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In Brief History
The Watertons - a brief history
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St. Helen's and the Watertons (incl. Waterton Chapel)
See also
St. Helen's, Sandal Magna
Click to enlarge The Water Gate surmounted by the Cross. A potent symbol of the Roman Catholic beliefs of the Watertons. [click image to enlarge]

The Watertons remained true to their faith through the centuries. As a consequence of remaining Roman Catholics they lost possessions and social standing. During times of Roman Catholic resurgence, such as the days of Bloody Mary (Mary I), the tables were turned on the Protestants.

As a consequence of the Reformation, there were many coercive acts against the Roman Catholics, for example: he could not sit in Parliament, hold a commission in the Army, or be a justice of the peace. All things that a Waterton might expect in those days had he not been of the wrong faith. A Catholic paid double land tax (assuming he was lucky enough to have kept any land!), he was not allowed to keep a horse worth more than £5. In addition, he had to attend the parish church (Church of England) of pay £20 for every month that he was absent.

By the time of Charles Waterton, many of the restrictions had fallen by the wayside, but it was the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829* that finally lifted the restrictions on the Catholics and allowed them to play a full role in the Nation's life. Despite these irritations, Charles Waterton remained fairly good humoured about the matter, with one or two exceptions.
(*An Act for the Relief of His Majesty's Roman Catholic Subjects)

"Up to the reign of Henry VIII, things had gone on swimmingly for the Watertons; and it does not appear that any of them had ever been in disgrace:

'Neque in his quisquam damnatus et exsul.'

But, during the sway of that ferocious brute, there was a sad reverse of fortune:

'Ex illo fluere, ac retro sublapsa referri,
Spes Danaum.'
'From thence the tide of fortune left their shore,
And ebbed much faster than it flowed before.'

The cause of our disasters was briefly this: The King fell scandalously in love with a buxom lass, and he wished to make her is lawful wife, notwithstanding that his most virtuous Queen was still alive. Having applied to the head of the Church for a divorce, his request was not complied with; although Martin Luther, the apostate friar and creed-reformer, had allowed the Margrave of Hesse to have two wives at one and the same time. Upon this refusal, our royal goat became exceedingly mischievous: 'Audax omnia perpeti ruit vetitum nefas.' Having caused himself to be made head of the Church, he suppressed all the monasteries, and squandered their revenues amongst gamesters, harlots, mountebanks, and apostates. The poor, by his villanies, were reduced to great misery, and they took to evil ways in order to keep body and soul together. During this merciless reign, 72,000 of them were hanged for thieving.

In good Queen Mary's days, there was a short tide of flood in our favour; and Thomas Waterton of Walton Hall was High Sheriff of York. This was the last public commission held by our family. The succeeding reigns brought every species of reproach and indignity upon us. We were declared totally incapable of serving our country; we were held up to the scorn of a deluded multitude, as damnable idolators; and we were unceremoniously ousted out of our tenements: our only crime being a conscientious adherence to the creed of our ancestors, professed by England for nine long centuries before the Reformation. So determined were the new religionists that we should grope our way to heaven along the crooked and gloomy path which they had laid out for us, that they madevus pay twenty pounds a month, by way of penalty, for refusing to hear a married parson read prayers in the Church of Sandal Magna; which venerable edifice had been stripped of its altar, its crucifix, its chalice, its tabernacle, and all its holy ornaments, not for the love of God, but for the private use and benefit of those who had laid their sacrilegious hands upon them. My ancestors acted wisely. I myself would rather run the risk of going to hell with St Edward the Confessor, Venerable Bede, and St Thomas of Canterbury, than make a dash at heaven in company with Harry VIII, Queen Bess, and Dutch William".(2)


Catholic Emancipation
Despite the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act in 1829, Waterton was still deeply mistrustful of the established order. In a letter to the West Riding Herald of May 1835, he wrote:

"Catholic emancipation has done nothing worth speaking of for me. I can neither be a member of Parliament nor a magistrate, for no entreaty, no power on earth, shall ever make me take Peel's Oath". (3) The oath: "I do hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure an intention to subvert the present Church Establishment within this realm.......".

However, he contended that "take it or refuse it, the new dynasty may always make sure of my loyalty, even if any of our old line of kings were still in existence" adding this ringing endorsement he added:

'The illustrious house of Hanover,
And Protestant succession,
To these I have allegiance sworn,
While they can keep possession.'

So, Charles declined on principle to qualify as Deputy-Lieutenant and magistrate; his son, Edmund, held both offices.(1)


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■ Father Thomas Petre - a botanical link between the Watertons and tulips?
Read more.


1. Wanderings in South America, the North West of the United States and the Antilles in the Years 1812, 1816, 1820 and 1824, Charles Waterton, edited with additional material by the Rev. J.G. Wood, 1880. The account had been "revised by a member of the house".
2. Essays on Natural History, Charles Waterton, edited, with a life of the author, by Norman Moore, 1871.
3. Sandal Magna, a Yorkshire Parish and its People, Mary Ingham and Brenda Andrassy, 1978.
A list of reference sources is contained on the Links page.

Click to enlarge
The symbol of the Watertons' faith.
[click image to enlarge]

Harry VIII = Henry VIII (1509 - 1547) and Sir Thomas More (1477 - 1535)
Sir Thomas More resigned as Chancellor in 1532 after Henry VIII assumed the supreme leadership of the Church in England. He refused to swear to the new Act of Succession because it repudiated papal supremacy in England. He was executed for treason.

Read more about More (click here).

Venerable Bede - St Bede (c. 653 - 735 AD), English historian, works include The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Written in Latin but translated into English under King Alfred the Great.

Queen Bess - Queen Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603) one of England's greatest monarchs. However, like all the others mentioned on this page, she was a person of her time - not ours - and she dealt harshly with her enemies.

William and Mary

Dutch William - William III (1689 - 1702, with his wife and joint monarch - not consort - Queen Mary II (1689 - 1694). Mary II was the Protestant daughter of the deposed James II, a Catholic. After them came Mary II's sister, Anne.
(William of Orange is also remembered for the victory at the Battle of the

St Edward the Confessor - Edward III the Confessor, King of England (1042 - 1066)

St Thomas of Canterbury - St Thomas Becket (c. 1118 - 70). He became Henry II's Chancellor and in 1162 he became Archbishop of Canterbury. He quarrelled with the King on religious matters, including the right of appeals to Rome. There was further friction when Henry II had his son Henry, crowned Young King by the Archbishop of York, thus reopening the quarrel over which archbishop had precedence.
After a period in exile and failed attempts to resolve the quarrel, he was murdered in Canterbury by four courtiers. He was canonised in 1173 and his shrine became a centre of pilgrimage in medieval England.

Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), German Protestant reformer, the founder of Lutheranism.

Good Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) - Mary I (1553 - 1558). Her single-minded aim was to restore the Roman Catholic Church in England. She reintroduced the heresy laws, resulting in almost 300 deaths at the stake, hence her nickname of Bloody Mary.
"Camden, the Protestant historian, says that Queen Mary was a Princess never sufficiently to be commended of all men for pious and religious demeanour, her commiseration towards the poor, etc." (2)

Click here for more about Mary Tudor.

Books about Walton, Charles Waterton, Guyana, and more!
See a selection of
books about Walton,
Charles Waterton,
Guyana and more.
• click here •
(Offered for sale by

Life as Roman Catholics
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