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Catholic Emancipation,term applied to the process by which Roman Catholics in the British Isles were relieved in the late 18th and early 19th cent. of civil disabilities. They had been under oppressive regulations placed by various statutes dating as far back as the time of Henry VIII (see Penal LawsPenal Laws,
in English and Irish history, term generally applied to the body of discriminatory and oppressive legislation directed chiefly against Roman Catholics but also against Protestant nonconformists.
..... Click the link for more information. ). This process of removing the disabilities culminated in the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 (and some subsequent provisions), but it had begun a number of years before. Priest hunting, in general, ended by the mid-18th cent.
In 1778, English Catholics were relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase. A savage reaction to these concessions produced the Gordon Riots (see Gordon, Lord GeorgeGordon, Lord George,
1751–93, English agitator, whose activities resulted in the tragic Gordon riots of 1780 in London. In 1779, Gordon assumed leadership of the Protestant Association, an organization formed to secure repeal of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 (see
..... Click the link for more information. ) of 1780, and the whole history of Catholic Emancipation is one of struggle against great resistance. In 1791 the Roman Catholic Relief Act repealed most of the disabilities in Great Britain, provided Catholics took an oath of loyalty, and in 1793 the army, the navy, the universities, and the judiciary were opened to Catholics, although seats in Parliament and some offices were still denied. These reforms were sponsored by William PittPitt, William,
1759–1806, British statesman; 2d son of William Pitt, 1st earl of Chatham. Trained as a lawyer, he entered Parliament in 1781 and in 1782 at the age of 23 became chancellor of the exchequer under Lord Shelburne.
..... Click the link for more information. the Younger, who hoped thereby to split the alliance of Irish Catholics and Protestants. But Pitt's attempt to secure a general repeal of the Penal Laws was thwarted by George III. Pope Pius VII consented to a royal veto on episcopal nominations if the Penal Laws were repealed, but the move failed. In Ireland the repeal (1782) of Poynings' Law (see under Poynings, Sir EdwardPoynings, Sir Edward,
1459–1521, English statesman. After taking part in an insurrection (1483) against Richard III, he fled to the Continent, where he joined the followers of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, who in 1485 ascended the English throne as Henry VII.
..... Click the link for more information. ) was followed by an act (1792) of the Irish Parliament relaxing the marriage and education laws and an act (1793) allowing Catholics to vote and hold most offices.
By the Act of Union (1800) the Irish Parliament ceased to exist, and Ireland was given representation in the British Parliament. Then, since the Irish were a minority group in the British legislature, many English ministers began to advocate Catholic Emancipation, influenced also by the decline of the papacy as a factor in secular politics. Irish agitation, headed by Daniel O'ConnellO'Connell, Daniel,
1775–1847, Irish political leader. He is known as the Liberator. Admitted to the Irish bar in 1798, O'Connell built up a lucrative law practice.
..... Click the link for more information. and his Catholic Association, was successful in securing the admission of Catholics to Parliament. In 1828 the Test ActTest Act,
1673, English statute that excluded from public office (both military and civil) all those who refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, who refused to receive the communion according to the rites of the Church of England, or who refused to renounce belief
..... Click the link for more information. was repealed, and O'Connell, although still ineligible to sit, secured his election to Parliament from Co. Clare. Alarmed by the growing tension in Ireland, the duke of WellingtonWellington, Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of,
1769–1852, British soldier and statesman. Military Achievements
..... Click the link for more information. , the prime minister, allowed the Catholic Emancipation Bill, sponsored by Sir Robert PeelPeel, Sir Robert,
1788–1850, British statesman. The son of a rich cotton manufacturer, whose baronetcy he inherited in 1830, Peel entered Parliament as a Tory in 1809.
..... Click the link for more information. , to pass (1829). Catholics were now on the same footing as Protestants except for a few restrictions, most of which were later removed. The Act of SettlementSettlement, Act of,
1701, passed by the English Parliament, to provide that if William III and Princess Anne (later Queen Anne) should die without heirs, the succession to the throne should pass to Sophia, electress of Hanover, granddaughter of James I, and to her heirs, if they
..... Click the link for more information. is still in force, however, and Catholics are excluded from the throne (though the Commonwealth nations where the British monarch is head of state agreed in 2011 to end the ban on the monarch's marrying a Catholic).
See studies by B. Ward (1911), D. Gwynn (1929), J. A. Reynolds (1954, repr. 1970), G. I. T. Machin (1964), and A. Fraser (2018); S. L. Gwynn, Henry Grattan and His Times (1939, repr. 1971).