|Title||Engaging nuns: Exiled english convents and the politics of exclusion, 1590-1829|
This thesis addresses the communities of English women religious founded after the Reformation on the other side of the Channel from a new perspective. In echoes of contemporary Protestant propaganda, debates about nuns remain too often framed by a discourse around themes such as passivity or the idea of forced vocations. The mere fact that women religious played a role in such propaganda suggests, however, that they also figured in debates about identity and political order. These were, moreover, debates in which nuns themselves could engage. Excluded from the secular world in their cloisters they may have been, but they were nonetheless actors both spiritually and as contributors to the wider Catholic imaginary of post-Reformation England. This is here traced through the succession of crises, from the English Civil War to the Jacobite risings, in which these exiled communities of women religious contributed to Catholic images of their Protestant-dominated homeland and significantly supported the Stuart cause. After 1750, however, with the decline of Jacobitism, the exiled convents played their part in turn in reconfiguring English Protestant images of the Catholic threat, a process that paved the way for the return of most of these communities in flight from the Jacobins of the French Revolution. This thesis thus not only demonstrates that nuns were politically active and engaged, but also contributed to the reshaping of England as an imagined space, both in going into exile in the first place, and in the way they negotiated a new modus vivendi in Britain in the years preceding Catholic Emancipation in 1829.