Religious Conflict in Britain

Mary Tudor: Henry VIII had re-instated his daughters under his last will, and provided that they should succeed Edward if he were to die childless, which he did. First in line was Mary Tudor, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and next Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn. Mary was a devout Catholic, and it was widely anticipated that she would return the Church of England to Rome.

Edward’s last regent, John Dudley, maneuvered the young King into signing a will which disinherited his sisters, and left the throne to Lady Jane Grey, sixteen years old, and a cousin of the King. Dudley then married his son, Guilford, to Lady Jane. When Edward finally died, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England, a title which she held for nine days.

The supporters of Mary Tudor, mostly loyal Catholics, defeated Dudley’s forces, Mary was proclaimed Queen Mary I on October 3, 1553 (she was thirty seven years old at the time). Lady Jane was imprisoned in the tower of London for over a year. When her father became involved in a revolt against Mary, she and her husband were beheaded. She was eighteen at the time.

Mary, the devout Catholic, was convinced that her father’s actions must be reversed, otherwise the souls of the English people would be damned. She was good hearted, and well intentioned, but also inflexible. She appointed her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, as Archbishop of Canterbury, thereby removing Cranmer from the post he had held under her father. Pole became her chief advisor. Cranmer was arrested for treason, and also charged with heresy. He recanted his Protestant beliefs under torture, but then denied his denial. He was burned at the stake for heresy, and, as he was tied to the stake, placed his right hand into the flames to ensure that he would sign no more recantations.

Cranmer and others burned for heresy were burned at Smithfield, near Tyburn prison, notorious as the final dwelling of those arrested for treason.

Although Mary was inclined to be merciful, as a devout Catholic she believed she must exterminate heresy by burning prominent Protestants as an example to others. Many fled to the continent when she ascended the throne, but others remained. Mary only reigned for five years, but in that time, 287 people died at the stake for heresy. She had most of the Reformation policies of Edward repealed, and appointed loyal Catholics to church positions.

Mary also needed a male heir, and rather than marry an eligible Englishman, married Philip II of Spain. Philip was the son of Charles V, HRE, and her mother’s first cousin. More importantly, he was Catholic to the core. The marriage caused strong resentment, as many Protestants in England could not bear the thought of a "Spanish King." The marriage was so unpopular that it hurt, rather than helped, the cause of Roman Catholicism in England. It was a revolt caused by the marriage that led to the execution of Lady Jane Grey.

Philip only came to England twice, once in 1554 when the marriage was celebrated, and again in 1557, for "conjugal privileges. He was considerably younger than Mary, and although she cared very much for him, the feeling was not reciprocal. After his last visit, Mary was thrilled when she exhibited all the signs of pregnancy; but the symptoms were not caused by a child, but by a malignant tumor in her uterus. She died of uterine cancer and broken hearted on November 7, 1558. It is a sad irony of history that a gentle yet rigid woman who ruled from her heart is remembered by history as Bloody Mary, and remembered by the fires of Smithfield.

Elizabeth I – "Gloriana"

Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII by Anne Boleyn and half sister of Mary Tudor, succeeded her sister as Queen of England. During her reign, the England became irreversibly Protestant, and the Scottish reformation came to fruition.

Elizabeth had been well schooled, unlike her half sister. Her tutor had been Roger Asham, a humanist scholar and one of the foremost instructors of the day. She was quite intelligent, and under his tutelage learned Latin and Greek, as well as mastery of English vernacular. Her stepmother, Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII was very protective of her, and ultimately rescued her from the advances of a gentleman at court many years older. She learned to speak to English sailors in a language they could understand. She also learned early on that caution as opposed to principled boldness was the wiser course (a lesson her sister Mary never learned). She narrowly escaped execution at the hands of her sister when she insisted that she was loyal to the then Queen. Elizabeth was a shrewd judge of character and learned to not let her emotions interfere with her better judgment. Although she had any number of "favorites," she never married, once informing Parliament that she was married only to England. Elizabeth often had violent fits of temper, some real, some staged, as a way of gaining control. She was exceptionally popular as the "Virgin Queen;" however her failure to marry also meant she left no male heir, which would lead to problems in the latter years of her reign. Her reign was also complicated at times by her indecisiveness. Her natural intelligence allowed her to see both sides of an issue, and this complicated her decision making. She was the last of the Tudor Monarchs of England.

The Elizabethan Religious Settlement: Elizabeth learned early on that the religious question must be settled if she was to be successful. Religion was very important to most people in England, and the previous violent shifts between Catholicism and Protestantism were damaging. There were problems, of course. England had been officially Catholic under her predecessor; to force it back to Protestantism would risk war with France and Spain. However most people, including the Queen, had no desire to remain Catholic.

By the Act of Supremacy of 1559, Parliament recognized Elizabeth as the "supreme governor of this realm in all things ecclesiastical and temporal;" however, unlike her father, she refused the title of "supreme head" of the Church, stating that that dignity belonged to God alone. That same year, Parliament issued the Act of Uniformity, which established a Protestant state church; however its religious tenets were such that Catholics could worship there without damage to their consciences. The Act retained only the two Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, and adopted a modified version of the Book of Common Prayer. Mary Tudor’s former Chaplain, Matthew Parker, as Archbishop of Canterbury. In an attempt to appeal to both Catholics and Protestants, she permitted the clergy to marry, but also continued the Episcopal (bishopric) system. Church ritual remained ceremonial, but theologically, it embraced salvation by faith alone.

Elizabeth stated that she did not wish to establish "windows into men’s souls," and accordingly settled for outward conformity and obedience to law. Sadly, some found her reform of the church to contain too many elements of "popery," and insisted the church must be "purified." They became the English Puritans. In 1570, Pope Pius V (r. 1566-1572) excommunicated Elizabeth and absolved her subjects of their obligations to her; even so most English Catholics remained loyal to Elizabeth. Her government executed 183 religious dissidents, compared to 287 under Mary Tudor; however the executions occurred over her forty five year reign. Mary had reigned only five.

Several attempts were made to revert England to Catholicism by force if necessary. One plot sought to place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, a plot which ended in Mary’s execution in 1587. Additionally, the Spanish Armada sent to depose her in 1588 failed miserably. These events only served to further discredit the Catholic Church in England. By the time of the Armada, Catholicism in England as the state religion was doomed.

Elizabeth was very adept at making herself popular with her subjects. She often made brilliant speeches to parliament and made herself visible to the common folk in travels around the country. During these occasions, she was often splendidly arrayed. This worked to her advantage, together with her ability to charm almost anyone. Among her other accomplishments, she encouraged artists such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward Spenser. She avoided foreign entanglements (George Washington would have been proud, had he been born yet!), normally by semi-flirtatious policies. No monarch would dare attack England if the possibility of marrying its Queen existed. Little did they know that she had decided early on not to share her power or bed with a man.

Elizabeth’s decision not to marry was the source of gossip about her sex life. She did have numerous "favorites," one of whom, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, was ultimately executed for treason. (Elizabeth commonly referred to Essex as her "little frog.") She resisted the urging of her advisors to marry, and ruled successfully for forty five years. In 1601, near the end of her life, she told her subjects:

Though God has raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with Your love….Your prosperity has been my chief concern….My heart was never set on worldly goods, but only for my subjects good.

Elizabeth was a coy actress and sly politician. It is entirely possible that she believed these words herself, as did many of her subjects.

At her death, James VI of Scotland became James I of England. He was the first of the Stuart Kings, and the first King of England and Scotland. By the Act of Union of 1603, the two kingdoms were joined into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Britain still is commonly known as the United Kingdom, and its citizens refer to it as the U.K.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Scotland experienced a rise of Protestantism at the same time as England and for the same reasons: anticlericalism, remnants of Lollardy, and Renaissance Humanism. The Scottish Parliament had outlawed the writings of Martin Luther in 1525; however Lutheran elements gradually infiltrated the country. Dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church had made Protestantism appealing, particularly the wealth of the church. It held one third of the Scottish lands and Church leadership had insisted on payment of church taxes; yet the wealth of the church was enjoyed by a few upper clergy while roughly 10,000 Scottish priests worked without a regular church income (benefice).

James V of Scotland (r.1513-1542) was married to Mary of Guise, a devout French Catholic. When he died, she became regent for their daughter and heir, Mary, Queen of Scots, and was determined to make Scotland permanently Catholic, and allied with France. At the same time, many Scottish barons were equally determined that the country would be Protestant and independent of foreign influences.

Reformation ideas were spread in Scotland by Patrick Hamilton, a humanist of noble birth related to the King. He openly taught Lutheran ideas at the University of St. Andrews from 1523 until the archbishop of St. Andrews accused him of heresy. Hamilton fled to Wittenberg Germany, but returned to Scotland in 1528 when he was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake. Later, George Wishart, a handsome Protestant minister began teaching the doctrines of Anabaptism in 1543. It was he who converted John Knox, a disillusioned Catholic Priest and later leader of the Scottish Reformation. In 1546, Cardinal David Beaton, the archbishop of St. Andrews, had Wishart burned at the stake for heresy. He reportedly laughed out loud as Wishart writhed in agony in the flames. A number of Wishart's friends swore revenge, and in May, 15465 broke into the Cardinal’s bedroom and murdered him. After urinating on his body and draped it over his castle wall as a sign of defiance. They claimed to hold the fortress in the name of Henry VIII of England, and called John Knox to join them as their preacher. The regent, Mary of Guise, summoned a squadron of French warships who took over the castle and sent the rebels to french prison ships. John Knox was sentenced to life in prison as a galley-slave on a French ship.

The Rise of John Knox: Knox spent nineteen months on the Prison ship before escaping and making his way to England where he became a popular preacher while Edward IV was King. It was there that he earned his reputation as the "thundering Scot." When Edward died and was succeeded by Mary Tudor, Knox fled to the continent, and ultimately Geneva where he fell under the influence of John Calvin. He was bedazzled by Calvin’s reforms and longed to institute similar reforms in Scotland. However, Catholic women still ruled Scotland and England. Knox wrote a severely chauvinistic pamphlet: the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women:

[To} promote a woman to have rule in any realm is repugnant to nature, contumely to God, a thing most contrary to His revealed will and approved ordinance, and a subversion of all good order, equity and justice."

Knox remarks were aimed at Mary of Guise whom he railed was an "unruly cow saddled by mistake. Implicitly, he also attacked Mary Tudor. When Elizabeth succeeded Mary, she was so offended by Knox’s remarks that she wrote John Calvin and rebuked him for Knox’s tirades. Calvin was embarrassed, and wrote to Elizabeth that Knox’s comments were in no way aimed at a Protestant Queen such as herself. Elizabeth was sufficiently mollified to send an army to Scotland in 1559 and drive out the French. Mary of Guise died in the ensuing war, and her forces defeated by the English and pro-Protestant Scots. The Treaty of Edinburgh of July 6, 1560, assured that Scotland would be Protestant, and Catholicism was outlawed by the Scottish Parliament on August 24, 1560.

Knox became an enormously popular preacher at St. Giles’s cathedral in Edinburgh. His preaching was often energetic, so much so that he pounded more than one pulpit to rubble with his fists.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots: Mary, the daughter of James V and Mary of Guise, had been in France for most of the turbulence described above. She was married to Francis II of France, but was widowed in 1561 at age eighteen. She was auburn haired and strikingly beautiful, much to the disdain of her strawberry blonde cousin Elizabeth. She returned to Scotland to claim her throne after the death of her mother and regent. She knew that she must accept Protestantism as a political necessity, but privately remained and worshipped as a Roman Catholic, much to the dismay of Knox. Privately, she planned to restore Catholicism to Scotland.

Unlike Elizabeth, Mary determined to remarry and have children. Among those considered was Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, who had been Elizabeth’s favorite. There is some thought that Elizabeth wanted her old flame in Mary’s bed as a spy. Mary was too sharp for this, and instead married Charles Stuart, Lord Darnley in July 1565. Darnley was the grandson of Henry VII (making him Mary’s distant cousin) and was a Catholic. He was strikingly handsome, but unfortunately as stupid as he was handsome, and was also insanely jealous of his Queen, and anyone whom he thought caught her eye. Mary planned for Darnley to be her partner in returning Scotland to Catholicism.

Mary’s half brother, James Stuart, the earl of Moray, was alarmed at the prospect of the restoration of Catholicism, and led a revolt against Mary which failed. Moray and his colleagues fled to England and Mary confiscated their lands while proceeding with her plans to restore the "true religion."

Mary received assistance from Philip II of Spain and the Pope, but also from her secretary, one David Rizzio. She discovered soon enough that her husband, Darnley, was a hopeless blockhead, and turned more and more to Rizzio. Rumors soon spread of an illicit affair between the Queen and her secretary. Darnley was insanely jealous and he with a number of henchmen broke into Mary’s drawing room and murdered Rizzio in front of the pregnant Queen. There is some speculation that Protestant sympathizers were behind the murder and that it was deliberately committed in front of Mary in hopes of inducing a miscarriage, lest she should give birth to a Catholic heir.

Mary in fact gave birth to a healthy baby boy in June, 1566, the future James VI of Scotland, who also later became James I of England the first King of both countries.

Mary fled the Palace on horseback, and not having learned her lesson, soon took a lover, James, Earl of Bothwell. Bothwell was a Protestant and married, but promised to convert to Catholicism as part of his allurement. Mary in the meantime pretended to still care for Darnley and to have forgiven him for Rizzio’s murder. He had a terrible bout of a venereal disease (obviously he felt it was fine for him to play the field even though his wife could not) that so disfigured his formerly handsome face that he had to wear a veil. Strangely, in February, 1567, the house in which Darnley was staying blew up. Darnley had heard the sound of barrels of gunpowder being rolled under the house, and escaped by climbing out his bedroom window; however the killers saw him in the garden and strangled him to death. His body was left lying against the garden wall.

Mary and Bothwell were charged with murder, of which Bothwell was unquestionably guilty; however both were acquitted. When the trial was over, Bothwell quickly divorced his wife and married Mary in a Protestant ceremony. This was too much for John Knox and the Scottish people, and they rose up in arms against the "wicked Jezebel" and her "evil lover." Mary’s army was soon defeated, and Bothwell flew the coop to the continent. Mary was imprisoned again for Darnley’s murder, possibly on the basis of forged letters, and forced to abdicate in favor of her son barely eighteen months old,

James VI was now King of Scotland at aged eighteen months. Because he was Catholic by birth, and expected to become a Catholic king, he had many enemies even as a child. His throne was in continuous danger. A famous nursery rhyme originated warning the infant king of the danger to his throne:

Rock a bye baby, in the tree top.

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.

When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall.

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Mary managed a daring escape in May 1568, and fled to England where she was arrested on the order of her cousin, Elizabeth I. Elizabeth did not want to upset the Scottish Protestants by attempting to restore Mary, but she also did not want to turn Mary over to them for execution, as this would create a dangerous precedent. Her plan was to play for time, and hope that, shut away in a drafty English country house, Mary might die of natural causes. She then kept Mary as prisoner on a country estate for nineteen years. She was not permitted to leave England or to come to Court. Mary was Elizabeth’s closest surviving relative and as such would become Queen of England should Elizabeth die first. Elizabeth was aware of this fact, and that many English Catholics would be more than happy to hasten the event to return a Catholic Queen to England.

Elizabeth was so gun-shy that she avoided any contact with Mary. On one occasion, she asked a courtier who had visited Mary how the two queens compared in height. The embarrassed Courtier reluctantly told her that Mary was taller. Elizabeth responded, "she is too tall; I myself am of a perfect height."

Mary was known to be charming and seductive, so Elizabeth rotated her jailers lest they succumb to her allure. Mary never again saw Bothwell, who died ten years later having gone insane in a Danish prison.

Mary was not happy in confinement, and in 1571 entered into a plot with a group of English Catholics led by Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, who wanted to marry her and return her to the throne of Scotland. He was willing to wait for Elizabeth to die for Mary to rule both kingdoms, but others were less patient, and planned to assassinate Elizabeth. The plan was for Mary to marry Norfolk at the time of a Spanish invasion which was the signal for a Catholic uprising. The plot fell apart, and Norfolk was executed for treason in 1572.

In 1586 there was another Catholic conspiracy led by one Anthony Babington. The plot was uncovered by Elizabeth’s agents who also found evidence that Mary had agreed in writing to support the assassination of Elizabeth and replace her as queen. Elizabeth could not ignore Mary’s treason, and reluctantly allowed her to be tried and executed in February, 1587.

Mary was beheaded, as was the common form of execution for persons of noble birth. Common people were typically hanged. As if to have the last say, Mary appeared at her execution wearing a red dress, considered scandalous. She also wore a wig so that when the executioner tried to pick up her severed head, he was left with only the wig in his hand.

Philip II of Spain, outraged at Mary’s execution and at Elizabeth’s failure to surrender Sir Francis Drake to him, sent the Spanish Armada to invade England. The Armada failed, and Protestantism was permanently sealed as the official state religion of Great Britain.

James VI (also James I) was raised a Calvinist Protestant, and was as vain of his abilities as an amateur theologian as had been his grandfather, Henry VIII. It was James who sponsored the beautifully lyric translation of the Bible known as the King James Version. James was often called the "wisest fool in Christendom." Under his reign, the two kingdoms were united in 1603.