‘English Catholic history is, unavoidably, family history’ wrote Francis Young in his book of the Gages of Hengrave in 2015. Nowhere is this more obvious and centrally important than in the establishment and funding of the English convents in exile 1600-1800, and the associated colleges that continued to train priests. The final output of the long-running AHRC-funded Who Were the Nuns? project, led by Dr Caroline Bowden, was published on 30 October by Occasional Publications UPR, Oxford (Prosopographica et Genealogica vol. 15). English Catholic Nuns in Exile 1600-1800, A Biographical Register, edited by K. S. B. Keats-Rohan, was foreseen as the ‘book of the database’, when work started at QMUL in 2008. Once the project was finished and the results available as a live online database in 2012, Katharine Keats-Rohan started work on converting a print-out of the online prosopography into a printed biographical register. Much of the work of connecting the nuns and recreating their extensive family and spiritual networks was originally provided online by a series of pdf genealogical tables produced by Katharine, using a Family Historian database. The database was based on information taken from convent sources, but because of the vicissitudes of convent history, especially the fraught conditions of the re-migration to England c. 1790, data about family was sometimes missing. Such gaps were occasionally filled by recourse to notes in editions of the text by Gillow and others. The genealogies were built from skeletons usually derived from Visitation records such as are frequently printed in many books and articles on recusant families. As work progressed on the Biographical Register it became painfully clear that many of the (often very valuable) footnotes by Gillow and others produced more questions than answers, and that any charts based on Visitation material needed a root and branch re-examination. The result was a systematic exploitation of the evidence of Wills, initially as a means to provide accurate family reconstitution. Very soon it transpired that Wills provide key evidence about the way that the religious life of both nuns and their priest brothers was funded by families acting both as small nuclear groups and extended networks of cousinship. As a result, many of the gaps in the convent data, such as parentage, baptismal name, and sometimes even dates of death as well as birth, have been discovered and incorporated into the fully revised and extended text. In addition, all the original genealogical charts have been completely revised and many additional ones added, all provided in individual annotated charts in 303 separate tables united in a fully searchable Appendix, provided as a pdf on a CD insert.
The hardcover book, ISBN 978-1-900934-14-5, in A4 format, contains 708 pages as well as the 323-page Appendix on CD, and is available from the publisher for £75, plus carriage (by courier) at www.coelweb.co.uk. At a substantial weight of 2.1 kg, interested buyers outside Europe will need to negotiate the delivery cost before purchase.