In a review article found at the Times Literary Supplement, Robert Fraser sheds useful light on John Donne’s conflicted family religious affiliation. Raised a Catholic, Donne lost several family members to Elizabethan and Jacobean martyrdom. Yet his service as Dean of St. Paul’s gives us magnificent sermons and poems wrought, apparently, from the Anglican flames. The complexity of the newly protestant nation is something Fraser foregrounds:
Without an appreciation of the deep Catholic underlay to the Protestant mind of the time, we will never appreciate Donne’s work and career, or the varying fortunes of the House of Stuart. Nor – to broaden the point – will we fathom the masses composed by the Anglican musician and clandestine Catholic William Byrd, or, later in the century, the Latin anthems of Purcell, an organist at Westminster Abbey whose family had as close connections to the Roman Church as had Donne’s.