"Popery" redirects here. For scented plant matter, see potpourri.
A Dutch crescent-shaped Geuzen medal at the time of the anti-Spanish Dutch Revolt, with the slogan "Liever Turks dan Paaps" ("Rather Turkish than Papist"), 1570[1]
St John the Baptist Church, Hagley, memorial to Meriel Lyttelton (a daughter of Thomas Bromley) from 1769, remembered "for Breeding up her Children in the Protestant Religion, Their Ancestors having been Papists"
a Kick at the Broad-Bottoms!, shows King George III exclaiming "what! what! bring in the Papists!". James Gillray, 1807.

Papist is a term referring to the Roman Catholic Church, its teachings, practices, or adherents. The word gained currency during the English Reformation, as it was used to denote a person whose loyalties were to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, rather than to the Church of England. Attested from 1534, papist derives (through Middle French) from Latin papa, meaning "Pope".[2]

The term was also common in use in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the 19th century.[3]


The word was in common use by Protestant writers until the mid-nineteenth century, as shown by its frequent appearance in Thomas Macaulay's History of England from the Accession of James II and in other works of that period, including those with no sectarian bias. It also appeared in the compound form "Crypto-Papist", referring to members of Reformed, Protestant, or nonconformist churches who at heart were allegedly Roman Catholics.[4][5][6]

The word is found in certain surviving statutes of the United Kingdom, for example in the English Bill of Rights of 1688 and the Scottish Claim of Right of 1689. Under the Act of Settlement of 1701, no one who professes "the popish religion" may succeed to the throne of the United Kingdom; until amended in 2015, it also banned from the throne anyone who married "a papist". Fears that Roman Catholic secular leaders would be anti-Protestant arose after the Roman Catholic Church was banned in England in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), author of Gulliver's Travels, employed the term throughout his satirical A Modest Proposal, in which he proposed selling Irish babies to be eaten by wealthy English landlords.

Similar terms, "papalism" and "popery", are sometimes used,[7][8][9] as in the Popery Act 1698 and the Irish Popery Act. The Seventh-day Adventist prophetess Ellen G. White uses the terms "papist" and "popery" throughout her book The Great Controversy, a volume harshly criticized for its anti-Catholic tone.

During the 1928 American presidential election, Democratic Party nominee Al Smith was labeled a "papist" by his political opponents. He was the first Roman Catholic ever to gain the presidential nomination of a major party, and this led to fears that, if he were elected, the United States government would follow the dictates of the Vatican.[10] As of 2016, John F. Kennedy is the only Roman Catholic to have been elected President of the United States.

The term is still used by some today,[11][12] although not as frequently as in previous eras.

See also


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