martes, 30 de noviembre de 2010

The Elizabethan Reformation (1558-1603)

A window into Elizabeth’s soul

In approaching the Reformation undertaken under the reign of Elizabeth Tudor, it seems natural to quote her words of ‘opening a window into one’s soul’, as that is precisely what the task is about. In this case, I am trying to open windows not only into the soul of the Queen, but also into that of England itself.
Grasping the religious legacy that Elizabeth left to the country is not an easy thing to do. The assessment of her achievement, which was indeed great, is difficult to attain; such is the amount of information and opinions on the matter.
The reign of Elizabeth I did not mean a smooth transition from the ambiguity, intolerance, and difficulties of the previous three reigns into an era of religious uniformity and tranquillity. Her reign was a challenging one although it was successful in bringing about a new religious system that, in an overall view, did work out.

Elizabeth I’s personal religion

Confronted with the figures of her arbitrary and bloodthirsty father, Henry VIII, of her intolerant brother, Edward VI, and of her equally intolerant and keen persecutor sister, Mary I, Elizabeth lives in popular imagery as a much livelier character. She is Gloriana, the Virgin Queen who set up the foundations of the future British Empire and who brought to England its longed-for and much deserved peace with the consolidation of the Anglican Church, a distinctive version of Christianity synthesising Catholic and Protestant strands[1].
Even when there is some truth to this traditional, popular and simplified view, not many processes have been as tortuous and complicated as the one achieved by Elizabeth I. However, when the Queen died in 1603, it was not yet entirely completed. One of the most complex issues in the study of the Elizabethan Settlement is the disentanglement of the Queen’s own personal religion; that is, what did Elizabeth really believe in.
Traditional historiography described the Queen as being a politique, stating that she was either ‘sceptical or indifferent’[2], that she lacked a sense of morality and religious temperament[3] and even that she was an atheist[4]. Pollard, Neale, Hollis and Black subscribed to these theories, later rejected by the thorough study of her personal Book of Devotions, a task which Haugaard and Haigh undertook wholeheartedly, showing the Queen as a pious and deeply religious princess[5]
Collinson, on the other hand, preferred to look at her actions and behaviour, questioning the historical value of the sole study of the Book of Devotions, and established certain traits of Elizabeth’s religious conservatism such as her dislike of married clergy, her hostility to the destruction of crosses and church monuments, her use of Catholic oaths, and her negative prejudice against the preaching clergy, thus concluding that she was an ‘odd sort of Protestant’[6].
Doran has recently questioned why nobody looked at her correspondence in search of more specific hints on the Queen’s religious ideas. She concludes that her letters expressed a Protestant faith and religious outlook that she evidently held but that, at the same time, having been brought up in an evangelical humanist environment, she disliked the godly and certain faith of the younger generation of Protestant divines that developed during her reign[7], relying heavily on Erasmian, evangelical and Lutheran influences.
Elizabeth was initially cautious with Catholics to the point that certain foreign ambassadors thought, during the first decade of her reign, that reconciliation with Rome could still be possible. Her serious - although not very practicable - marriage negotiations with Archduke Charles of Austria in the 1560’s and with Duke Francis of Alençon – both Catholics – in the 1570’s infuriated her Protestant councillors while giving hope to the conservative ones. This behaviour shows Elizabeth as a highly skilled and shrewd politician, but it also shows that she could approach religion in a Machiavellian way, even risking her Protestant councillors’ patience[8]. Cynical as the approach may seem, Machiavellianism and prevarication were indeed very necessary in the 16th century and the fact that she never decided to marry a Catholic – or nobody at all, for that matter – speaks in favour of her and her Protestant religious commitment.
Doran concludes that, instead of being an ‘odd sort of Protestant’, she was an ‘old sort of Protestant’. Although cripto-Catholics and conservatives among her subjects may have doubted her true commitment to Protestantism during the early stages of her reign, her Protestant subjects were very sure about her sincere Protestant beliefs, and so were foreign Protestant princes and politicians. She addressed them as coreligionists and she was concerned about and tried to prevent dissensions between Calvinists, Zwinglians and those following Luther and Melanchton’s views, which had been expressed in the Augsburg Confession of 1530. She seems to have been more inclined to the latter, but she was nevertheless regarded as the spiritual and political leader of Protestant Europe, being the only free – albeit threatened - Protestant monarch of a powerful country. This view she obviously enjoyed and endorsed. It is possible that the closest we are ever going to get in the grasping of Elizabeth’s personal religion is MacCulloch’s position that she was an old fashioned evangelical with a faith and theological beliefs similar to those of Queen Katherine Parr[9]; a view that has been sustained by both Marshall[10] and Doran[11].

The Elizabethan Settlement

When Elizabeth inherited the crown in November 1558, she soon moved towards the reversal of her late sister’s religious establishment. After some tensions, which I will later describe, this came to happen with the promulgation of the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity in April 1559. The former abolished the jurisdiction of the pope and restored the Royal Supremacy, whereas the latter reimposed the Edwardian Book of Prayer of 1552, with minor alterations, as the official worship of the Church[12]. Anglican tradition regarded the events in 1559 as a ‘distinct middle way between the extremes of Geneva and Rome’[13]. Neale’s view was that, although Elizabeth was aiming at a moderate and consensual Protestantism in the line of the Church of Henry VIII and based on the Prayer Book of 1549, she was forced to a more emphatically Protestant settlement by organised opposition at the House of Commons which had been orchestrated by Puritans who had returned from the Marian exile.
This version of events can not be sustained anymore. There had been a clear tendency towards the second Edwardian Prayer of 1552[14] and it is now more clearly established that the clash that took place in the 1559 Parliament was caused, not by opposition from Puritans in the House of Commons, but by opposition from Catholics and conservatives in the House of Lords[15].
Both bills were passed in the end, but not without a struggle, as all the bishops and nine lay nobles had voted against the uniformity bill. Haigh states that the pressure coming from the House of Lords prevented the clear-cut Protestantism that had been intended for the new Church in favour of a Protestant Church with some Catholic elements or, to sum up and in his own words, ‘a half-hearted Reformation’[16].
Marshall points out that differences between the settlement of 1559 and the Edwardian Reformation seem to support the case. Firstly, Elizabeth was declared ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’, rather than ‘Supreme Head’ which was the title that her father, brother and even her sister, for a short time, had held. Besides this, the new Prayer Book of 1559 modified that of 1552 in its most controversial point, that of the ‘words of administration’ spoken by the minister to those receiving communion. In this aspect, the 1549 formula was preferred, and it was one open to debate, as it could imply the acceptance of transubstantiation, much to the chagrin of godly Protestants. This solution might have relieved some Catholics and conservatives, but it was also indicative of the continental developments that were taking place within the Reformed Church, as Calvin believed in the spiritual presence of Christ in the hearts of faithful communicants and the successors of Zwingli had been moving closer to this position since the 1540’s even though Zwingli himself had been opposed to this view.

Acceptance and Opposition

How were these Acts to be enforced was, of course, a different matter. That ecclesiastical legislation and changes were relatively easy to enact did not mean that the bulk of Elizabeth’s subjects would accept them so easily.
Haigh states that Elizabeth’s known Protestantism might have been the clue for the somewhat unenthusiastic reception she received at her accession[17]. If that was the case it might have been not only because of widespread acceptance of Mary’s Catholic restoration, but also because people might have been afraid of and anxious about a new reversal of religious policies. Elizabeth had, from the very first moment, decided to rely on the Protestants, and proof of this is the appointment of new Protestant councillors led by William Cecil, an openly committed Protestant himself.
The conformity of Marian bishops and conservative lay peers was, of course, essential. The former were quite a consistent group who had served under Mary and who were still fiercely loyal to Catholicism. Deprivation of sees, imprisonment and natural death all took their toll on the bishop’s number and soon Elizabeth had the chance to replace them with her own bishops. To the archbishopric of Canterbury, for example, she appointed Matthew Parker, a committed Protestant who had also been Anne Boleyn’s chaplain.
Due to discrepancies over the content of the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, royal Injunctions were prepared in June 1559. These declared that not all church images were idolatrous, condemning only superstitious abuse. Other revisions included the removal of the altars, which were to be replaced with communion tables that would stand in the altar’s place, and communion was to be given with the traditional wafers.
If the Queen was aiming at the contentment of Catholics and Protestants alike, she was to be disappointed. The planned royal visitations of summer 1559 to impose the royal supremacy, the Book of Common Prayer and the Injunctions on a group of dioceses were to prove a new source of conflict. There was a radical interpretation of instructions on the part of the visitors which resulted in the burning of images and the tearing down of roods and other crosses[18]. The commissioners also summoned the clergy of their circuits for their subscription to the Royal Supremacy, the Prayer Book and the Injunctions and, although many did conform, others did not. Some were dismissed from their posts, but many evaded formal submission.
In short, there was confusion, rejection and, in general, strong reactions on both sides. Elizabeth was outraged by the results, both by the provocative iconoclasm of the Protestants and by the disobedience of the conservatives. She was determined to enforce her concessions on images, but her bishops saw in this a sinful revival of idolatry.
After this new clash with the episcopate, Elizabeth backed down, as it was the potential loss of her Protestant bishops which she now faced and she simply could not afford it having already lost her Catholic bishops. In 1560, bishop Grindal was allowed to enforce demolition of rood-lofts in London churches and in October 1561, Elizabeth herself ordered all lofts to be taken down.
However, parishioners were slow in obeying orders from commissioners and bishops, with the destruction or removal of images and pictures causing more trouble than those of altars. Keeping these and the rest of mass equipment was not only done out of Catholic loyalty, which was the case in some places, but also out of common prudence, as people believed that yet more shifts in religious policy could occur.
The 1560’s saw a struggle to enforce the official worship at the same time as bishops tried to ensure that proper Protestant preachers were installed in parishes. Most of the old clergymen were supposed to be conservatives and, although the general picture suggests that there was no real concern or support for the pope, the rest of their doctrine was Catholic. It was assumed that Catholicism would wane and finally die a natural death when old priests eventually began to die themselves or resigned because of old age.
This came to be true and, although there was a brief revival of Catholic sympathies after the Northern Rebellion of 1569, the people had proven to be loyal to the Crown. This would be further proved more than two decades later, when the schemes of Elizabeth’s nemesis, the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, found little popular support. But this waning away of Catholicism coincided with the bombardment of Jesuit missions sent to England by the pope. In 1570, when the kingdom’s relationships with Catholic powers was rapidly deteriorating, pope Pius V issued a bull of excommunication[19] against Elizabeth, claiming her to be deposed and freeing her subjects from allegiance to her. These measures not only had little support among the populace, they also provoked a hardening of Catholic repression in England.
In search of uniformity, the Elizabethan Church did her job well, not only increasing the number of learned Protestant preachers, but also gaining control of the universities where these were educated. Gradually, the level of conservatism became smaller and smaller, being mainly concentrated in some gentry households and far-away localities.
The evangelical and educational cares taken by the Elizabethan government obtained their reward and, by 1575, it became apparent that Protestant conviction and conformity were now widespread. By the 1580’s, people in the south-east were attending sermons in other parishes if theirs were deemed too conservative, there were private conventicles for prayer and Bible study and there was hostility to popish survivals such as the sign of the cross at baptisms. In Northamptonshire there is evidence of Protestant commitment in 1570, at Hull and Lewes during the following decade, at Terling in Essex in the 1580’s, and at Leeds and York in the 1590’s. In the towns of south-east Lancashire there was substantial Protestant enthusiasm by the 1580’s and in rural Cambridgeshire by the 1590’s.
A Protestant nation was indeed being created, but even Protestants themselves were pessimistic about their achievement, as the country was still divided over religious issues.

Some thoughts

When Elizabeth I died in March 1603 and James I inherited the throne, the Reformation had eradicated the notion of ‘Catholic England’. But England was not yet, however, a fully Protestant country.
There were religious divisions and Protestants were insecure, as popery had not been crushed. At the same time, parish anglicans were, in the eyes of the Puritans, not only failed Protestants but also potential papists.
However, the Elizabethan Reformation was a successful one as it had managed to instil in the bulk of society a true Protestant commitment and a true Protestant structure derived from preaching, education and enforcement of the law. Although it is true that the Church of England was not yet a thoroughly consolidated Church, as the Guy Fawkes incident and religious dissidence were to prove in the reigns of James I and Charles I, at Elizabeth’s death England was no longer the religiously hesitant country of the period from 1529 to 1558, but a nation that had emerged with a self-assured and increasingly mature Protestant identity.

Gonzalo Velasco
[1] Marshall, ‘Reformation England’, p. 114.
[2] Pollard, ‘The History of England from the Accession of Edward VI to the death of Elizabeth (1547-1603)’, pp. 179-180.
[3] Ibidem.
[4] Hollis, ‘The Monstrous Regiment’, pp.28-30.
[5] Doran, Elizabeth I’s Religion: the Evidence of Her Letters.
[6] Ibidem and Collinson, Windows in a Woman’s Soul, in ‘Elizabethan Essays’, pp. 108-114.
[7] Doran, ibidem, p. 720.
[8] Doran, Religion and Politics at the Court of Elizabeth I: The Habsburg Marriage Negotiations of 1559-1567.
[9] MacCulloch, ‘Tudor Church Militant’, pp. 186-187.
[10] Marshall, ‘Reformation England’, p. 117.
[11] Doran, Elizabeth I’s Religion: the Evidence of Her Letters.
[12] Marshall, op. cit., p. 115.
[13] Ibidem.
[14] Marshall, op.cit., p. 116.
[15] Ibidem.
[16] Haigh, ‘English Reformations’.
[17] Haigh, ‘English Reformations’, p. 238.
[18] Ibidem, pp. 242-243.
[19] Regnans in Excelsis.

miércoles, 24 de noviembre de 2010

The Marian Counter-Reformation (1553-1558)


Traditionally, the Marian regime and its religious policies had been studied in terms of ‘reversal’, ‘antithesis’, ‘reaction’; following the famous theory of turning-back-the-clock to 1529, always associated with the sentimental Queen’s memories of a happy childhood in her parent’s yet untouched humanist and orthodox Catholic court. Nowadays it is safe to affirm, however, that the actual picture was far more complex than that.
Although much stress has been put on the insular character of the Counter-Reformation during Mary’s reign, it is now believed that the continental influence in the process was significant. Not only because of the Spanish marriage, but also because of Pole’s great holding on state affairs. It must be remembered that Pole had been living in exile abroad for nearly thirty years before he came back to England in November 1554.
Bearing this in mind, I will try to give a brief description of political and religious events during Mary’s reign in order to elucidate what her Counter-Reformation meant for the realm and if there was indeed a Counter-Reformation in continental terms at all.


Much has already been said about Mary Tudor’s unhappy teenage years after Henry VIII decided to divorce Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn and thus beget the longed-for male heir. The shock was all the most great to Mary as, for years, she had been the pampered only child of the royal couple; a matter of proud and joy, and the presumptive heir to the throne. In the struggle that ensued, Mary sided with her mother stubbornly and defiantly, only giving in to signing the Oath of Supremacy which confirmed her illegitimacy and her father’s position as Supreme Head of the Church in 1536, when both Katherine and Anne were already dead and intense pressure was being put on her on all sides in order to do so. If we are to believe Whitelock[1], this event, which was as much as betraying her mother and all that the latter had held dear, would shape Mary’s character for the rest of her life.
Very well educated, as all of Henry’s children, Mary kept a low profile during the dangerous last years of her father’s reign. This would change, however, when Edward VI came to the throne in 1547 and Mary and her household defied the governments of Somerset and Northumberland by becoming a bastion for Catholics and dissatisfied conservatives[2]
Her displays of public Catholicism wearing rosaries when she went to court or openly attending the mass, resulted in many a problem with the Council and the mounting anger of the king. Although protected before the government by the ever-menacing shadow of her cousin the Emperor, the tensions created got to a point in which she was seriously considering fleeing to Flanders, although she would later drop the intention.
In the spring and summer of 1553, as it became obvious that Edward VI was dying, England and Europe held their breaths while they waited to see what happened next. Although appointed next in line to the throne by both the Act of Succession of 1544 and Henry VIII’s will, Mary and her younger sister Elizabeth were surpassed by Edward’s ‘Device for the Succession’ in order to place their cousin, the protestant Lady Jane Grey – who had been conveniently married to one of Northumberland’s sons – on the throne.
At Edward’s death in July 1553, Jane Grey was promptly proclaimed queen and Northumberland anxiously, but clumsily, tried to get hold of Mary’s person. Aided by her Catholic household and its wide network of connections and friends[3], she fled to different estates of her; thus establishing a Council of her own, writing to the Council and the cities for support and, in short, organising a ‘contre-coup’ that not many thought would succeed. It has even been called by Loach ‘the more surprising event of the 16th century’[4]. The defection of the protestant earl of Sussex to Mary’s side during the first days of the succession crisis would prove decisive in its positive outcome for Mary. It is difficult to ascertain where the interests of the nobles really lay, but it is true that the government of the protestant Lady Jane Grey had no popular backing, whereas there is evidence of genuine and spontaneous popular enthusiasm for the expected return of Catholicism[5].


For, whatever the motives of those who joined Mary in securing her throne, no one could be fooled as to where her sympathies lay. That she was a Catholic everybody knew[6]; and undoubtedly she was going to try to stop the Reformation in its tracks. Although to what extent she would do so was still unknown in the joyful days of August 1553.
The new queen had certainly been acclaimed with the most enthusiastic displays of love and support. While Northumberland, Lady Jane Grey and their families entered the Tower of London as prisoners, old conservative friends such as the Duke of Norfolk or Stephen Gardiner[7] were released. With the depriving of Edwardian bishops that followed and Mary’s well-known love for Spain and her Spanish family, it was easy to perceive the future essence of her reign. However, at this stage, she was prepared to be cautious towards those of the new religion as well as merciful to her enemies. Of the main characters of the Grey fiasco, only Northumberland and two accomplices[8] were to be executed. And on this point, the queen was adamant[9].
Her religious discourse at this point was that of turning back to the religious policies under the last decade of Henry VIII. This measure appeared logical because it would make the dismantling of the Edwardian regime much easier, as it had been the attack on the Mass and the stripping away of an immemorial sacramental and ceremonial order more than loyalty to the pope which had shocked the conservative majority[10].
Cardinal Pole, however, was advising a different approach from the continent, insisting on the need for total disassociation from both Henry and Edward. He feared a more lenient option would lead Mary to settle on a Henricianly influenced version of Catholicism without the pope[11]. In this, Pole was fighting not only against Mary’s own views at the time, but also against the advice of the unbearable Renard, the imperial ambassador, who was asking, on his master’s orders, for caution.
And Mary was ready to listen to Renard, as she had always been ready to listen to Charles V’s envoys; although this time she had even more reasons to do so, for she was seriously contemplating marriage with her cousin’s son, Prince Philip, with increasing enthusiasm.
It was in this context that Mary’s first Parliament met, making important decisions towards the advancement of Catholicism in England. The Acts of Uniformity and all other ecclesiastical laws of Edward VI were repealed and Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon was posthumously reinstated as legitimate.
Although it was an important achievement for the new regime, the Parliament refused to rescind the Royal Supremacy and no punishments were attached to absence from Mass. It was also hinted that any attempt to restore ecclesiastical lands would be resisted[12]
Ignoring the plea to marry an Englishman made by a deputation sent to the queen by the Commons and even by Gardiner, who wanted her to marry the earl of Devon, who was of the royal blood, the marriage with Philip of Spain was arranged in January 1554, as Dickens puts it ‘against the will of Parliament, the advice of Gardiner and at least one third of the Privy Council’.
The Spanish marriage was terribly unpopular due to mounting xenophobia against the Spaniards that can be explained by anti-catholic propaganda during Henry’s and Edward’s reigns, by the justifiable fear of being dominated by a foreign and powerful nation and by the actual expansionist fashion of the Spanish empire.
It has to be argued, however, that dynastically, the Habsburg marriage was a political success. On the Spanish side, the marriage had been prompted by the desire to promote and restore the Catholic faith in England as well as to protect the Netherlands, their coasts and their ever-flourishing commerce. For the English, it meant allying to the most powerful monarchy of the moment, with which there was already a history of steadfast alliance against France. It also placed England at the centre of continental affairs. Besides, the marriage contract was also a diplomatic success for the English. Philip was to be king consort, he was to exercise no real power to forward Spanish interests, he or his son from a previous marriage[13] would have no claim to the throne in the event of the queen dying childless and Philip was to bequeath the Netherlands to any surviving offspring of the marriage, which would also inherit England, of course.


Despite the regime’s efforts to secure popular support and show the impending marriage in a favourable light, the truth is that they were met with general unrest. And unrest was soon to be followed by several risings that were going to prove momentous for the survival of Mary’s reign.
They would take place between late January and early February 1554 and they started with Sir Peter Carew’s rising in Devonshire – backed by the earl of Devon -, followed by Sir James Croft in Wales and the Marches, the Duke of Suffolk – quite clumsily – in the Midlands and, finally, Sir Thomas Wyatt in Kent.
Dickens states that none of them should be seen as protestant crusades and he is most certainly right, although sympathies must have lay within a protestant affinity. Whatever the case, Wyatt appealed to patriotism, relying heavily on anti-Spanish propaganda and concealing from the majority that he aimed at the deposition of the queen[14].
Wyatt had gathered sufficient support for his rebellion to be considered dangerous and Londoners were noted somewhat reluctant to defend the capital[15]. However, in the end, the people sided with the government and Wyatt’s rebellion, as the other risings had been, was crushed.
The consequences were not only the executions of Wyatt, Suffolk and Lady Jane Grey, among many others, but also an even stronger determination on the part of the queen and her government to have their way. Another important outcome was the imprisonment of Elizabeth in the Tower, as she was suspected not only of cripto-Protestantism but also of having been involved in the uprisings. However, she would be released months later at the insistence of Philip of Spain because no determining evidence had been found against her. In the meantime, Gardiner, the new Lord Chancellor, and Renard had been pressing for Elizabeth’s execution and, although the queen had toyed with the idea for a while, it came to nothing in the end.


It was in this atmosphere that Philip arrived in July 1554 to be married to the queen of England. Not very pleased with the physical unattractiveness of his wife, he was conscious however of what was at stake and for months he played a sympathetic and soothing role in English politics while fulfilling his husbandly duties in order to secure a Habsburg-Tudor Catholic heir.
But the year 1554 saw the arrival of yet another crucial character in the Marian drama. In November, Cardinal Reginald Pole came back to his homeland as legate ‘a latere’ representing Pope Julius III, and soon afterwards he absolved the kingdom for the schism. His figure has been widely overlooked by historians[16] but it was him who shaped, with the Queen, the English Counter-Reformation; moreover when Philip left for the continent in August 1555 and Gardiner died the following November, leaving Pole as the most influential man around the Queen.
A man with a brilliant humanistic education, much in the line of that of Mary, and once held in high esteem by King Henry VIII, he had forfeited a brilliant career when he chose to back up Katherine of Aragon’s cause and speak publicly against the divorce, the break with Rome, the dissolution of the monasteries and the persecution and death of More and Fisher. His own family had been decimated between 1538 and 1541, when even his very elderly mother, the Countess of Salisbury, had been beheaded on trumped up charges.
The Counter Reformation owed, therefore, some of its elements to the Italian influence of Pole and the Council of Trent, which he had attended, as well as to the Spanish influence of some of the clergymen that had accompanied Philip, such as Bartolomé de Carranza and Alonso de Castro[17].
The ‘rolling back of the revolution’[18], as Duffy has called it, had started early in the reign. Not only with the repeal of the Acts of Uniformity already mentioned, but also with the reform of the episcopate which soon followed. The Edwardian bishops who did not comply with the new regime, such as Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, had been deprived of their sees and imprisoned. On the other hand, Mary inherited or reinstated sixteen bishops who had served under Henry, Edward or both, such as Bonner of London, Gardiner of Winchester, Thirbly of Ely, Tunstall of Durham and Kitchin of Llandaff[19], and she and Pole made twenty new appointments between 1554 and 1558[20].
Mary and Pole would see to it that the newly appointed bishops came from a university-trained theological background[21]. Examples of this are Brookes of Gloucester, who was a powerful preacher and controversialist; White of Winchester (after Gardiner’s death), also a notable preacher who had been imprisoned under Edward; or Baynes of Lichfield and Coventry, a distinguished Hebraist who had spent Edward’s reign in exile in Paris and who would prove to be a theological supporter of the hard line during the heresy trials[22].The Reformation of the lesser clergy was as important as that of the episcopate and the regime gave great importance to the proper education of clergymen and to the improvement of their preaching methods. At the same time, from the spring of 1554 onwards, all married clergymen who still considered themselves to be so, were deprived of their positions.
The gradually hardening position of Pole and Mary is to blame for the harsher methods employed in the crushing of heretical ideas, with an evident turning point in February 1555, when the first burnings took place.
Everything had pointed in that direction since 20 December 1553, when Mass and daily offices in Latin had been declared the only legal forms of worship in the kingdom. To enforce conformity and uniformity, ecclesiastical authorities knew that exemplary punishment was essential. However, the parliamentary failure of Gardiner’s attempts to revive the heresy laws in April 1554 left the regime without sanctions other than imprisonment, public penance and excommunication[23].
However, the expected reconciliation of the kingdom and Rome on 30 November 1554 and the settlement of the problem of the church property – subject to voluntary devolution – removed parliamentary resistance to the revival of heresy laws[24], which came back into force on 20 January 1555.
These gave way to the most notorious and unpleasant aspects of Mary Tudor’s reign, which would eventually gain the Queen the nickname of Bloody Mary[25], with which she has been known to posterity ever since.
As already mentioned, the burnings started in February 1555 with the execution of the biblical translator John Rogers. Until the end of the reign in November 1558 the number of protestants burnt mounted to a total of 284 (228 being male and 56 being female) with some other 30 dying in prison. It has been established that most of the victims of the Marian persecution were of low birth or status with the notable exception of prominent men such as Latimer, Ridley and, of course, Cranmer, whose successive recantations have been seen as great opportunities for propaganda that were missed by the regime, although this position is arguable. There are two outstanding peaks in June 1556 (with over 20 burnings) and June 1557 (with over 25 burnings) and after that figures start to drop drastically with a sudden increase during the last month of the regime with eleven burnings[26].
The principal sources for the study of the persecution are John Foxe’s ‘Actes and Monuments’ and Knox’s ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regimen of Women’, which makes difficult a proper assessment of fact and exaggeration due to their obvious bias. Our own modern judgement of religious persecution and intolerance coupled with the effective post-Marian protestant propaganda have clouded our interpretations of the events.
It was certainly a brutal repression, but opposition to it seems not to have been as widespread or open as pre-revisionist historiography claimed. Duffy argues that demonstrations against the burnings, although a constant concern for authorities, were geographically limited to a few communities (London and Colchester in particular) and the most alarming occurring early in the campaign and having been orchestrated by protestant activists rather than being spontaneous manifestations of popular discomfort[27]. Loades puts forward similar views and also points out that several descriptions of crowd reaction came from Renard, the paranoid imperial ambassador ‘pessimistically convinced of protestant strength’[28].
On the other hand, Dickens gives much credence to the traditional view of popular outbursts of opposition, claiming that some evidence of distaste and distress came from people who in fact did not share the religious views of the victims[29]. Elton writes about people being reluctant to attend. He also states that the behaviour of those burnt at the stake ‘soon persuaded onlookers that they were witnessing the unjust fate of true believers’ blaming the persecution for the ultimate failure of the Marian regime[30].
But all of this is difficult to assess given that, as Loades points out, the persecution was extremely uneven in geographical terms, with 85 per cent of the burnings taking place on the four eastern dioceses of London, Canterbury, Chichester and Norwich.


One of the most interesting aspects of the reign is the battle of propagandistic writings that emerged on both sides. Praisings of Mary as a new and benevolent Deborah or Judith were opposed to her depictions as a proud and bloodthirsty Jezebel, Herodias or Salome[31]. Knox, for example, compares countries governed by women to idols stating that they do not have a legitimate leader. He writes ‘I call that an idol which has the form and appearance but lacks the virtue and strength which the name and proportion do resemble and promise’[32].
Until recently, the traditional historiography had assumed Foxe’s belief that ‘print and Protestantism go hand in hand, whereas print and Catholicism are assumed to be natural enemies’[33]. Historians such as Martin, Loades or Dickens have claimed a lack of imagination on the part of the Marian regime in order to recognise and exploit the usefulness of the printing press.
However, revisionist scholars such as Loach, Haigh or Duffy have rejected this prevailing interpretation, reassessing the use of propaganda by Mary Tudor’s government. It is true that the volume of production decreased in comparison with that of Edward’s reign, but Mary’s regime knew how powerful a weapon the printing press was and was determined to use it in its favour. Notable examples are Northumberland’s recantation and final speech on the scaffold, tracts on the lawfulness of Mary’s parents’ marriage – thus exploiting a popular figure such as Katherine of Aragon was -; the printing of the Queen’s marriage contract in order to soothe minds; and the list goes on.
Religious books were naturally issued at a high rate and visual propaganda was also not left unattended. Elaborate processions, ceremonies both religious and lay, the ceremony of the King’s Evil were all orchestrated with this aim, among others, in mind.
But the protestant propaganda would prove to be a formidable enemy, criticising not only the burnings, but also the regrettable loss of Calais in January 1558. Besides, Protestantism had the winning hand, as the Queen was to die too soon to complete her Counter-Reformation, to be succeeded by Elizabeth, who would be only too willing to let criticism of the Catholic Church flourish.


What was the legacy that Mary Tudor left when she died on 17 November 1558? We can safely say that Mary’s personal life was an unfortunate one. Her newly found happiness in the Spanish marriage was soon to prove a chimera when it became obvious that she would never bear an English Catholic heir for Philip. The story of her phantom pregnancies and Philip’s neglect is one that inspires pity and her desperate clinging to becoming a mother shows pathetic leanings.
However, from a political point of view, and following recent research by scholars such as Loades, Duffy, Loach or Marshall, her reign was not as catastrophic as it had been hitherto described.
The traditional view portrays a government in crisis ruled by a weak queen with an oversized Privy Council split into antagonistic factions[34] . The revisionist view, however, states that the Marian regime was effective, with a small number of capable men handling most conciliar business and the extent of factionalism having been widely exaggerated by the imperial ambassador Renard[35][36].
There has been undoubtedly widespread antipathy towards Mary for the brutal persecution and burning of Protestants. Elton writes the following about her: ‘The evidence of her recorded words and actions shows her to have been arrogant, assertive, bigoted, stubborn, suspicious, and rather stupid’[37], epithets all of which could apply in different contexts to many politicians of the time – not to speak of those of our times – including the much praised Elizabeth. More sympathetic portraits of the Queen, however, have tended to enlarge her virtues and overlook the weaknesses (it’s the case of Prescott’s ‘Spanish Tudor’), sometimes even ignoring the burnings (as in Pérez Martín’s ‘María Tudor’).
The truth, as in everything, must lie somewhere in the middle. At the time of Mary’s death, the machinery of her regime was working with full power, and the efforts to enforce religious policies had not waned. The reformation at parish and episcopate levels was proving successful and all seems to point out that the prospects for a permanent restoration of Catholicism were good[38]. The resistance of Mary’s bishops to accept the Elizabethan settlement, with the only exception of bishop Kitchin, speaks for itself about the loyalty of, at least, the upper clergy.
The Marian Counter-Reformation was cut short by the Queen’s early death at 42 and that of Cardinal Pole only hours later. What would have happened if she had lived another 27 years, adding up to the 69 that her sister was to live; or if she had given birth to a Catholic heir are questions that will remain unanswered.
Mary was not, by far, a popular monarch. But she was not the widely hated queen of later protestant propaganda either. Probably, on Mary’s demise, her subjects felt, as Philip, ‘a reasonable regret for her death’[39], waiting with excitement and anxiety at the same time, just as Philip did, to see what would happen next.

Gonzalo Velasco Berenguer
[1] Whitelock, ‘Mary Tudor. England’s First Queen’, p.89.
[2] Whitelock and MacCulloch, Princess Mary’s Household and the Succession Crisis.
[3] Whitelock and MacCulloch, ibidem.
[4] Loach, ‘Parliament and the crown in the reign of Mary Tudor’.
[5] Marshall, ‘Reformation England’, p.
[6] Duffy, Loades ‘The Church of Mary Tudor’, p.1
[7] Although it must be noted that the Duke of Norfolk had been a conformist all his life and Gardiner had been an enthusiastic supporter and advancer of the Henrician Reformation, which he had helped shape.
[8] Sir Thomas Palmer and Sir John Gates.
[9] On her negative to execute Lady Jane Grey and others see Prescott ‘The Spanish Tudor’ p. 235
[10] Duffy, ‘Fires of Faith’, p. 37
[11] Ibidem.
[12] Dickens, ‘The English Reformation’, p. 260.
[13] The tragic Don Carlos.
[14] Fletcher, ed. ‘Tudor Rebellions’, p. 84.
[15] Ibidem, pp. 86-87.
[16] Duffy, op.cit. p. 28.
[17] Duff, ‘The Church of Mary Tudor’.
[18] Duffy ‘Fires’, p.1
[19] A man very capable of adapting to all sorts of regimes and religious settlements, having served under Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, being the only bishop to take the Oath of Supremacy upon the latter’s accession.
[20] Ibidem, p. 23
[21] Ibidem.
[22] Ibidem, p. 24
[23] Ibidem, p.94.
[24] Ibidem, p.91.
[25] On a curious note, also the name of a popular tomato juice and vodka based cocktail.
[26] Ibidem 129.
[27] ‘Fires of Faith’, p. 83.
[28] Loades ‘The Reign of Mary Tudor’, p. 276.
[29] Dickens, ‘The English Reformation’, p. 268.
[30] Elton, ‘Reform and Reformation’, p. 388.
[31] Interestingly enough, the same comparisons will be made of all powerful women in the 16th century, including Catherine of Medicis, Margaret of Parma, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I.
[32]Álvarez Recio, ‘Rameras de Babilonia’, p. 86.
[33] Loach, The Marian Establishment and the Printing Press, p. 1.
[34] Jones ‘The mid-Tudor Crisis, 1539-1563’.
[35] Loach, Tittler, eds. ‘The mid-Tudor polity, c. 1540-1560’.
[36] Robison, The National and Local Significance of …
[37] Elton, op. Cit., p. 376
[38] Marshall, ‘Reformation England’, p. 110.
[39] Whitelock, p. 303.