British Catholics have many crosses to bear, but one of the slanders most often hurled at us is that we are terrific snobs.
In the UK, we have scant little to be snobbish about – our churches tend to be modern and un-romantic, our hymns are dire compared with rousing Protestant numbers, our history is one of persecution and secrecy. Yet we have a strange pride in all of this: an against-the-odds stubbornness which is lent a golden tinge by the marvellous gilded edifices of European Cathedrals, French novels and Italian food. Those – Europeans – are our people, after all. And if there’s one group who definitely, defiantly considers themselves superior, it’s Remainers. Perhaps this is one, recent, source for the slur.
We have a stubbornness which is lent a golden tinge by the marvellous gilded edifices of European Cathedrals, French novels and Italian food. – Violet Hudson
But it goes back further than that. We are aesthetes and intellectuals, more often than not. Aubrey Beardsley was a Catholic, as were Ronald Firbank, Siegfried Sassoon, Alfred Hitchcock and Graham Greene. Contemporary Catholics active in the intellectual life of the nation include Julian Fellowes, Antonia Fraser, Delia Smith and Wayne Rooney. Evelyn Waugh is one of the most famous Catholics in this country’s post-Reformation history, and his Catholicism is synonymous with his ardent love for a big house and a delightfully dysfunctional family. But intellectual superiority is not (quite) the same as snobbery, either. There is a difference between only wanting to hang out with people who are witty and know your reference points, and only wanting to hang out with the Peerage.
Speaking of which, Catholic aristocrats are few and far between. Recusant families – those aristocrats who maintained their faith throughout the Reformation, keeping it hidden – do have a sort of historical-novel glamour. The Fitzalan-Howards are Catholics, and the Duke of Norfolk is the premier non-Royal peer in the realm. But down the pecking order from there, Catholic families dwindle. The odd Asquith, an Earl of Mexborough, Lord Downpatrick … slim pickings indeed. And what this charge of snobbery often fails to take into account is that aristocratic families are, by their very nature, some of the oldest in the country. The odd Catholic is bound to slip through.
Contemporary Catholics active in the intellectual life of the nation include Julian Fellowes, Antonia Fraser, Delia Smith and Wayne Rooney. – Violet Hudson
When we think snobbery and British Catholicism we are thinking of the Anglo-Catholicism of Brideshead, of Cardinal Newman, of Jacobite Lairds and priest holes carved into Elizabethan oak. But the vast majority of Catholics in this country are immigrants from the Irish and Polish traditions – and even combined, we make up less than ten per cent of the population.
Then there are the black sheep in our ranks: discord-monger Piers Morgan, war-monger Tony Blair, Victoriana-monger Jacob Rees-Mogg, chauvinism-monger Milo Yiannopolous. Other faiths would be shaken by such thorns in their side, and no self-respecting snob would declare anything in common with these reprobates, but we Catholics welcome all: the very antithesis of snobbery.
Violet Hudson is a freelance journalist. She contributes to Tatler, the Spectator, Standpoint and the Catholic Herald.