A term coming to mean, in the course of Elizabeth I's reign, a person who refused (Lat. recusare ) to attend the services of the Established Church, as commanded by the 1559 Uniformity Act, reinforced by later statutes. The penalty for absence, originally twelvepence for each offense, was increased in 1581 to 20 pounds per lunar month, while later acts empowered the monarch to seize a recusant's goods and two-thirds of his lands in lieu of the fine. Recusants might be prosecuted in both civil and ecclesiastical courts and, if convicted, became liable not only to financial penalties but to expulsion from London, restriction to their own dwelling-places, and excommunication (possibly involving loss of civil rights and refusal of burial). Names of convicted recusants, fined by the county sheriffs, occur first in the Pipe Rolls and then, from 1592 to 1691, in a separate series of Recusant Rolls. Acts of 1593 (35 Eliz. I, cap. 1, 2) distinguish popish from Protestant recusants, but the Rolls rarely indicate religious allegiance and include numerous Protestants, especially in Charles II's reign. The Rolls record fines and forfeitures owed by convicted recusants, not sums paid. Of those convicted, only a very small minority were fully penalized, and many recusants escaped conviction altogether (e.g., because in the initial reports their periods of absence from church were altered to less than four weeks). In 1689 (1 Wm. and Mary, sess. 1, cap.8, 15) those refusing the oaths of allegiance and supremacy and the Test declaration of 1678 (for wording, see royal declaration) were deemed guilty of "constructive recusancy" and from 1693 onward such persons might be punished by a double land tax, which in practice was exacted only spasmodically, while (by 12 Anne, st. 2, cap.14) the concept of constructive recusancy was widened to embrace "every Papist or Person making Profession of the Popish Religion." The offense of recusancy was abolished by the Catholic Relief Act of 1791.
Bibliography: m. d. r. leys, Catholics in England, 1559–1829: A Social History (London 1961). e. i. watkin, Roman Catholicism in England … (New York 1957). a. o. meyer, England and the Catholic Church under Queen Elizabeth, tr. j. r. mckee (London 1916). w. r. trimble, The Catholic Laity in Elizabethan England, 1558–1603 (Cambridge, Mass. 1964). m. j. havran, The Catholics in Caroline England (Stanford, Calif. 1962). The increasing study of recusancy at the local level is exemplified in h. aveling, Post-Reformation Catholicism in East Yorkshire (York 1960), and j. a. williams, Bath and Rome: the Living Link (Bath 1963). h. bowler, "Introd.," in Publications of the Catholic Record Society, v.57 (1965). j. a. williams, "Recusant Rolls," History (1965), in ser. "Short Guides to Records." See also Recusant History (1951—), a journal devoted exclusively to English Recusant history.
[j. a. williams]
Revd Dr William M. Marshall
rec·u·sant / ˈrekyəzənt; riˈkyoōzənt/ • n. a person who refuses to submit to an authority or to comply with a regulation. ∎ chiefly hist. a Roman Catholic in England who refused to attend services of the Church of England. • adj. of or denoting a recusant. DERIVATIVES: rec·u·sance n. rec·u·san·cy / -zənsē/ n.
The Act of Uniformity of 1558 first imposed fines on all non-attenders of a parish church, but Roman Catholics were the specific target of the Act against Popish Recusants of 1592; subsequent acts through the 17th century imposed heavy penalties on Catholic recusants, the exaction of which persisted up to the Second Relief Act of 1791. Particular pressure was put on Roman Catholics after 1570, when the papal bull ‘Regnans in Excelsis’ excommunicated Elizabeth I.