The English Reformation was "a series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church". It involved the killings of many religious individuals (mostly Catholic, but also Protestants, during Mary I's reign), by official order of the state/crown (some other might have died from related sectarian violence, but that is surely hard to quantify so we can omit these). All denominations other than Anglican were forbidden.

A parallel reformation and persecution process (although with it's own idiosyncrasies) happened in the Kingdom of Scotland.

The Kingdom of Ireland, being under the subjection of the Tudor dynasty since Henry VIII, also saw its own violence and persecution, exemplified by the Penal Laws.

It wasn't until the English Toleration Act 1689, when freedom of worship was granted to "nonconformists who had pledged to the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and rejected transubstantiation" (i.e. to non-Catholics). Finally, it was in 1791 that freedom of worship was allowed for Catholics across Great Britain.

The question is "simple". How many people died in Great Britain (England + Scotland) and Ireland from state-directed religious persecution during all the above period (starting around 1532-1534)? Ideally, it would be great to have an idea of numbers by denomination.

PS: here, for instance, there is a list of people considered "martyrs" by the Catholic Church as part of the English Reformation. Yet, not all killed were considered martyrs. So the list is incomplete.

  • 2
    Another issue in the question might be whether (and how) to count the deaths from events that were intertwined with religion. How would you count casualties from the Irish Confederate Wars for instance? Sep 17, 2019 at 14:52
  • 1
    Doesn't Fox's book of Martyrs have the corresponding list?
    – MCW
    Sep 17, 2019 at 14:53
  • 1
    @Mark C. Wallace Fox's Book of Martyrs is a pro Protestant work and so would only list Protestants who were killed by Catholics, not Catholics who were killed by Protestants over the centuries.
    – MAGolding
    Sep 18, 2019 at 17:16
  • 3
    I think you need definitions. Are you referring only to people executed by the state for heresy/apostasy/blasphemy/other religious offences, or all deaths in which religious persecution played a role? Many people died in wars fighting against what they considered religious persecution (e.g. the Covenanters in Scotland, wars in Ireland, certain groups in the English Civil War), and many people died opposing them while trying to enact religious persecution. There are also extra-legal killings by non-state actors, whether it's what would now be called a hate crime, or terrorist-like acts.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 24, 2019 at 13:14
  • 3
    The UK didn't exist until 1707 and didn't include Ireland until after 1791. So maybe you want your geographic scope to be "Great Britain" or "Great Britain and Ireland".
    – Spencer
    Sep 24, 2019 at 16:28

3 Answers 3


It seems that accurate numbers are not known to historians or are difficult to assemble.

For example: according to Encyclopedia Britannica

altogether, some 600 Catholics died in the persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries.

But doubtless there are many other estimates. It must also depend on your interpretation of what constitutes a death by religeous persecution - the number executed by order of the state or crown would surely be a lot less than the number who died from indirect effects of discriminatory laws.

To put this into perspective, Wikipedia's article on the St Bartholomew's day Massacre (killings of protestants in catholic France) says

Estimates of the number that perished in the massacres have varied from 2,000 by a Roman Catholic apologist to 70,000 by the contemporary Huguenot duc de Sully, who himself barely escaped death.

WIkipedia cites Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont, Catholic Archbishop of Paris a century later as putting the number at 100,000. Wikipedia also says

Modern estimates for the number of dead across France vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

So it is unsurprising that accurate figures for deaths attributable to religious persecution in Britain and Ireland over the 260 years you seek are at least as difficult to find as those in France over a few weeks?


Being new at this site, I can not reply yet directly to Mr. Bosteen's comment, so I have to write another answer: Most people would agree that citing the source is much better than just providing the numbers. "Imperiofobia y leyenda negra" is easily accessible in many bookstores and libraries (Only 11 euros as ebook, and worth every penny!). And calling Dr. Roca's assertions controversial... I guess that is a compliment for any non-mainstream historian.

Since I am writing this reply, I can easily add some numbers, as you requested (although I strongly recommend reading the book AND following the citations to the original works): In one entry it says: "The prosecutions of catholic heretics only during the Elizabethan-Era England caused almost 1000 deaths... not counting the Irish ones." In another entry it cites "Criminal procedures from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Century" by James Stephen who estimated that in England about 264,000 people were condemned to death in 3 centuries [Obviously not all for religious reasons, but that gives you an idea of the upper number of general deaths in the period].

In any case, I recommend the book, especially the subsection on "Religious Prosecutions in England" which will provide you with events, figures, dates, and references. Such as 216 were condemned to death after the defeat of a catholic revolt (1536-1537), 284 protestants died due to repression during Mary I (1553-1558), then Elizabeth I (mentioned above), then during Charles II, not only catholics but other (quakers) were prosecuted, and so on. I believe it is very appropriate reading for the question posed!

Note: My own translations of the Spanish text, please excuse any errors or mistakes.

  • 1
    The author James Stephen Never claimed this. Here is a copy of an image of the actual text. No 264,000 appears on this page. You might want to double check the validity of some of the authors claims before citing them here.
    – justCal
    Apr 13, 2020 at 18:49
  • 1
    Here is a link to the appropriate page within the entire book at Archive.org. Note the discussion is concerning the theft of sheep.
    – justCal
    Apr 13, 2020 at 19:18
  • 1
    @sempaiscuba OP posted his original answer with an unregistered account, he must have lost access to it and created a new one. Would you be able to merge the accounts or is that a job for the Community Managers?
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 13, 2020 at 19:39
  • 1
    @F1Krazy I think that is something the OP needs to initiate, and would need to be raised the the SE Team. There is guidance in our Help Centre. Apr 13, 2020 at 20:03
  • 1
    @justCal Mis-quoting another historian is certainly something that could lead to a "non-mainstream historian" being called "controversial" (among other things!). It would absolutely raise questions about any conclusions they presented in their work, and the value of that work as a contribution to the field of study. Apr 13, 2020 at 20:09

Great question that nobody seems to be answering... I suggest you read the book “ Imperiofobia y leyenda negra” by Elvira Roca Barea... There you will learn the facts, but I will already tell you that many thousand catholics were killed during that period, many more than those killed by the legendary Inquisition, ever... For your information, fake news is not a new thing, it has been around for centuries!

  • 6
    Seeing as most of us probably don't have access to that book, it would help if you could cite these "facts". I think the OP is looking for something a little more precise than "many thousand catholics". Also, Elvira Roca Barea's assertions in some of her work are somewhat controversial. Apr 9, 2020 at 0:05

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.