"The Catholic Conscience in History": Newman, Acton, Chesterton and Belloc and the Whig Interpretation of the Reformation, 1870–1920

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Date of Award

Spring 2019


In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Whig Interpretation of History served as one of the popular pillars that upheld the intellectual and ideological hegemony of the British elite white, Protestant, Victorian and Edwardian culture, justifying both the development and greatness of Great Britain and its empire. One of the earliest groups to have both a motive and a means to resist the influence and veracity of the Whig narrative was the new resurgence of Catholic converts and intellectuals who began to appear in the middle of the nineteenth century and began a revival of Catholic literary culture. This revival continued into the twentieth century and informed British literary and historical culture during and after both World Wars. John Henry Newman, Lord John Acton, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton were, respectively, four of the most influential writers and intellectuals of these second and third Catholic Springs in Great Britain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This thesis explores how these four Catholic representatives of the second and third Springs dissented from and contested the Whig Interpretation of History during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century prior to and during World War I. In this struggle, they both resisted and reclaimed elements of the Whig Interpretation and its political influence as writers using both Catholic theology and history to reinterpret the events of the Reformation. As they did so, these Catholics assisted in re-establishing a common British heritage of Natural Law that helped strengthen Great Britain's moral identity in the wars that were to come.


William F. Kuracina

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | History