This is the best article I have foundf thus far, which explains the history of the times in relation to Bl. Dermot O'Hurley's martyrdom at the hands of Elizabeth I (boo).
It's well worth a read, as are many of his other essays (eg. Return to Chesterton) - just follow the link through to his other works.
This aerticle originally appeared in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, July, 2002.
It Is the Mass that Matters by Fr TJ McGovern