayer to hear Divine Service there, but forbearing the same contrary to the tenor of the laws and statutes heretofore made and provided in that behalf. Other acts also targeted Roman Catholic Recusants, including statutes passed under James I and Charles I, as well as laws defining other offences deemed to be acts of Recusancy.
Recusants were subject to various civil disabilities and penalties under English penal laws, most of which were repealed during the Regency and reign of George IV (1811–30). The Nuttall Encyclopædia notes that Dissenters were largely forgiven by the Toleration Act of William III, while Roman Catholics "were not entirely emancipated till 1829".
Early Recusants included Protestant dissenters, whose confessions derived from the Calvinistic Reformers or Radical Reformers, although with their growth after the restoration of Charles II these groups were later mostly distinguished from Roman Catholic Recusants by the use of the terms nonconformist or dissenter.

Modern Usage

Insofar as the term is used of people living today, Recusant tends to be applied, as a term of pride, by the descendants of continuously Roman Catholic English gentry and peerage families. Although most contemporary English Roman Catholics are at least partly descended from immigrants into England (particularly from Ireland) or converts, Roman Catholicism remained the majority religion in various pockets, notably rural Lancashire and Cumbria. Some modern-day English-speaking sedevacantist Roman Catholics also use the term (incorrectly) to describe their movement.
The family of the Dukes of Norfolk, whose surname is Fitzalan-Howard, are the most prominent recusant family in England, while Recusancy has been historically focused in Northern England. The Acton (also known as Acton-Dalberg) family is also well-known.
Other Recusant families include Ainscough, Arden of Longcroft, Throckmorton, Cary-Elwes (or Elwes), Gillibrand, Berkeley (of Spetchley), De Lisle (or de Lisle), Weld, Weld-Blundell (or Weld Blundell), Ward, Holman, Fitzherbert (of Swynnerton), Fitzherbert-Brockholes, De Trafford (or de Trafford), Trappes-Lomax (Trappes of Nidd), Stourton, Vavasour, Clifford (of Chudleigh), Bedingfeld, Petre (some branches), Scarisbrick (some branches), Stukley (also spelled as Stucley, Stukely, Stukeley), Swarbrick, Talbot, Hornyold, Towneley and Stonor, as well as branches of non-wealthy families with such surnames as Pope, Payne, Wilson, Young, Simpson, Blount, Jerningham, and Turner, among others.
In Wales, the few Recusant families include the Mostyns of Mostyn,the Herberts of Treowen, the Morgans of Llantarnam, and the Vaughans of Courtfield (of the family of Cardinal Vaughan).
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of wealthy families converted or 'reverted' to Roman Catholicism, including branches of the Bellingham (Ireland), Fraser (Scotland), Lane-Fox, Noel (Gainsborough), Radcliffe (England), Crichton-Stuart (Scotland) and Strickland (Malta) families, and provided a resurgent English Roman Catholic Church with much-needed financial support.
Conversely, some old Recusant families, such as the earls of Shrewsbury, the viscounts Gage, and the Giffards of Chillington, embraced Anglicanism.
The principal growth in the numbers of Roman Catholics in modern England has been through immigration (in the past most notably the Irish, and in the last few years notably from Poland) and not dramatically through conversion (although there has been a steady flow of Anglican lay people and clergy into the Roman Catholic church over the last two decades). Nonetheless, those who self-identify as English are second only to the Irish in membership in the Roman Catholic Church in the UK.


A noteworthy English Catholic, though probably a convert, was composer William Byrd. Some of Byrd's most popular motets were actually written as a type of correspondence to a friend and fellow composer, Philip de Monte, who wrote his own motets in response, such as the Super Flumina Babylonis. These correspondence motets often feature themes of oppression or the hope of deliverance.
One infamous Recusant was Guy Fawkes (aka Guido Fawkes), an English soldier, who was arrested while attempting to carry out the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament on 5 November 1605.
Other Recusants include a large proportion of Jacobites, such as the Earl of Derwentwater, and particularly those ennobled in the Jacobite Peerage.


External links

recusant in Spanish: Recusación (religión)
recusant in Norwegian: Recusant

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1