The King and the Catholics (Hardcover)

England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829

By Antonia Fraser

Nan A. Talese, 9780385544528, 336pp.

Publication Date: September 25, 2018

List Price: 29.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


From beloved historian Antonia Fraser comes the dramatic story of how Catholics in the United Kingdom won back their rights after two centuries of official discrimination.

In the summer of 1780, mob violence swept through London. Nearly one thousand people were killed, looting was widespread, and torch-bearing protestors marched on the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street. These were the Gordon Riots: the worst civil disturbance in British history, triggered by an act of Parliament designed to loosen two centuries of systemic oppression of Catholics in the British Isles. While many London Catholics saw their homes ransacked and chapels desecrated, the riots marked a crucial turning point in their fight to return to public life.

Over the next fifty years, factions battled one another to reform the laws of the land: wealthy English Catholics yearned to rejoin the political elite; the protestant aristocracy in Ireland feared an empowered Catholic populace; and the priesthood coveted old authority that royal decree had forbidden. Kings George III and George IV stubbornly refused to address the "Catholic Question" even when pressed by their prime ministers--governments fell over it--and events in America and Europe made many skeptical of disrupting the social order. But in 1829, through the dogged work of charismatic Irish lawyer Daniel O'Connell and with the support of the Duke of Wellington, the Roman Catholic Relief Act finally passed. It was a watershed moment, opening the door to future social reform and the radical transformation of the Victorian age.

The King and the Catholics is a gripping, character-driven example of narrative history at its best. It is also a distant mirror of our own times, reflecting the dire consequences of state-sanctioned intolerance and showing how collective action and the political process can triumph over wrongheaded legislation.

About the Author

Antonia Fraser is the author of many internationally bestselling historical works, including Love and Louis XIVMary Queen of Scots, and Marie Antoinette, which was made into a film by Sofia Coppola. She is also the author of two memoirs, Must You Go? and My History. She has received the Wolfson History Prize, the 2000 Norton Medlicott Medal from Britain's Historical Association, and the Enid McLeod Franco-British Society Literary Prize. Fraser was made a Dame for services to literature in 2011.

Praise For The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829

"A lively account . . . Fraser writes with verve and lightness of touch, even when dealing with intractable political argument. Readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of Regency politics will learn much from her spirited retelling.”
Eamon Duffy, Wall Street Journal

"When Amazon Prime finally starts delivering to heaven, Evelyn Waugh should order a copy of Antonia Fraser’s new book, The King and the Catholics. Fraser’s latest considers a topic close to Waugh’s tart heart: bleak Roman Catholic prospects in aggressively Anglican EnglandThe reference to religious freedom in the book’s subtitle suggests why more earthly readers would find the book of interest, but, refreshingly, Fraser makes no effort to convince us that a centuries-old story of religious and political conflicts and competing minority rights remains relevant. Such confidence is rare today . . . Fraser trusts that we can make the germane connections . . . A convincing and worthy addition to the already impressive Fraser corpus."
Randy Boyagoda, New York Times Book Review

“[A] splendid account of the struggle for Catholic emancipation . . . Fraser knows better than anybody how to make political and religious history fun . . . Her tale flows with such elegance and enthusiasm that you barely stop to notice just how skillfully she does it.”
—Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times (London)
“Fraser tells her story with erudition, sprezzatura, and a tremendous sense of fun. Every page is shot through with humour and humanity. Columns of bloated, bewhiskered bigots fall to Fraser’s skewer . . . She writes beautifully and she includes just the right amount of smut.”
—Jessie Childs, The Guardian

“Triumphant . . . [The King and the Catholics] explains, without ever obviously seeming to do so, how implacable prejudices and intractable issues can be tackled and overcome. In other words, it is that rarest of things: a good news story.”
—Peter Stanford, The Sunday Telegraph
“This is an absolutely splendid book. With the brio and narrative skill which has been in evidence since her first book—the irreplaceable classic biography of Mary Queen of Scots—Fraser gives us a vivid account of Catholic Emancipation. Some of the most dramatic scenes in our parliamentary history are here brought to life with unmatched verve.”
—A. N. Wilson, The Spectator
“Fraser’s prose is a pleasure to read . . . her book is the ideal introduction to the subject.”
—Christopher Howse, The Telegraph

"A brisk popular history of the fight for Catholic emancipation in England and Ireland . . . which entertains with fine descriptions of London’s heated political and religious climate."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A gripping telling of the struggle for Catho­lic rights in England and Ireland that is still relevant and will appeal to all who appreciate a good story about the fight for justice.”
—Library Journal

“As she has accomplished with so much modern British history, Fraser makes the story of the Catholic Question’s resolution riveting.”