Maryland: Hardly a Refuge for Persecuted Catholics

The colony of Maryland, founded in 1632 as a refuge for Catholics, is not named after Mary Stuart or Mary Tudor, no, not even Our Lady, but it is named after the wife of Charles I, the king who granted the original charter to the convert George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. Her name was Princess Henrietta Marie, daughter of King Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici. Their marriage, being strictly one of political expedience, the king and the queen consort had a hard time of it at the start, neither liked the other, and they argued whenever they were together. Sometime later true love and respect blossomed between them, but only after the death of Charles’ bigoted anti-Catholic advisor, the first Duke of Buckingham.  It was then that he honored his spouse by naming the new colony after her.  Even before marrying Henrietta, Charles was an irritation to the radical Puritan “reformers” in the Parliament because he insisted as “head of the church in England” on sticking with the Book of Common Prayer and keeping liturgical vestments and ceremony, but he never had the courage to renounce the whole charade and submit to the authority of the pope.  His wife always remained loyal to the Faith, dismissing every pressure from the heretics to coax her into attending the Anglican service.

When she arrived in London in 1625 the princess was only allowed to keep her chaplain/confessor and a couple of ladies-in-waiting, but the rest of her entourage was sent home; the reason, to be sure, was that there would be too many Catholics walking the halls of Kensington palace. When the Puritans gained majority control of Parliament in 1644, Henrietta had to flee with her children to France.  Charles fought valiantly alongside his royalist supporters, but the Puritans, heavily financed by moneylenders in Amsterdam, had more and better equipped troops.  Charles was beheaded “for treason” in 1649, his “treason” being that he believed in the divine right of kings.  Princess Henrietta tried to come back in 1660 with the restoration of the monarchy under her son Charles II (whom she had raised Catholic in France), but the climate did not favor her presence.  After five years of being an ignored “Dowager Queen,” she gave up on trying to convert Charles back to the religion of his childhood – the king was also angry with her for trying to convert his younger brother, her son Henry – and she returned permanently to France with a generous pension.  With that money Princess Henrietta founded a convent at Chaillot and there is where she retired.

Her other son, James, the Duke of York (after whom New York is named) converted to Catholicism while in exile in France after the Puritan regicide. He returned to England with his brother Charles in 1660. When Charles was pressured into signing the Test Act in 1793, which removed Catholics from all public offices, James exiled himself to Scotland. When his brother died in 1685, James returned and assumed the throne of England (James II), Scotland (James VI), and Ireland amidst much protest from Protestant zealots.  He tried to establish peace between royalists, moderates, and fanatical anti-Catholic Puritans, but when he abolished the Test Act his days were numbered. A conspiracy led to the orchestrated invasion of England in 1688 by the Dutchman William of Orange, whose wife Mary was James’ estranged Protestant daughter. The King by now had no support, so he fled to Ireland. His unpopularity there caused him to leave for France at the invitation of King Louis XIV. The last Catholic King of England never abdicated. He lived out his remaining days at the royal château at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

The so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, when the House of Hanover usurped the British throne, also contributed to the end of  Maryland as a refuge for persecuted Catholics. The original charter of 1632, welcomed all Christian settlers, no matter what denomination. Pennsylvania (and for five years New York) were the only others among the thirteen colonies that granted such a liberty to Catholics. Maryland, in 1634, had only 3000 Catholics out of a population of 34,000. By 1654, however, the Puritans so dominated the colony that Catholics found themselves actually outlawed, the persecution becoming so intense that they fled to Pennsylvania.  Although Catholics eventually returned to Maryland in small numbers, they still, even until 1776, were not allowed to hold public office, establish schools, or conduct religious services. Land that had been owned by the Jesuits was confiscated by the government. For over a century, from 1654 to 1776, no priest dared to enter the colony unless under disguise.