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"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]

Papist is a sectarian term referring to the Roman Catholic Church, its teachings, practices, or adherents. In past centuries it was a word in everyday use, so much so that alternatives were only rarely used. However, in the present day it is usually understood[according to whom?] as a disparaging term and even as a deliberate insult.[citation needed] The term was coined during the English Reformation to denote a person whose loyalties were to the Pope and the Church of Rome, rather than to the Church of England. Over time, the term came to mean one who supported Papal authority over all Christians, and it entered widespread use, especially among Anglicans and Presbyterians.[citation needed] The word, dating from 1534, derives (through Middle French) from Latin papa, meaning "Pope".[2]


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.[3][4][5]

a Kick at the Broad-Bottoms!, shows King George III exclaiming "what! what! bring in the Papists!". James Gillray, 1807.

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" or marries "a papist" may succeed to the throne of the United Kingdom. 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.

Similar terms, "papalism" and "popery", are sometimes used,[6][7][8] as in the Popery Act 1698 and the Irish Popery Act.

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.

During the 1928 American presidential election, Democratic Party nominee Al Smith was accused of being a papist. 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 would be ruled by the Vatican.[9] So far, only once, with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, has a Roman Catholic become President of the United States, although six of the nine current Supreme Court justices are Roman Catholics.[when?][citation needed]

Although the term is not as common today as in the past, some continue to use it.[10][11] In Scotland and Ireland "Pape" remains a derogatory term for a Catholic.[citation needed]

See also[edit]