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For Catholics the reign of Charles I marked an improvement from the intense persecution that followed the Gunpowder Plot in his father’s reign. Having married a Catholic, Charles’ policy of toleration of private beliefs was one of the causes of the Civil War. It was a crime not to go to (Protestant) Church, but the fines were of a low nature that many richer Catholics could afford to ignore them. Those who conformed outwardly but were Catholics in private were known as “Church Catholics” – those who refused to go to Church were the Recusants. Any Catholic priest caught in England still faced the death penalty –though Charles usually commuted the offence and deported them. In two cases local puritans deliberately executed the two priests quickly before the Royal pardon could arrive. Hoping for the continuation of the toleration policy, Catholics tended to side for the King.


This is information sheet is intended to advise members of the regiment of the religious customs practised by the original Marquess of Winchesters Regiment. Religion is still a personal and emotive subject but it was even more so in a country torn apart Civil War; in our portraying of 17th century soldiery and civilian life we are therefore right in displaying to our audience the outward signs and practices of the Faith exercised by a Catholic Regiment of Foot.

Evidence from Basing House

After its capture, Cromwell’s chaplain, the notorious Hugh Peter, described Basing House as “fit to make an Emperor’s Court….a nest of idolatry”. “Idolatrous pictures, rosaries and Popish books” were loaded into a wagon to make a public bonfire in London. Thus we have proof that the Catholic inhabitants of the house were surrounded by visible evidences of their Faith. We may infer from this that the garrison practised their religion and that the chaplains were open in the observances of Catholic worship.

Catholic Practice and Members of the Regiment

Officers would undoubtedly possess devotional books. Every soldier and all women would possess a rosary. Gentlemen and ladies would own more delicate rosaries, with ornamental beads. The common folk would have larger beaded simpler versions. Simple rosaries can often be bought from local churches, cathedrals or online. Do not wear a rosary around your neck but carry it in a pocket or at your belt. Crucifixes on chains were worn at the neck by the wealthy, men and woman. It would be appropriate, especially before battle, if the public saw soldiers and woman “at their beads” – with rosary in hand, quietly whispering their prayers.

Mass would be said daily but this was said FOR the garrison and not necessarily attended by them. In all probability more women than men would attend a Mass. One thing is certain, when the prayer of consecration was said in the chapel of the House, the sanctus bell would have been rung and every member of the household would cross themselves. The belief was that the real presence of Christ was created by the priest and the bread and wine betokened His presence on the altar. Thus the bread and wine were reverenced. If the Mass is re-enacted then you should cross yourself if you hear the bells, two sequences of three rings with the chaplain kneeling at each.

At the Mass some of the bread was reserved. This was to be taken to the sick and the dying. The surgeon would send for the priest and the bread (the Viaticum) would be carried in a container to the sick person. The priest carrying the Viaticum would be preceded by a sever ringing a bell in staccato bursts. The faithful would kneel as the Viaticum was carried past them, and each would make the sign of the cross. To kneel, one knee down is sufficient.

At Mid-day the Angelus would be rung (three rings, repeated three times), each one hearing it would cross themselves and say “Hail Mary” (see below) at least once.

Before battle, combatants would make confession to the priest and penance would often involve the use of rosary prayers. Confession is made kneeling; the priest wears a violet stole to show that he is “shriving” the penitent. Shrove Tuesday was the “shriving day” when people made confession before lent. Prayers would be said before going into conflict and the faithful would respond in turn. The priest would asperge the troops with holy water; each would cross themselves at this benediction.

Within the walls of the House the dying would receive the last rites, which involves anointing eyes, ears, nostrils, hands and feet with formulary prayers. The rite would be carried out at the Surgeon’s request. Otherwise the priest attends with the “Proficiscere” prayer, launching the soul into its last journey, and holding the crucifix before the dying person’s eyes.

The Rosary

Crucifix and beads represent certain prayers. The crucifix is held and the Creed said. A single or larger bead and the Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster) is said. The small beads in groups of ten are held singly and a Hail Mary (Ave Maria) is said on each. The intervening chain between groups of ten beads is held and Glory to the Father (Gloria Patris) is said.

The rosary can be wrapped around the hand rather like worry beads; the prayers are said virtually silently. If the public see you whispering to yourself with your beads they will assume that you are saying your prayers, even if it is in fact your shopping list. Groups of women would sit together saying the rosary – this would be a splendid sight at living histories.

Rosary Prayers and Other Customs

Hail Mary
Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen

Hail Mary – Latin Version
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen

Pater Noster
Priest – Pater noster, qui es in caelis:sanctificetur nomen tuum: adveniat regnum tuum: fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo, et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da noblis hodie: et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.

Response – Sed libera nos a malo. Amen

Sample Order before Battle
Text in italic is spoken, text underlined and in bold is an instruction.

Priest Cross yourself during this. In nomine Patris + et Filii et Spritus Sancti

PriestDominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you)

AllEt cum spiritu tuo (And with thy spirit)

PriestOremus (Let us pray)

Kneel on one knee

Three times: Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death. Amen

Priest (Asperging the troops with holy water) Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater and Filius + et spiritus sanctus.

All crossing themselves Amen.


Grace before meat: Participants cross themselves
Greeting a priest: Genuflect slightly and kiss the right hand
Crossing: With right hand – Forehead, navel, left shoulder, right shoulder, centre chest, then kiss your thumb to drive away your evil spirits.