Recusancy, from the Latin recusare (to refuse or make an objection),[2] was the state of those who refused to attend Anglican services during the history of England, Wales and Scotland. The term was first used to refer to people, known as recusants,[3] who remained loyal to the pope and the Roman Catholic Church and did not attend Church of England services.[4]

Map of the historic counties of England showing the percentage of registered Catholics in the population in 1715–1720.[1]

The "1558 Recusancy Acts" began during the reign of Elizabeth I, and while temporarily repealed during the Interregnum (1649–1660), remained on the statute books until 1888.[5] They imposed punishment such as fines, property confiscation, and imprisonment on those who did not participate in Anglican religious activity.[6] The suspension under Oliver Cromwell was mainly intended to give relief to nonconforming Protestants rather than to Catholics, to whom some restrictions applied into the 1920s, through the Act of Settlement 1701, despite the 1828 Catholic Emancipation.[7]

In some cases those adhering to Catholicism faced capital punishment,[8] and some English and Welsh Catholics who were executed in the 16th and 17th centuries have been canonised by the Catholic Church as martyrs of the English Reformation.[9]