Recusant Confessions and the (En)Gendering of Disclosure

in Critical Survey

Recusant confessional texts were discursively produced by and productive of secret spaces – the confessional itself and the torture chamber. They were sites of private, intimate probing that enabled disclosures of truth, which, to the English recusant community of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, had a particular resonance. The confessional was a site of Catholic reconciliation, but to the state it was a signifier of Catholic treason. The state used the torture of recusants, particularly priests, to reveal the truth, but here the ‘truth’, ostensibly a list of people, places and actions that can be discovered in the body of the victim, was opposed to the recusant’s ‘truth’ as internal belief. But despite these opposing concepts of the location and nature of truth, the discourses of its revelation are similar. Torture binds together the perpetrator and victim through the secrets the participants strive to reveal or conceal. In the confessional too, the confessor and the confessant are bound together by what is hidden.