By Rev. James A. MacCaffrey.
A few hours after Mary’s death Elizabeth was proclaimed queen according to the terms of her father’s will, and messengers were dispatched to Hatfield to announce her accession and to escort her to the capital. During the reign of her brother her relations with Thomas Seymour nearly led to a secret marriage and the loss of her rights to the throne, while during the lifetime of her sister the disclosures of Wyatt and his followers and the correspondence of the French ambassador brought her to the Tower on suspicion of treason. Mary was, however, averse to severe measures, more especially as Elizabeth expressed her devotion to the Catholic religion and her willingness to accept the new religious settlement. But in secret she treasured other views, not because she was hostile to the Catholic religion, but because opposition to Catholicism seemed to be the best means of maintaining her claim to the crown and of resisting Mary Queen of Scots, who from the Catholic point of view was the nearest legitimate heir to the throne. Already, before the death of Mary, Elizabeth was in close correspondence with those who were unfriendly to Catholicism and to the Spanish connection, and she had selected William Cecil, whose religious views and practices during Mary’s reign coincided with her own, to be her secretary. Her accession was hailed with joy throughout England, for Englishmen were glad to have a ruler of their own so as to be rid of the Spanish domination, that had led to taxation at home and disaster abroad. The official announcement of Elizabeth’s accession was as welcome to Philip II., who was still England’s ally, as it was distasteful to France, which regarded Mary Queen of Scots as the lawful claimant to England’s throne. It is noteworthy, as affording a clue to Elizabeth’s future policy, that no official notice of her accession was forwarded to the Pope, nor were the credentials of the English ambassador at Rome either confirmed or revoked. Paul IV., notwithstanding the efforts of the French, was unwilling to create any difficulties for England’s new ruler by declaring her illegitimate or by treating her otherwise than as a rightful sovereign.
Though many of Mary’s old councilors were retained it is remarked by many interested observers that the new members selected by the queen belonged to the party likely to favor religious innovations, and that her real advisers were not the privy council but a select coterie, the principal of which were William Cecil, Secretary of State, and his brother-in-law, Nicholas Bacon, appointed Lord Keeper of the Seal, both of whom, while outwardly professing their devotion to the old religion under Queen Mary, were well known to sympathize with the Edwardian régime. The men who had fled to Frankfurt or Geneva began to return and to preach their doctrines to the crowd, and the Italian church in London was attacked by a mob. Outwardly no change took place in the religious ceremonial. A royal proclamation was issued (27th Dec., 1558) forbidding preaching or the use of other public prayers, rites, or ceremonies save those approved by law until Parliament should have determined otherwise, except in regard to the recitation in English, of the Litany, the Commandments, the Creed, together with the Epistles and Gospels. Still the anti-Catholic party boasted that the new ruler was on their side. The queen’s own inclinations were soon made clear by her prohibition addressed to Bishop Oglethorp of Carlisle against the elevation of the Host in the Mass celebrated in her presence on Christmas Day (1558), and by her withdrawal from the church when he refused to obey her instructions. Bishop Christopherson of Chichester was arrested for his sermon preached on the occasion of the late queen’s funeral, and Archbishop Heath of York resigned the Chancellorship.
The coronation of the queen was fixed for the 25th January (1559), and as her title to the throne might be questioned on so many points, it was obviously of the greatest importance that the ceremony should be carried out in the orthodox fashion so as to elude all the objections of her rivals. The Archbishop of York and the bishops generally, well aware of the religious changes that were in contemplation, refused to take part in the coronation, though in the end Bishop Oglethorp of Carlisle was induced to undertake the task, probably in the hope of averting still greater evil. The bishops attended at Westminster to welcome the queen on her arrival and to take the oath of allegiance, but declined to be present at the Mass, as did also the Spanish ambassador. The rite was carried out with punctilious attention to the old rubrics, and the sermon was preached by Dr. Cox, a Frankfurt exile, who regaled his hearers with a wild tirade against the monks, clergy, and the existing idolatry.
Parliament was summoned to meet in January 1559. In the House of Lords the government was confronted with the fact that the bishops to a man would oppose the religious changes that were to be introduced, but it was hoped that by careful directions to the sheriffs a House of Commons might be returned that could be trusted. There was no difficulty in procuring acts confirming Elizabeth’s title to the throne, more especially as the legitimacy of her mother’s marriage though implied was not directly affirmed, but the bill for the restoration of First Fruits to the crown met with considerable opposition and delay, especially at the hands of the spiritual peers, and another for the restoration of those clergymen who had been deprived in the previous reign on account of their non-observance of celibacy was abandoned. The two great measures however on which Elizabeth’s ministers had set their hearts were royal supremacy and the re-introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in place of the Latin Mass, but from the first the bishops offered to these measures the most determined opposition, and though the bishops were not supported by a very large number of the lay peers, the idea of forcing such momentous changes on the country against the wishes of the united episcopate was so repugnant to the religious instincts of the nation that the ministers found themselves again and again compelled to withdraw or modify their proposals.
To add to their confusion Convocation met in February (1559) and forwarded to the bishops for presentation to the queen a strong document, in which the clergy without a dissentient voice affirmed their belief in the Real Presence, Transubstantiation, the sacrificial character of the Mass, Roman supremacy and the inability of laymen to legislate regarding the doctrines, discipline, or sacraments of the Church. This judgment of Convocation though hardly unexpected was a deadly blow struck against the government measures, showing as it did that if Parliament undertook a new religious settlement it must do so on its own responsibility and against the wishes of the ecclesiastical authorities. The difficulties against the two bills were so great that when Easter arrived the work upon which the queen and her advisers had set their hearts was still incomplete. The Bill of Uniformity of belief had been rejected, and though the Royal Supremacy Bill had passed the two Houses in modified form it had not yet reached the statute book. The inconvenience of according the title of supreme head of the Church to a woman was disliked by many, and was distasteful even to Elizabeth herself.
Parliament was prorogued for a few weeks at Easter, and recourse was had to a clever expedient to win popular sympathy for the measures. A disputation was arranged to take place between the bishops and the Protestant exiles. Cecil took care that both in regard to the subjects to be discussed and the manner of procedure the latter party should have every advantage. The questions were the use of English or Latin in the religious services, the authority of particular churches to change their rites and ceremonies, and the propitiatory character of the Mass. The Catholic representatives were to open the discussion each day, but the last word was always reserved for the Reformers. From the very beginning it was clear that the dice had been loaded against the defenders of the old faith, and on the second day the Catholic party refused to continue the discussion. Their refusal, however justified it may have been in the circumstances, could not fail to make a bad impression. It was seized upon by their opponents to show that the supporters of Rome had disobeyed the queen, had quailed before the apostles of the new religion, and that, therefore, even though they were bishops, they could not be regarded as trustworthy guides in matters of religion. The Bishops of Winchester and Lincoln were arrested because they refused to continue the disputation, and by their arrest the Catholic peers were deprived of two votes in the House of Lords at a time when the fate of the old religion was trembling in the balance.
When Parliament re-assembled the queen announced her intention of refusing the title of supreme head of the Church, and requested the House “would devise some other form with regard to the primacy or supremacy.” A new bill conceding to the sovereign the title “supreme governor” was introduced, but met with as strong opposition from the bishops as its predecessors, and was passed against their unanimous wishes. The Act of Uniformity, commanding the use of the Second Book of Common Prayer with a few alterations, met with even a worse reception, as several of the laymen joined the bishops in their resistance, and in the end it was carried only by a majority of three. Had the imprisoned bishops been free to cast their votes against the measure, or had the lay peers who disliked it had the courage to be present in their places at the division the whole course of English history might have been altered. As it was a religious revolution had been effected. The Mass, Transubstantiation, the Real Presence and Roman supremacy, all of which had been accepted without contradiction from the days of St. Augustine till the reign of Henry VIII., were abolished and a new church established that bore but a faint resemblance to the old. And what was more extraordinary still, all this was done solely by an assembly of laymen, against the wishes and appeals of the united episcopate and against the practically unanimous judgment of Convocation. “The Church of England as by law established” is a parliamentary institution set up and shaped by Parliament in the beginning, and dependent upon Parliament ever since for guidance and protection.
By the Act of Supremacy the queen was declared to be supreme governor of the Church in England; all foreign jurisdiction was abolished; a body of commissioners was to be appointed to administer the oath of supremacy and to carry on ecclesiastical functions in the name of the queen; officials who refused to take the oath were to be deprived, and penalties varying from fines to death were to be imposed on those who were unwilling to accept the law. By the Act of Uniformity the English service, as contained in the Second Book of Common Prayer with some slight alterations, was made obligatory on all clergymen, as was attendance at this service on all laymen. The Act was to be enforced by the spiritual authorities under threat of excommunication against offenders, and by the civil authorities by the infliction of fines or imprisonment.
A royal commission was appointed (1559) to administer the oath of supremacy to the clergy, and to enforce the provisions of the Act of Uniformity. As was to be expected, the attention of the commissioners was directed immediately to the bishops. If some of them could be induced to submit—and the government was not without hope in this direction—their submission would produce a good impression on the country; but if on the contrary they persisted in their attachment to the Mass and their obedience to the Pope, they must be removed to make way for more trustworthy men. To their credit be it said, when the oath of supremacy was tendered to the bishops they refused with one exception to abandon the views they had defended with such skill and bravery in the House of Lords, and preferred to suffer imprisonment and deprivation rather than lead their people into error by submission. Bishop Kitchin of Llandaff had opposed royal supremacy for a time. The Spanish ambassador reported to his master that he was about to follow the example of his brethren, but in the end he submitted and consented to administer the oath to his clergy. The religious communities, the Observants, the Carthusians, the Dominicans, the Benedictines, and the few communities of nuns that had re-established houses in England during the reign of Queen Mary, were suppressed; their property was seized according to an Act passed in the late Parliament, and many of the monks and nuns were obliged to depart from the kingdom. The commissioners proceeded through England administering the oath to the clergy, a large percentage of whom seems to have submitted. From the returns preserved it is difficult to estimate accurately what number of the clergy consented to acknowledge the supremacy of the queen or to abandon the Mass, but it is certainly not true to say that out of 9,000 beneficed clergymen in England at the time only about 200 refused the oath. On the one hand, the disturbances during the reigns of Henry VIII. and Edward VI. had reduced considerably the number of priests in England, while on the other, the fact that several clergymen did not put in an appearance before the commission, that others were allowed time to reconsider their views, and that not even all those who obstinately refused the oath were deprived, shows clearly that the lists of deprivations afford no sure clue to the number of those who were unwilling to accept the change. It is noteworthy that the greatest number of refusals were met with amongst the higher officials or dignitaries of the Church, the deans, archdeacons, and canons, who might be expected to represent the best educated and most exemplary of the clergy of their time in England. In the universities, too, the commissioners met with the strongest resistance. Several of the heads of the colleges, both in Cambridge and Oxford, the fellows and the office-bearers, either were deprived or fled, and men of the new school were appointed to take their places. But notwithstanding all the government could do, the universities, and particularly Oxford, continued during the greater part of the reign of Elizabeth to be centers of disaffection.
The complete extinction of the old hierarchy by death, deprivation and imprisonment, left the way open for the appointment of bishops favorable to the religion. Matthew Parker, who had been chaplain to Anne Boleyn and who had lived privately since he was removed from the deanship of Lincoln on account of his marriage, was selected to fill the Archbishopric of Canterbury, left vacant since the death of Cardinal Pole. The royal letters of approval were issued in September, and the mandate for his consecration was addressed to Tunstall of Durham, Bourne of Bath and Wells, Poole of Peterborough, Kitchin of Llandaff, together with Barlow and Scory. The three former, however, refused to act, and apparently even Kitchin was unwilling to take any part in the ceremony. New men were then sought, and found in the persons of Barlow, Coverdale, Scory, and Hodgkin. But even still grave legal difficulties barred the way. The conditions for the consecration of an archbishop laid down by the 25th of Henry VIII., which had not been repealed, could not be complied with owing to the refusal of the old bishops, and besides the use of the new Ordinal of Edward VI. without a special Act of Parliament for its revival was distinctly illegal; but the situation was so serious that Elizabeth’s advisers urged her to make good the illegalities by an exercise of her royal authority. In the end the consecration of Parker was carried out in the chapel of Lambeth Palace on the morning of the 17th December, 1559. The story of the Nag’s Head is a pure legend used by controversialists for impugning the validity of Anglican Orders. As a matter of fact the main argument against these Orders is drawn neither from the fable of the Nag’s Head nor from the want of episcopal orders in the case of Barlow, the consecrator of Parker, though his consecration has not been proved, but from the use of a corrupt form, which was then as it is now rejected as insufficient by the Catholic Church, and from the want of the proper intention implied both by the corruption of the form and by the teaching of those who corrupted it. Once the difficulty about Parker’s consecration had been settled other bishops were appointed by the queen, and consecrated by the new archbishop, so that before March 1560 good progress had been made in the establishment of the new hierarchy in England.
With the establishment of the ecclesiastical commission (1559) to search out and punish heresy and generally to carry out the provisions of the Supremacy Act, and with the appointment of new bishops (1559-60) the work of reforming the faith of England was well under way. Still the new bishops were confronted with grave difficulties. From the reports of the Spanish ambassador, who had exceptional opportunities of knowing the facts but whose opinions for obvious reasons cannot always be accepted, the great majority of the people outside London were still Catholic, and even in London itself the adherents of the old faith could not be despised. Quite apart, however, from his reports, sufficient evidence can be adduced from the episcopal and official letters and documents to show that the change was not welcomed by a great body in the country. As the best means of enforcing the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity a visitation of both provinces was arranged. In London Masses were still celebrated, and attended by great multitudes; in Canterbury itself within sight of the archiepiscopal palace public religious processions were carried out. In Winchester, where the memory of Gardiner was still cherished, many of the clergy refused to attend the visitation; the laymen were discreetly absent when their assent was required; the churches were deserted and even the people attending the cathedral “were corrupted by the clergy.” In Hereford Bishop Scory described his cathedral, “as a very nest of blasphemy, whoredom, pride, superstition, and ignorance;” the justices threw every obstacle in the way of his reforms; fasts and feasts were observed as of old; and even the very butchers seemed leagued against him, for they refused to sell meat on Thursdays. In Bath and Wells many of the justices were openly disobedient, and even the people who conformed outwardly could not be relied upon. In Norwich, Ely, Salisbury and Chichester “Popery” was still strong amongst the clergy, people, and officials. At Eton it was necessary to expel the provost and all the teachers except three before the college could be reduced to subjection, and at Oxford the visitors were driven to admit, that if they expelled the fellows who refused to subscribe, and the students who would have no religious service except the Mass, the houses would be deserted. In the northern provinces where the visitation did not begin till some time later it was discovered that matters were still worse. The principal noblemen were openly Catholic, and many of the magistrates denied that they had ever heard of the Act of Supremacy, while others of them “winked and looked through their fingers.” In York the diocese was in a state of anarchy; in Carlisle the bishop confessed that he could not prevent the public celebration of the Mass; in Durham the bishop wrote that he found himself engaged in a conflict with wild beasts even more savage than those which had confronted St. Paul at Ephesus. To make matters worse it was reported that public sympathy was on the side of the recusants, and that hopes were being expressed by many that the present advisers of her Majesty might soon be displaced, even though it were necessary to have recourse to France or Spain.
Nor was it merely from the side of the Catholics that the bishops and the government anticipated serious danger. The men, who, like Hooper, objected to the Edwardine settlement as not being sufficiently extreme, had approached more closely to Calvinism in doctrine and in ritual during their enforced sojourn at Frankfurt and Geneva. They were enthusiastic in their praise of Elizabeth for her attacks upon Rome, but they found fault with her religious programme as flavoring too much of idolatry and papistry. They objected to crosses, candles, vestments, copes, blessings, and much of the old ritual that had been retained in the Book of Common prayer, and insisted that, until religion had been brought back to a state of scriptural purity, the English people should not rest satisfied. Whatever sympathy some of the English political advisers may have had with the Puritans in theory they had no intention of yielding to their demands, as such a policy would have stirred up all the latent Catholicity in the country. The official church “as by law established” was to be a church for the nation, standing midway between Rome and Puritanism, a kind of compromise between both extremes. Elizabeth was determined to put down Puritanism, irreverence, and unlicensed preaching with a heavy hand. As a foretaste of what the champions of innovation might expect, much to the disgust of the archbishop, she struck a blow at the married clergy by ordering the removal of women and children from the enclosures of colleges and cathedrals (1561).
It cannot be said that it was the opposition of Rome to her accession that forced Elizabeth to establish a national church. Paul IV., whose undiplomatic and imprudent proceedings had caused such grave embarrassment to her predecessor, made no protest against the recognition of Elizabeth’s claims, although he was urged to do so by France. The same attitude of friendly reserve was maintained by his successor Pius IV. (1559-65). Shortly after his consecration he addressed a kindly letter to Elizabeth exhorting her to return to the bosom of the Church. His envoy was not allowed, however, to enter England, nor had another envoy, dispatched in 1561 to invite the queen and the English bishops to take part in the Council of Trent, any better success. Though Elizabeth discussed the matter with the Spanish ambassador and even made preparations for the reception of the papal envoy, the necessary safe conducts were not forwarded to Flanders, and in the end a notification was sent that the papal messenger could not be received, nor would the English bishops attend the Council of Trent. Possibly owing to the friendly attitude of the Pope, rumors were put in circulation that he was not unwilling to accept the new English Book of Common Prayer if Elizabeth would consent to acknowledge the supremacy of Rome. That there was never the least foundation for such a statement is now generally admitted, but at the time it helped to confirm many Catholics in the view that to escape fines and punishment it was lawful for them to attend the English service, particularly as they took care to assist at Mass in secret and made it clear both by their actions and demeanor that their presence at the new religious rite was not voluntary. Others, however, refused to follow this opinion, and in order to put an end to the dissensions that had arisen a petition was drawn up and forwarded to the Pope requesting him for permission to attend Common Prayer, but, though the request was supported by the Spanish ambassador, the permission was refused (1562).
Elizabeth’s second Parliament (1563) met at a time when the downfall of the Huguenots to whom England had furnished assistance, the failure of a plot entered into by the nephews of Cardinal Pole for the overthrow of Elizabeth’s government, and the reports from the ecclesiastical commissioners and the bishops, showing as they did that contempt for the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity was still strong, made it necessary to undertake more repressive measures against the Catholics. An Act was passed entitled, “an Act for the assurance of the queen’s royal power” commanding that the oath of supremacy should be administered to members of the House of Commons, schoolmasters, tutors, attorneys, and all who had held any ecclesiastical office during the reigns of Elizabeth, Mary, Edward VI. or Henry VIII., and to all who manifested their hostility to the established religion by celebrating Mass or assisting at its celebration. Refusal to take the oath when first tendered was to be punished by forfeiture and life imprisonment, and on the second refusal the penalty was to be a traitor’s death. Had such an Act been enforced strictly it would have meant the complete extirpation of the Catholics of England, but Elizabeth, having secured a weapon by which she might terrorize them, took care to prevent her bishops from driving them to extremes by a close investigation of their opinions regarding royal supremacy. Fines and imprisonment were at this stage deemed more expedient than death.
Convocation met at the same time, but Convocation had changed much since 1559 when it declared bravely in favor of the Real Presence, Transubstantiation, the Mass, Papal supremacy, and the independence of the Church. The effects of the deprivation of the bishops, deans, archdeacons, canons, and clergy, and of the wholesale ordinations “of artificers unlearned and some even of base occupations” by Parker and Grindal and others were plainly visible. Convocation was no longer Catholic in tone. It was distinctly Puritan. A proposal was made that all holidays and feasts should be abolished except Sundays and “the principal feasts of Christ,” that there should be no kneeling at Communion, no vestments in the celebration of Common Service except the surplice, no organs in the churches, no sign of the cross in baptism, and that the minister should be compelled to read divine service facing the people. The proposal was debated warmly and in the end was defeated only by one vote. One of the principal objects for which Convocation had been called was to draft a new dogmatic creed for the Church “as by law established.” This was a matter of supreme importance. But as it was necessary to affirm nothing that would offend the Huguenots of France and the theologians of Switzerland and Germany, or rouse the latent Catholic sentiments of the English people, it was also a work of supreme difficulty. In other words the creed of the established Church must be in the nature of a compromise, and a compromise it really was. The Forty Two Articles of Edward VI. were taken as the basis of discussion. As a result of the deliberations they were reduced to Thirty Nine, in which form they were signed by the bishops and clergy, before being presented to Elizabeth and her ministers for approval. As an indication to the clergy that the office of supreme governor was no sinecure Elizabeth would not authorize the publication of the Articles until a very important one dealing with the Eucharist had been omitted, and until another one regarding the authority of the Church to change rites and ceremonies had been modified. That influences other than doctrinal were at work in shaping the Thirty Nine Articles is evident from the fact that the particular Eucharistic Article referred to was omitted in 1563 lest it should drive away Catholics who were wavering, and inserted again in 1570 when the government, then in open war with Rome, was determined to give back blow for blow. The catechism drawn up by Convocation for the use of the laity was promptly suppressed by Cecil.
By the adoption of the Thirty Nine Articles as its official creed the English Church “by law established,” cut itself adrift from the Catholic Church and from the faith that had been delivered to the Anglo-Saxon people by Rome’s great missionary St. Augustine. However ambiguous might be the wording to which the authors of the Articles had recourse in order to win followers, there could be no longer any doubt that on some of the principal points of doctrine the new creed stood in flagrant contradiction to the doctrines received by the Catholic world. The Pope, whose spiritual powers had never been called into question till the days of Henry VIII., was declared to have no jurisdiction in England. The Sacrifices of the Masses (as it is put) were denounced as blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits;
Transubstantiation was regarded as unscriptural and opening the way to superstition; the doctrine of the Real Objective Presence of Christ was implicitly condemned; the summoning of a General Council was made dependent on the will of the secular princes; the fact that such assemblies could err and did err in the past was emphasized; five of the Sacraments, namely, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Orders, Matrimony and Extreme Unction were declared not to be Sacraments of the Gospel, and the Roman doctrine concerning Purgatory, Indulgences, the invocation of saints, and veneration of images and relics was pronounced to be a foolish and vain invention, contradictory to the Word of God.
The new repressive legislation, at least in regard to fines and imprisonment, was enforced strictly against Catholics who were still a strong body, especially in the north. On the accession of Pius V. (1566-72) the friendly attitude hitherto maintained by Rome was changed. There could no longer be any hope that Elizabeth would modify her religious policy, as even her former ally and supporter Philip II. was forced to admit, and there was grave danger that the opinion entertained by some, that Catholics should be permitted to attend Common Prayer was a purely legal function, might do considerable harm. Hence a strong condemnation of the English service was published by the Pope, and a commission was granted to two English priests, Sanders and Harding, empowering them to absolve all those who had incurred the guilt of schism (1566). As even this was not sufficient to put an end to all doubts, and as the authority of the papal agent Laurence Vaux was questioned by certain individuals, a formal Bull of reconciliation was issued in 1567, authorizing the absolution of those who had incurred the guilt of heresy or schism by their obedience to the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity.
Apart from other considerations, this clear and definite statement of the attitude of the Pope towards attendance at the English service helped to stiffen the backs of the English Catholics, and to determine even the waverers to stand firm; but in addition to this the question of the succession to the throne raised considerable discussion. Elizabeth was still without a husband, and for reasons probably best known to herself she refused to allow her Parliament to drive her into marriage, although partly through vanity, partly through motives of policy she was not unwilling to dally with the advances of several suitors both native and foreign. In the eyes of Catholics Elizabeth was illegitimate, and except for her father’s will and the parliamentary confirmation of that will, as an illegitimate she had no right to the throne. Mary Queen of Scotland, the grand-daughter of Henry VIII.’s eldest sister Margaret, was from the legal point of view the lawful heir; but as she was the wife of the Dauphin of France at the time of Elizabeth’s accession, Englishmen generally did not wish to recognize her claim for precisely the same reasons that drove them to oppose Queen Mary’s marriage with Philip II. of Spain. After the death of her French husband and her return to Scotland opinion began to change in her favor, and this grew stronger in Catholic circles, when she fled into England to claim the support of her cousin Queen Elizabeth against the Scottish rebels (1568). A strong body even in the council favored the plan of a marriage between Mary and the Duke of Norfolk, and the recognition of their rights and the rights of their children to the throne on the death of Elizabeth, as the best means of avoiding civil war and of escaping from the delicate position created by the presence of Scotland’s Queen in England. Norfolk was regarded as a kind of Protestant and was backed by a very considerable body of the council, but his communications with Philip II. of Spain, who favored the marriage, and with the Catholic lords of the north, who, driven to extremes by religious persecution and by the treatment accorded to Mary in England, were not unwilling to depose Elizabeth, he professed his intention of becoming a Catholic. Elizabeth, however, was strong against the marriage, and Cecil, though he pretended to favor it, supported the views of his sovereign. Rumors of conspiracies especially in the north were afloat. The noblemen of Lancashire had met and pledged themselves not to attend the English service; the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland declared openly their attachment to the Catholic Church; the attitude of Wales and Cornwall was more than doubtful, and the Spanish ambassador was well known to be moving heaven and earth to induce his master to lend his aid.
Elizabeth determined to strike at once before the plans of the conspirators could be matured. The Duke of Norfolk was commanded to appear at court and was soon lodged safely in the Tower (11th Oct., 1569). A peremptory order was issued to the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland to come immediately to London, and as they knew well the fate that was in store for them they determined to stake their fortunes on the chance of a successful rising. They appealed to the Catholic lords of Scotland, to the Duke of Alva, and to Spain for support, and mustered their forces for war. They entered Durham (10th Nov. 1569), where they swept out from the cathedral both the Book of Common Prayer and the communion table, set up the altar once more, and had Mass celebrated publicly. They marched southwards with the object of getting possession of the Queen of Scotland who was imprisoned at Tutbury, but their design having been suspected Mary was removed suddenly to Coventry. A strong force was sent to prevent their march southward, while Moray, the regent of Scotland and Elizabeth’s faithful ally, assembled his troops on the border to prevent the Scottish Catholic lords from rallying to the assistance of their co-religionists. The insurgents, caught between the two fires, were routed completely, and the leaders hastened to make their escape. Westmoreland to the Netherlands, where he lived for thirty years in exile, and Northumberland to Scotland only to be sold again to Elizabeth for £2,000 and executed. Martial law was proclaimed and hundreds “of the poorer sort” were put to death. The trouble seemed to be over for the time, but suddenly in January 1570, encouraged by the assassination of Moray and by the raids of the Catholic borderers, Lord Dacre rose in revolt, and threw himself upon the queen’s forces on their march from Naworth to Carlisle. He was defeated and barely succeeded in escaping with his life. All resistance was now at an end, and more than eight hundred of the insurgents were executed. The failure of the Northern Rebellion served only to strengthen Elizabeth’s power, and to secure for Protestantism a firm footing in England.
While preparations were being made in England for the rebellion, Catholic representatives in Rome, both lay and clerical, pressed Pius V. to issue a decree of excommunication and of deposition against Elizabeth. Such a decree, it was thought, would strengthen the hands of those who were working in the interests of Mary Queen of Scotland, and would open the eyes of a large body of Catholics who stood firmly by Elizabeth solely from motives of extreme loyalty. Philip II. was not acquainted with the step that was in contemplation, though apparently the French authorities were warned that Rome was about to take action. Had the advice of the King of Spain been sought he might have warned the Pope against proceeding to extremes with Elizabeth, and in doing so he would have had the support of those at home who were acquainted most intimately with English affairs. In February (1570) the process against Elizabeth was begun in Rome, and on the 25th of the same month the Bull, Regnans in Excelsis, announcing the excommunication and deposition of Elizabeth was given to the world. Had it come five or six months earlier, and had there been an able leader capable of uniting the English Catholic body, a work that could not be accomplished either by the Duke of Norfolk or the Northern Earls, the result might have been at least doubtful; but its publication, at a time when the northern rebellion had been suppressed, and when Spain, France, and the Netherlands were unwilling to execute it, served only to make wider the breach between England and Rome, and to expose the English Catholics to still fiercer persecution. For so far Catholics had been free to combine with moderate Protestants to secure the peaceful succession of Mary Queen of Scotland without any suspicion of disloyalty to Elizabeth, but from this time forward they were placed in the cruel position of being traitors either to the Pope or to Elizabeth, and every move made by them in favor of Mary Queen of Scotland must necessarily be construed as disloyalty to their sovereign. Copies of the Bull were smuggled into England, and one man, John Fenton, was found brave enough to risk his life by affixing a copy to the gates of the palace of the Bishop of London. He was taken prisoner immediately, and subjected to the terrible death reserved for traitors (8th August 1570).
While anti-Catholic feeling was running high, Elizabeth summoned Parliament to meet in April 1571. As danger was to be feared both from the Catholics and the Puritans special care was taken to ensure that reliable men should be returned. Several measures were introduced against the Catholic recusants, who had few sympathizers in the House of Commons, but in the House of Lords, where the Duke of Norfolk, who had been released, pleaded for moderation, and was supported by a small but determined body of the Lords, the feeling was less violent. Bills were both framed and passed making it treason to obtain Bulls, briefs, or documents from Rome. The penalty of Praemunire was leveled against all aiders and abettors of those offenders mentioned above, together with all who received beads, crosses, pictures, etc., blessed by the Bishop of Rome, or by any one acting with his authority; while those who had fled from the kingdom were commanded to return within six months under penalty of forfeiture of their goods and property. It was proposed too that all adults should be forced to attend the Protestant service and to receive Communion at stated times, but the latter portion was dropped probably at the request of the Catholic lords. However subservient Parliament might be in regard to the Catholics it was not inclined to strengthen the hands of the bishops against the Puritans. Notwithstanding Elizabeth’s refusal to allow discussion of the Thirty Nine Articles, or to permit them to be published under parliamentary sanction, the members succeeded in attaining their object indirectly by imposing them on recusants. Elizabeth was determined, however, to show her faithful Commons that she and not the Parliament was the supreme governor of the Church. She took Convocation and the bishops under her protection and empowered them to issue the Articles in a revised form, so that there were then really two versions of the Thirty Nine Articles in force, one imposed by Convocation and the queen and the other by Parliament.
To secure aid against Spain as well as to draw away the French from supporting the Queen of Scotland Elizabeth made overtures for marriage to the Duke of Anjou, and at the same time the party in favor of Mary determined to make a new effort to bring about a marriage between Mary and the Duke of Norfolk. Ridolfi was the life and soul of the conspiracy, assisted by the Duke of Norfolk and by the Bishop of Ross, Mary’s ambassador in London. It was hoped to enlist the sympathy of the Duke of Alva, Philip II. and the Pope, none of whom were unwilling to aid in overthrowing Elizabeth’s rule, but before anything definite could be done Cecil’s spies brought him news of the steps that were being taken. The Duke of Norfolk was arrested in September 1571, and placed on his trial in the following January. He was condemned to death, but as Elizabeth did not wish to take the responsibility of his execution on herself she waited until it had been confirmed by Parliament, after which he was led to the block (2nd June 1572). Parliament also petitioned for the execution of the Queen of Scotland, but for various reasons Elizabeth refused to accede to their request.
Though the new laws were enforced strictly it is clear from the episcopal reports that in London itself, in Norwich, Winchester, Ely, Worcester, in the diocese and province of York, and indeed throughout the entire country Catholicism had still a strong hold. The old Marian priests were, however, dying out rapidly. The monasteries and universities, that had supplied priests for the English mission, were either destroyed or passed into other hands, so that it became clear to both friends and foes that unless something could be done to keep up the supply of clergy the Catholic religion was doomed ultimately to extinction. This difficulty had occurred to the minds of many of the English scholars who had fled from Oxford to the Continent, but it was reserved for Dr. William Allen, formerly a Fellow of Oriel College, and Principal of St. Mary’s Hall, Oxford, and later in 1587 a Cardinal of the Roman Church, to take practical measures to meet the wants of his co-religionists in England. He determined to found a college on the Continent for the education of priests for the English mission, and as Douay had a new university, in which many of the former Oxford men had found a home, he opened a college at Douay in 1568. Depending on his own private resources, the contributions of his friends, and the pensions guaranteed by the King of Spain and the Pope, he succeeded beyond expectation. Students flocked from England to the new college, whence they returned on the completion of their studies to strengthen and console their co-religionists at home. Could Douay College boast only of the 160 martyrs whom it trained and sent into England Cardinal Allen would have had good reason to be proud of his work, but in addition to this the numerous controversial tracts of real merit that were issued from the Douay printing-press, and scattered throughout England, helped to keep alive Catholic sentiment in the country. In Douay too was begun the translation of the Scriptures into English, the New Testament being published at Rheims (1582) whither the college had been removed in 1578, and the old Testament in 1609. In 1576 Allen visited Rome and persuaded Gregory XIII. to found a college in Rome for the education of English priests. Students were sent in 1576 and 1577, and a hospice was granted in 1578 as an English seminary, over which the Jesuits were placed in the following year. A college was established at Valladolid by Father Persons (1589), another at Seville in 1592, and one at St. Omers in 1594.
The failure of the northern rebellion, the repressive measures adopted by Parliament in 1571, and the betrayal of Ridolfi’s fantastic schemes, did not mean the extinction of Catholicism in England. On the contrary there was a distinct reaction in its favor, partly through the failure of the Protestant bishops and clergy to maintain a consistent religious service such as that which they had overthrown, partly to the revulsion created by the fanatical vapourings of the Puritans, but above all to the efforts of the “seminary priests,” as the men who returned from Douay and the other colleges abroad were called. The older generation of clergy who had been deprived on Elizabeth’s accession were content to minister to their flocks in secret, and were happy so long as they could escape the meshes of the law; but the new men who returned from Douay were determined to make the country Catholic once more or to die in the attempt. They went boldly from place to place exhorting the Catholics to stand firm, and they seemed to have no dread of imprisonment, exile or death. Many of them were arrested and kept in close confinement, while others, like Thomas Woodhouse (1573), Cuthbert Mayne (1577), John Nelson, and Thomas Sherwood (1578), gloried in being thought worthy of dying as their Master had died.
Nor did their fate deter others from following in their footsteps. It was reported in 1579 that a hundred students had been ordained and sent into England from Rome and Rheims. The result of the labors of these apostolic men was soon evident. The government, alarmed at the sudden resurrection of Popery, urged the bishops and officials to make new efforts for its suppression. Throughout the various dioceses inquiries were begun which served only to show that recusancy was no longer confined to Lancashire or the north. The bishops were obliged to admit (1577) with sorrow that papists “did increase in numbers and in obstinacy.” They recommended the infliction of fines, and furnished the authorities with a list of recusants and the value of their property. In York the archbishop reported that “a more stiff-necked or willful people I never knew or heard of, doubtless they are reconciled with Rome and sworn to the Pope,” and what was worse they preferred to be imprisoned than to listen to the archbishop’s harangues. From Hereford it was announced that “rebellion is rampant, attendance at church is contemptuous, and John Hareley read so loudly on his Latin popish primer (that he understands not) that he troubles both minister and people.” In Oxford and amongst the lawyers in the Inns of Court and in the Inns of Chancery popery and superstition were still flourishing.
To make matters worse it was soon bruited about that the Jesuits, whose very name was sufficient to instill terror, were preparing for an invasion of England. The invading force it was true was small, but it was select. Persons and Campion, both Oxford men, who having gone into exile joined themselves to the Society of St. Ignatius, were entrusted with the difficult undertaking. The government, warned by its spies of their mission, had the ports watched to capture them on their arrival, but the two priests contrived to elude the vigilance of their enemies, and succeeded in arriving safely in London (1580). The news of their arrival could not be kept a secret, and hence they determined to leave London. Before they separated for the different fields they had selected, to prevent future misrepresentation of their aims, Campion wrote an open letter addressed to the lords of the privy council in defense of his views, which letter having been published was known as “Campion’s challenge.” Persons went through the country from Northampton to Gloucester, while Campion preached from Oxford to Northampton. They took pains to set up a small printing press, which was removed from place to place, and from which was issued sufficient literature to disconcert their opponents. Probably the most remarkable volume published from the Jesuit printing-press was Campion’s Ten Reasons, addressed particularly to the Oxford students amongst whom it created a great sensation. At last after many hair-breadth escapes Campion was captured at Lyford and committed to the Tower. He had challenged his opponents to meet him in a public disputation, and now that he was in their hands, worn out by his labors and imprisonment, they determined to take up the challenge in the hope that by overthrowing him they might shake the faith of his followers. But despite his weakness and infirmity they found in him so dangerous and so learned an adversary that the government thought it wiser to bring the controversy to an end, or rather to transfer it to the law courts. Even here the captive Jesuit showed that he was quite able to hold his own with the lawyers. He had been guilty of no treason, he averred; he acknowledged the queen to be his lawful sovereign; but he refused to disown the Bull of Deposition. He was found guilty, condemned to death as a traitor, and was executed with two other priests in December 1581.
During the wild start of alarm and vexation caused by the reports of the rising strength of the recusants, the invasion of seminary priests and of Jesuits, and the help given by Gregory XIII. to the Desmond rebellion, Parliament met (Jan. 1581). An Act was passed immediately making it high treason to possess or to exercise the power of absolving or withdrawing anybody from the established church, and a similar penalty was leveled against those who permitted themselves to be reconciled or withdrawn, together with all aiders or abettors. The punishment decreed for celebrating or assisting at Mass was a fine of 100 marks and one year’s imprisonment. Fines of £20 per lunar month were to be inflicted upon all those who absented themselves from Common Prayer, and if their absence lasted for an entire year the delinquents should be obliged to provide heavy securities for their good behavior. All schoolmasters or tutors not licensed by the bishop of the diocese were declared liable to a year’s imprisonment, and the person who employed them to a fine of not less than £10 per month. The Act was enforced with merciless severity. Fathers Campion, Sherwin, and Briant were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn (Dec. 1581); eleven other priests met a similar fate before the end of the following year, and two priests and two school-masters were hanged, drawn and quartered in 1583. The news of the execution of Campion and his fellow laborers created a profound impression on the country.
In reply to the protests that were raised Elizabeth thought at first
of issuing an official statement, but in the end the idea was abandoned and Cecil, now Lord Burghley, published anonymously two pamphlets to justify the action of the government. The jails were so filled with popish recusants that in order to escape the expense of supporting them, a plan was formed to convey them to North America, but it could not be executed owing to the opposition of the Spanish Government. The seminary priests did not, however, allow themselves to be drawn away from their work either by the terrors of treason or by the echoes of the wordy war, that was being carried on between Lord Burghley and his friends on one side, and Dr. Allen and his friends on the other. A catechism introduced by them was bought up so rapidly that in a few months it was out of print. A great body of the English noblemen still held the old faith. In the north Catholics were numerous and active, and even in the southern and western counties and in Wales opinion was veering rapidly towards Rome. Had the seminary priests been left free to continue their work, unimpeded by foreign or English political plots on the Continent, it is difficult to say what might have been the result. Unfortunately new plots were hatched under the protection of France or Spain for the release of Mary Queen of Scotland, and for her proclamation as Queen of England. Throckmorton, who had taken the principal part in this affair, was arrested and put to death; the principal conspirators, men like the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Arundel were sent to the Tower; the jails were filled with Catholics, and five priests were put to death at Tyburn (1584).
Parliament met (1585) at a time when the discovery of the plot against Elizabeth and the news of the assassination of William of Orange had created great excitement through the country. An association that had been formed to defend the life of the queen or to revenge her death was granted statutory powers by Parliament. The queen was authorized to create a special commission with authority to deal with all plotters and to exclude from succession to the throne everyone in whose interest she herself might be assassinated. An Act was passed by which all Jesuits and seminary priests were commanded to leave England within forty days under penalty of treason; all persons not in holy orders studying in any foreign seminary or college were ordered to return within six months and to take the oath of supremacy within two days of their arrival if they did not wish to be punished as traitors; all persons harboring or assisting a priest were to be adjudged guilty of felony; all who sent their children abroad except by special permission were to be fined £100 for each offence, and all who had knowledge of the presence of a priest in England, and who did not report it to a magistrate within twelve days were liable to be fined and imprisoned at the queen’s pleasure. This Act was designed to secure the banishment or death of all the seminary priests, and if any of them survived it was due neither to the want of vigilance nor to the mildness of the government. Spies were let loose into every part of England to report the doings of the clergy and laity. Wholesale arrests were effected, and great numbers of the clergy put to death merely because they were priests, and of the laymen merely because they harbored priests. Three were executed in 1585, thirteen in 1586, and seven in 1587. To secure the conviction of the prisoners, though the law had made the conviction sufficiently certain, but more especially to create popular prejudice against them in the minds of loyal Englishmen, a series of questions were administered to them known as the “bloody” or “cut-throat” questions, as for example, “whose part would you take if the Pope or any other by his authority should make war on the queen.”
The dismissal of the Spanish ambassador after the discovery of the Throckmorton plot and the assistance given by England to the rebels in the Netherlands helped to increase the hostility between England and Spain, and to induce Philip II. to make renewed efforts for the overthrow of Elizabeth’s government, while at the same time the merciless persecution of the Catholics in England drove many of them who wished to remain loyal to co-operate with their brethren abroad and to assist Philip’s schemes. This unfortunate combination of English Catholics with Spanish politicians did more to mar the work of the seminary priests, and to set back the rising Catholic tide than all that could have been accomplished by Elizabeth’s penal laws or merciless persecution. The large and increasing body of English people who began to look with a friendly eye towards the old faith were shocked by the adoption of such means, and when they found themselves face to face with the necessity of selecting between an Anglo-Spanish party and Elizabeth, they decided to throw in their lot with the latter. The discovery of the Babington plot for the rescue of Scotland’s queen led to the death of its author and the execution of the lady in whose favor it had been planned (1587). The news of Mary’s execution created a great sensation both at home and abroad. To prevent hostilities on the part of Mary’s son, James VI. of Scotland, or of the Catholic sovereigns on the Continent, Elizabeth, pretending to be displeased with her ministers for carrying out the sentence, ordered the arrest of Davison the secretary to the council, and had him punished by a fine of £10,000 and imprisonment in the Tower. Philip II. was not, however, deceived by such conduct, or influenced by the overtures made for peace. Elizabeth’s interference in the affairs of the Netherlands, the attacks made by her sailors on Spanish territories and Spanish treasure-ships, and the execution of Mary Queen of Scotland determined him to make a final effort for the overthrow of the English government. The great Armada was got ready for the invasion of England (1588). But the Spanish ships were not destined to reach the English harbors, nor the Spanish soldiers whom they carried on board to test their bravery and skill in conflict with Elizabeth’s forces on English soil.
Though there is no evidence either from English or Spanish reports that Catholics in England welcomed the Armada, since both Lord Burghley and Philip II. were convinced that Spain could not rely on their co-operation, and though in many parts of the country Catholics volunteered for service to fight the invader, the government determined to wreak its vengeance on the helpless victims in prison. Within three days six priests and eight laymen were executed near London (August); nine priests and three laymen were put to death in October, and before the end of the year thirty-one had suffered the terrible punishment reserved for traitors, merely because they refused to conform. The prisons were so full of recusants that new houses were opened for their detention. The government reaped a rich harvest by the heavy fines inflicted on the wealthy Catholics and took pains, besides, to annoy them at every turn by domiciliary visits in search of concealed priests. Yet the reports from the country, especially from such places as Lancashire and Cheshire, showed that the Papists were still dangerously strong. A new proclamation was issued against seminary priests and Jesuits (1591). Nine priests and two laymen had been put to death in the previous year (1590), and in 1591 fifteen were martyred, seven of whom were priests and the rest laymen. Throughout the remainder of Queen Elizabeth’s reign Catholics in England were not allowed to enjoy peace or respite. If priests, they were by that very fact liable to be hunted down and condemned as traitors; if they were laymen of substance, they were beggared by heavy fines imposed for non-attendance at the English service, or punished by imprisonment, and if they were too poor to pay a fine they could be driven from the kingdom for refusing to conform. Apart altogether from the immense sums levied on Catholics by fines and forfeitures, and from the number of people who died in prison either from confinement or torture, one hundred and eighty-nine were put to death for the faith under Elizabeth, one hundred and twenty-eight of whom were priests; and yet, notwithstanding this persecution, Catholics were still comparatively strong at the death of Elizabeth, and the supply of clergy showed no signs of being exhausted. Over three hundred and sixty priests were in England attending to the wants of their co-religionists in 1603.
This is taken from The History of the Catholic Church.
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