‘I ride about some piece of the country every day. The harvest is wonderful great … I cannot long escape the hands of the heretics.’ So the Elizabethan Jesuit Edmund Campion reported to Rome on his work to sustain the Catholic faith in England. Campion’s host in Northamptonshire was William, Lord Vaux, ‘by whom I am dearly loved, and whom I particularly revere’. The story of Catholic recusancy (from the Latin recusare, meaning ‘to refuse’) is generally told through its priests, the well-educated and strikingly young men who risked their necks to celebrate Mass and offer absolution. Less often studied are the families who enabled the English mission, exposing themselves to state-sponsored intimidation, seizure of assets and worse. God’s Traitors tracks one such family, the Vauxes of Harrowden (it rhymes with ‘Fawkes’, though no blood connection with the Gunpowder plotter has been found), as they mustered to protect the priests sent out from Reims and Rome. In the quality of her research and sensitive handling of issues that remain raw to this day, Jessie Childs succeeds in evoking ‘the lived experience of anti-Catholicism’ as few have done before.
The unequal odds facing the Catholic