Perdita woman: Catherine Holland


Catherine Holland was one of eleven children (five daughters and six sons) born to the Norfolk baronet, Sir John Holland, and his wife Alathea Panton (died 1679). John Holland (1603-1701) was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge and at the Middle Temple. Although Holland himself was Protestant, his wife Alathea, whom he married in 1630, was a Catholic heiress, and Holland was subsequently obliged to defend himself against suspicions of crypto-Catholicism. He acted as agent to the Earl of Arundel, and was elected to Parliament in 1640. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he took the parliamentary side, but disagreed with many of the later actions of the Parliament, and spent much of the 1640s and 50s in continental Europe.

Catherine Holland was born in 1637. In 1642 John Holland sent his wife and children to the Low Countries where they lived - initially in the south of Holland, later in Bruges - until 1657, when she returned with her father to England. The main source of information about her life is her autobiographical 'Narration', which she appears to have written in September 1664. (It is reproduced by Catherine Durrant in A Link Between Flemish Mystics and English Martyrs, pp. 272-305.) In the 'Narration' she describes how, despite being forbidden to discuss matters of religion with her mother during her childhood, she became disillusioned with the Church of England and was gradually convinced of the truth of the Catholic religion. After several years of spiritual anxiety, she began corresponding secretly with the nuns of the English convent in Bruges, and in 1662 she fled her father's house in London and travelled to Bruges to join the convent. Her father eventually submitted to pressure from his patron, the Duke of Norfolk, and paid the necessary portion for her to be professed as a nun. Her obituary in the Bruges Annals, (also reproduced by Durrant) says that 'she so well employed her pen as to perpetuate her pious memory in this community by several pious books and Saints' lives which she translated from French and Dutch into English' (p.306). She died in 1720.

Biography by Gillian Wright.

British Library: Harley MS 3184
A Method to Converse with God (October 1683)
(Translator) Catherine Holland