Lecture 13: Reformation in Europe and Britain in the 16th Century
Course: Church History II
Society of Jesus – Council of Trent
When I left you the other day, I had taken a break from the story of the English reformation to talk about the revival of Catholicism, and I talked about two things in particular, one was the organization of the Society of Jesus, known to us as the Jesuits, and the other was the Council of Trent. These two things which were not unconnected with each other together form the main elements in the recovery of the Catholic Church after the reformation. It’s very hard to say what would have happened had neither of these things taken place, but what we can say is that, as a result of the Council of Trent, which was although initially intended to reconcile protestant and catholic views, ended up stating a Catholic theology which was really a point-by-point refutation or opposition to the protestant position, especially the Lutheran position. The fact that that happened, created a Roman Catholic Church which was narrower in its theology, but more clearly defined, than had ever previously existed. It’s important to remember that the Catholic Church as we know it today or at least as it existed until the 1960’s and the second Vatican council is as much a product of the reformation as any protestant church is. Although the institution, the papacy and so on may have continuity with the middle ages, the doctrine and the style, above all, the style, the way in which the Church functioned was very much the result of a response to the challenge which the protestant reformation made. We’ll be looking at this as we go along, but just to give you that rough idea to begin with.
Conflict: England, France, Holy Roman Empire(Germany)
Now, if we look at the three major areas where there was conflict during the reformation, not the only places where the reformation took place, but the three areas where there was conflict, which are England, France, and the Central European conglomeration which is known as the Holy Roman Empire, but is sometimes just abbreviated to Germany, which is all right as long as you understand it includes Switzerland, and Holland, Northern Italy and all sorts of other places. We find a pattern like this.
England broke with Rome in 1534, basically, a political action, not a change of doctrine. Protestant doctrine is introduced for the first time in 1547. And in 1553, thanks to the change of sovereign, the return to Catholicism. That’s the English pattern.
In France, 1534 is the year of Calvin’s conversion. 1541 is the year of his second installation in Geneva, where he remained for the rest of his life. And, 1554 is the date at which the first protestant churches in France were officially organized. There were Protestants before this, and Calvin was one, but they were not actually organized in a church structure. In 1554, Calvin authorized the French Protestants to organize themselves along the lines which the Church in Geneva used, functioning in a somewhat similar way. After this date you have a defined French Protestantism, a French Protestant Church as opposed to people who were sympathetic to the reformation. You actually have a rival, ecclesiastical organization from this date.
In Germany, you have the Augsburg confession in 1530, which is really the first definition of Protestantism. Of course Luther pinned his thesis on the church door in Wittenberg a long time before that, but during the 1520’s, what a protestant was and who was a protestant was a bit fluid. It wasn’t clear what the boundary lines were. From 1530, with the Augsburg confession it was, because either you signed it or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you weren’t a protestant. Then in Germany, 1545 is the Council of Trent. The Council of Trent met in a series of different periods: The first one from 1545 to 1547, the second one from 1552 to 1553, and the final one from 1562 to 5163. In 1555, there comes what is known as the peace of Augsburg, signed between the emperor Charles V on the one hand, and Princes of Germany on the other. According to this peace treaty, a principle which is known in Latin as … ‘Whose Kingdom His Religion”. In other words, the official religion in any particular area would be the religion of the ruler of that area. If you didn’t agree with the ruler of that area, then you would be given every assistance to leave and go somewhere where the local ruler agreed with you. Given the kind of situation at that time, this was a very progressive and tolerant measure because the state was actually prepared to pay to help people move house. Quite a number of people did, in fact, move as a result. This was quite a good solution for Germany. It was possible in Germany, because Germany was cut up into hundreds of little states. So, most people didn’t have to go very far. Most German states were about the size of counties in Alabama; it wasn’t difficult to do.
Now this could not happen in France, because France was a single country under a single ruler. Even more, it could not happen in England, because England was not only a single country under a single ruler, but it was also highly centralized, much more so even than France was at this particular point. I give you this comparative thing so you can see what is happening in the different areas at more or less the same sort of time.
By the middle of the 1550’s, it looks as if things are beginning to settle down for the longer term. And that was certainly true in Germany. The settlement of 1555 remained untouched until 1618 when quarrels over it led to warfare in Germany. But when the war was over in 1648, the 30 years war, the peace in 1648 went back to something very much like the peace of 1555. So you can say that the outlines of confessional division between protestant and catholic in Germany were more or less settled at this time.
The appearance of settlement in France and in England is deceptive. That’s what I want to talk about today. It looked as if perhaps some kind of equilibrium was being reached, but in actual fact, in neither country was there even the beginning of long-term peace.
England in 1553 went back to Rome more or less willingly. The one thing parliament was determined that the pope was not going to do was take back the monastic lands. As long as the land settlement was left untouched, they didn’t particularly mind whether they were Roman Catholic or not. Which shows that for all the changes that had taken place in the previous reign, and orchestrated by the archbishop, hadn’t really sunk in very deeply. The tradition of obeying the king, or in this case the queen, was much stronger in England than any notion of Protestantism at this particular point.
Now, that might have been the end of the story, England might have returned to the fold of the Catholic Church, and become every bit as much Catholic as Spain or Ireland or Poland, but that didn’t happen. We need to think for a few minutes why that didn’t happen. The first reason was the instability of the government. In the 16th century when we talk about the instability of the government, what we mean is: the succession is not clear. Mary was very well, but what would happen after her? No one knew how long she would live. People in the 16th century on the whole did not live all that long. Mary was already 37, she was unmarried, and she had no children. What are the chances that she is going to produce a credible successor? Despite her best efforts, she failed in that. Failure to produce a credible successor for a 16th century ruler is failure with a capital F. Because it means that when you die, everything you’ve done goes down the drain. There was no state system the way there is today – no civil service which basically runs the country regardless of what the government of the day does. Everything is very highly concentrated in the hands of the monarch. That was why it was possible to go back and forth from Protestant to Catholic just by the king saying so. Mary was not a long-term proposition, because she did not produce a credible heir.
Now, if that had been her only problem, it would have been bad enough, but there were many more.
Mary was unforgiving. She was not willing to accept that Archbishop Cranmer had done the will of her father, in granting her father an annulment of the marriage to her mother. She was not prepared to accept that the Archbishop was willing to retire or even work under her. She was determined to have her pound of flesh and she insisted on trying him for heresy. She succeeded in getting the heresy trial held, Cranmer was condemned, he recanted on several occasions but Mary didn’t want to know about that, she was determined that Cranmer was going to be burnt at the stake. On the 21st of March, 1556, he was. But 1556, you are talking nearly 3 years after Mary takes power. The longer it dragged on, the more sympathetic people were to Cranmer. They realized he was being victimized for something that really wasn’t his fault. If he’d stood up to Henry the 8th back in 1533, and said you are not divorcing Catherine of Aragon, he would have been burnt at the stake a long time before. It would have been best simply to forget it. But Mary could not forget. That was a very bad thing for a ruler. It might be quite admirable in a daughter, but in a ruler of a country this was not a good thing.
Mary was very unlucky in her choice of husband. Phillip of Spain, whom she married, was not only half her age, but he in 1556, became king of Spain when his father, Charles V, abdicated. Charles actually abdicated and went into a monastery and spent the last two years of his life repenting for his sins and so on. Phillip became king of Spain and this meant of course that he had to leave England. Phillip’s leaving England in turn meant that Mary’s hope of ever having a child disappeared.
But worse than this, Spain was at war with France. And because the queen of England’s husband was the king of Spain, England was at war with France. And England did not want to go to war with France at this particular point in time. The only result of this from England’s point of view was that the city of Cally(?), which is the port opposite Dover on the English channel was lost. It had been in English hands for a couple hundred of years, but it was lost at this point. It’s been French ever since. So, England lost out in a war which she did not want and which she only got involved in because the queen of England was married to the king of Spain. Not good Propaganda.
Phillip as king of Spain was head of the richest and most powerful Catholic state in the world. He had a vested in interest in seeing that the decrees of the Council of Trent were implemented. Mary’s connection with Phillip meant that England was going to be the laboratory for this experiment -.how to make a Protestant country Catholic once again. A whole series of measures was devised for doing this, ranging from founding seminaries to cleaning up the process by which people were chosen for the church, all kinds of things and all sorts of reforms were suggested.
Return Monastic Lands to Church
But, at this point, Mary decided as an act of personal piety that she was going to give back to the Church the monastic lands which had been kept by her father. Her father sold off a lot of them to rich people, but he kept a fair share, and Mary decided that she was going to give these lands back. Now the agreement when she had taken the throne was that the church would not ask for these lands back again. Parliament had insisted on this. So what Mary was doing was not, strictly speaking, illegal. But if you live in an absolute monarchy, and the absolute monarch starts doing something, this is a very powerful signal that those who wish to be on her good side will follow suit. This made the parliament absolutely panic. It was made up largely of men who had profited from the sale of monastic land. Mary’s support, such as it was, vanished where she needed it most, in the government, because people saw that it was only a matter of time before their land would be taken away from them.
Mary Tudor’s Persecutions
Mary also initiated the persecution of ordinary people for heresy. She was determined to root out anybody who had any kind of opinion which might even vaguely be regarded as protestant. During her five year reign, something like 370 people were burnt at the stake. By modern standards, 370 people is nothing, but in the 16th century 370 people was an enormous number. What is more, Mary didn’t do this quietly. She thought that the best thing to do was to burn people at the stake in public on market day in the square so that as many people as possible could watch this edifying scene and realize that they would be next if there was anything even slightly heretical in anything that they think, say, or do. Now, it’s a matter of historical fact that most of these people who were put to death went to their deaths quite courageously. The impression that was created was that innocent and high-minded and even noble people were being put to death for no very obvious reason. As the early church discovered, the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. The people who gathered round to watch these burnings on the whole, far from reaffirming their Catholicism, began to think that this is not quite what we want. The new regime of Mary and the restoration of the old religion is a nastier prospect than people had previously imagined. A number of people began to question whether this really was the right way forward.
Now, at the same time, a number of protestant people, people in the universities particularly, people who had been close to the archbishop before his arrest managed to escape the country. When they saw the trouble coming, they got on a boat and got out. Most of them landed up in Frankfurt in Germany. Don’t ask me why they landed up there. It’s not the most obvious place. They gathered there. There was a flourishing English congregation in Frankfurt. Now who should be the head of the church in Frankfurt but John Knox. He got out of England quickly. John Knox was the kind of person that if he was in the church, he was going to lead it. How anybody understood a word of what he said we don’t know, because he was Scottish, remember. He ran this church in Frankfurt. Knox regarded this as an opportunity for carrying the reformation further. In other words, all the things that he had been prevented from doing in England before, because they might upset people, like Archbishop Cranmer and so on, now he could do. He could throw off vestments. Now we can wear black gowns. And simplifying the worship along what we would now identify as Presbyterian lines. Presbyterian is the wrong word to use at this particular time, but moving in that direction. Instead of a Catholic style liturgy, a kind of hymn sandwich.
Knox in Frankfurt
This might have carried on without any real problem. There were people in the Church of Frankfurt who did not like what Knox was doing mainly because they felt it was illegal. The type of worship which the exiles had taken with them was not what they had particularly chosen, it’s what the government had imposed in 1552, the prayer book of 1552. They were very conscious of doing what was the legal thing before Mary came to the throne. They felt that if there was going to be any change, it wasn’t that they were against change as such; it ought to be agreed by everybody and made legal. That was not John Knox’s point of view. But, if you were in a church with John Knox, and you were just an ordinary person, you kept your mouth shut and didn’t say anything.
So, it might have continued, except in 1555, one of Cranmer’s closest associates, a man by the name of Richard Cox appeared. He escaped from Oxford, and he turned up in Frankfurt. And because he had been a very prominent person in the government before Mary had taken over, he had worked on the 1552 prayer book; it was partly his composition to some extent. He turns up all of a sudden in the exiled church in Frankfurt and challenges Knox on this. He said: You are taking people away from what was officially legally established as the protestant faith. And you are sewing dissension and discord. Cox, as a government official did not believe in standing up and arguing with peasants like Knox. Cox went to the town council of Frankfurt and said: this guy Knox is a trouble maker, we had to put up with him in England, and it is just as well that he left, he was becoming a pain in the neck and now here he is trying to cause dissension in the English Church here in Frankfurt. Could you please remove him? And Cox being a government type, a civil servant, knew how to put this, and who to put it to, and how to get his way. Before very long, Knox was told to leave the city because he was being a trouble maker.
Geneva Bible 1560
Well, Knox left with those in the church who followed him. He took a fairly substantial number of exiles with him and they went to the only place they could go, where they would be welcome, which was Geneva. Towards the end of 1555, for the first time, a British reformer comes into one-to-one contact with John Calvin. That is John Knox. John Knox and John Calvin meet each other. Knox became the minister of the English Church in Geneva. He set about on a new project altogether which was a new translation of the Bible into English. Because, Geneva at this time was the major center for biblical studies in the world, Calvin’s right hand man and associate, a man by the name of Theodore de Besze in his French incarnation, or Theodore Beza in his Latin form was working on Greek manuscripts in Geneva, (in fact here is the Codex Bezae which is named after him) to produce a better text of the Bible. It was this more advanced text which Knox and his companions used as the basis for their translation. This translation is known to us as the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible appeared in 1560. It was by far the best translation of the Bible into English which had been produced up until that time, if only because it was based on the best available manuscripts. However, Knox being Knox wasn’t content with a translation. Tyndale believed, in his naivety that ordinary people could read the Bible for themselves and figure out what it said. Knox was not so simple minded. Knox put notes in the margin to tell you what it meant in case you didn’t know. When it came to things like the anti-Christ, Knox would put in the margin, pope. So the Geneva Bible came complete with notes of this type. Knox was a good businessman as well. Previously Bibles had been produced either in such small quantities that they were sold out before anyone knew they had arrived, or they were so big, folio size, that you couldn’t carry them around. They were chained up in churches and things like this, and no one could really afford them. The Geneva Bible was the first affordable Bible. It was pocket size, nicely printed. It was a Bible the average person could actually buy and carry around with them. It was mass produced and sold very widely. It was the Bible that people like Shakespeare grew up on, because it was the Bible they could afford to buy. It was what was readily available. It was the Bible which more than anything else created the Puritan movement. Needless to say, the marginal notes sank in. The Geneva Bible remained the most common Bible for the average person until the 1630’s. It was the Bible that was brought by the Pilgrim father’s on the Mayflower. It was not until about 1650 that it finally disappeared and was superseded by the Bible we call the King James Version. But, it is interesting to note that when the King James Version finally did take over, it took over so completely that the Geneva Bible has disappeared. From 1560 onwards, for nearly 100 years it was the common Bible of the ordinary person. And, it did a great deal to spread Puritanism in England. In Scotland of course, it was adopted as the official Bible of the church, once Knox got back there. And it had the important side effect of teaching the Scottish people to speak English. The fact that Scotland is now an English speaking country is due to this. There was a Scott’s dialect, it was a dialect of English in a way, but Standard English was introduced into Scotland through this Bible.
Mary Tutor and Reginald Pole Die
This might have gone on and come to no effect whatsoever, except in 1558, Mary died on the 17th of November. Cardinal Pole who had been her right hand man died 12 hours later. He died a natural death in his bed, and I believe he is buried in Westminster Abbey which goes to show you there were no hard feelings at the end.
This opened the way to the return of the exiles who began flooding back into England at this particular point. The new queen, Queen Elizabeth was not altogether welcoming of them. She didn’t want to keep them out. She was broadly sympathetic to their aims, their views and what they had suffered, but she realized also that the years of exile had radicalized these people. Having been in Geneva, they had a much clearer idea of the kind of reformation they wanted to introduce into England, than they had had before. They were much more confident in their understanding of the kind of thing they wanted to see changed.
Now, Elizabeth is an enigma. No one really knows what she personally believed. This is not because she did not have personal beliefs of her own. But, Elizabeth, unlike her sister Mary had a lot of common sense. She was not going to let people know any more about her personal beliefs than was absolutely necessary. Not because she was ashamed of them, or anything like that, but she recognized that in her position as queen the best thing for her was to find a solution to the religious problem which most people could live with whether it was what she particularly herself wanted or not. And then once a common policy was agreed, she would adopt it and say this is what I believe, and stick to that through thick and thin until she died. That is what happened. This is why we don’t really know to what extent what is called the Elizabethan settlement of religion at that time really reflects her personal views. What we do know is that once it was introduced she accepted it and she expected everybody else to accept it, and there was to be no budging from there.
Supreme Governor of the Church 1559
Elizabeth did not want to break with Rome. Remember when she took over, the Church was still in communion with Rome. Elizabeth made no move to break the connection once again. She refused to be called the Supreme Head of the Church. Instead, she took a different title which was Supreme Governor of the Church. Head being a controversial word, because the Puritans thought Christ was the head of the church, not the king. So, she took the title Supreme Governor, which is still the title of the British monarch today. Queen Elizabeth the 2nd is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, not the supreme head of the Church of England, even though nobody seems to realize this. That is what Elizabeth did in 1559.
Elizabeth couldn’t be Catholic
She brought back as much as she could of the way things had been before her sister Mary took over. Now, Elizabeth was stuck as far as the Catholic Church was concerned. She didn’t want to alienate Catholics if she could avoid it. But on the other hand she could not become openly a Catholic herself, quite apart from her beliefs, which were probably not Catholic; she was probably a Lutheran, if she was anything in theology. But quite apart from she wasn’t in favor of Catholicism as a theology, if she had accepted the Roman Church, she would have had to abdicate because according to the papacy, Elizabeth was illegitimate. She had been born to Henry the 8th and Anne Boleyn, before Catherine of Aragon was dead. Because the annulment of the first marriage was never recognized by Rome, Elizabeth was a bastard as far as the pope was concerned. And because of that, she had no right to be queen. Therefore she was kind of stuck. Elizabeth had no intention of abdicating. The situation being what it was, she more or less had to be a protestant whether she wanted to or not. But even so, the pope did not excommunicate her until 1570. For eleven years there was a kind of wait and see, not to sure, iffy kind of situation where it wasn’t quite clear what was going to happen in the long term.
Meanwhile, other developments were taking place. In France, the protestant churches had organized in 1554, and within a very short time, there were 3000 registered protestant congregations. Now, obviously, they didn’t just spring up out of nowhere. These were people who had been around before who were now organizing themselves. Large tracts of southern France became protestant; the majority of the population accepted the reformation. The most important convert was the queen of Navarre, Queen Jeanne, accepted Protestantism. She married a French nobleman who also accepted Protestantism. Their son Henry of Navarre was brought up as a Calvinistic protestant, but through his father he had a claim to the throne of France. Eventually he became king of France as Henry the 4th and provoked a crisis because he was a protestant king of a country which was still a majority Catholic. Henry had to decide whether he would accept Catholicism or not. He did. That was the beginning of the end for Protestantism in France. But this is looking ahead.
In 1559, there was a national synod of the French Protestant church in Paris which devised a confession of faith. It’s called the confession de La Rochelle. It became and has remained to this day the main confession of faith of the French protestant churches. The French Protestants realized that the only way they were going to survive was by organizing themselves militarily. They had to have some kind of protection in order to persuade the French king that it would not be a very good idea to attack them. In order to do this, they called on mercenaries from the Holy Roman Empire, from Germany, Switzerland, and so on, and these people came into France and were known as the confederates. The German word for confederate was corrupted into French as Huguenot, probably. The French Protestants have been known ever since as the Huguenots. They were organized, ready for battle if battle was to come. The big question that France had to face at this stage was: Is it going to be possible to tolerate a religious minority in the state? Can you have one country, but two religions? France was having to face this issue at this time
Mary Queen of Scots
But before anything could be done, in 1559, the same year that the confession of faith was drawn up, the king, Henry the 2nd, died. He was jousting, and he got hit in the eye by a lance, and he died of that. He was succeeded by his teenage son who we know as Francis II. Francis II didn’t last long and is totally unimportant historically, except that he was married to Mary Queen of Scots. When we last had a look at Mary, she was a 5 year old girl who was spirited out of Scotland in 1547, and taken to France where she was raised at the French Court and was betrothed and eventually married to the son of the French King. So she became queen of France in 1559 when she was 17 years old. This did not last long. Sixteen months after Francis became king, he was dead of earache. Mary was left as an 18 year old widowed queen. What were they going to do with her? Well, the only thing they could think of was send her back to Scotland, she is queen of Scotland as well. Mary’s mother had been holding the fort in Edinburgh. She died in 1560. Scotland was up for grabs.
Knox to Scotland
Things were complicated by the fact that one of the people who wanted to go back to England in 1558 was John Knox. But, Elizabeth put her foot down. There was no way she was having him back in the country. The main reason for this was shortly before, when Mary Tutor was still on the throne; Knox had written a pamphlet against her called “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women”. Everybody tried to persuade him not to do this, even Calvin told him it was a bad idea to do this and he would live to regret it. But Knox was not to be dissuaded. He produced this thing saying that no woman was fit to rule. Because Mary was a woman was why all the troubles had happened in England, the return to Catholicism that if you had a real man in there that none of this would have happened. This was not a good argument. Everybody but Knox saw how stupid Knox was being. When Mary died and Elizabeth came to the throne, Knox said, here I am, I’m coming back. Elizabeth said, Oh no you’re not. I read that tract. She said you are not coming back, this is seditious, it is against me as much as it is against my sister. At this point, Knox starts falling all over himself. Elizabeth saw that even Knox had his uses. So, although she wasn’t prepared to let him back into England, she was quite happy to give him an army and let him go back to Scotland, and bring the reformation to Scotland.
In 1560, you have a convergence of forces. You have the mother of Mary Queen of Scots who is holding the fort in Edinburgh on her last legs; she’s just about to die. You have Mary Queen of Scots heading back north to reclaim her kingdom. And you have John Knox with an English army appearing on the scene, basically taking over. Knox got there first. On the 17th of August in 1560, he called together an assembly of the Church of Scotland and they voted for the reformation, with a little encouragement I have no doubt from the English army. Knox immediately took over the church and the state, and introduced in Scotland a Geneva style reformation, more or less overnight. He could do this because the regent in the castle was breathing her last, and the Queen had not yet arrived. But no sooner had Knox settled in to rule everything then who should turn up but 18 year old Mary Queen of Scots, fresh from the French court, barely able to speak English, she couldn’t really communicate very well, French was the language that she spoke because she had spent most of her life in Paris. Here she is turning up in Edinburgh. John Knox wasn’t against having a queen. But his idea of monarchy was taken straight out of the Old Testament. He regarded Mary Queen of Scots rather like King David, and saw himself as either Samuel or Nathan or some other prophet who basically told the king what to do, and told the king off when the king was doing what the prophet didn’t think the king should be doing.
Now Mary of course, having been brought up in the French Court had a rather different idea of morality from that of John Knox. As an 18 year old widow, it didn’t take long for that to manifest itself. Before very long she was sleeping with so many different noble men in the kingdom that nobody really knew who she was with on any given occasion. She was in fact officially married off to one of them, Lord Darnley. But when her son was born in 1566, nobody really knew who the father was. Now Mary herself didn’t know any better, she had been brought up in France, the French do this kind of thing without thinking about it, and how was she to know any better. As far as she was concerned, John Knox was the court preacher, and how would you feel if you were an 18 year old reasonably beautiful young girl and you have to go to church every Sunday and listen to this dour old minister all dressed in black telling you about the evils of Disney World, which is basically what John Knox did. He certainly wasn’t backward in coming forward about Mary’s faults which he discovered every single one even before they were committed. Knox had a great imagination when it came to sin and managed to find sins in Mary that even she didn’t know about.
Mary flees to England
As soon as Mary’s son was produced, Knox and people around him realized that Mary’s usefulness was over. As a result of various intrigues, Mary realized that she had to flee for her life and she did so, and she landed up in England, in February of 1567. Well, this was not what Elizabeth had asked for for Christmas. Elizabeth did not want Mary Queen of Scots in England. Not least, because Mary was the successor to the throne, probably. She was distantly related through Henry VII. By most people’s reckoning, if Elizabeth had died, Mary would have become queen. Mary was Catholic of course. So, this would have meant going back to Rome. In 1567, the situation with Rome was still not clear. Elizabeth hasn’t been excommunicated yet; nobody’s to sure what is going to happen, so Mary’s arrival could reinforce the desire to keep in the good books of Rome. That did not happen.
Pope excommunicates Elizabeth – Calls for revolt
On the 18th of February in 1570, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth at last, and said in the bull of excommunication that all good subjects of the English Queen must revolt against her and do their utmost to put her to death, as a notorious heretic. Well, that is not exactly the best way to ensure good relations for the foreseeable future.
Mary who was a very prominent Catholic, who was successor to the throne, at this point suddenly becomes the focus of all the hopes of the Catholic party for a recovery of their position. Now, Mary was under effective house arrest. House arrest in the 16th century was not quite the same thing as it would be today. Lots of people came and went; she had a lot of contacts. Mary could not resist plotting against her cousin. Well, she had a lot to gain. Elizabeth discovered 5 or 6 plots against her life in which Mary was involved. It is quite a remarkable thing, because every time Elizabeth discovered these things, she resisted putting Mary to death. She didn’t want to put Mary to death for several reasons; one because putting a queen to death was not a good precedent; they were related; Elizabeth had no personal feelings against Mary; and she didn’t really want to have blood on her hands. But eventually the plotting got so notorious, and Elizabeth’s ministers begged her and said: Your Majesty, for goodness sake, get rid of this terrible woman because you will be next. She will stop at nothing. You will pay with your life for your folly in not executing her. So, in 1586, Mary was put on trial, the trial produced lots of evidence which was against Mary, but juries were different in those days, they didn’t acquit people because they were prominent. She was forced to face the fact that she had taken part in many plots over the years, and so she was condemned to death and beheaded. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots was in February of 1587. This of course is a very famous event, made even more famous by a pseudo historian in modern England, who goes by the name of Lady Antonia Fraser, if you go to Barnes and Nobles and buy a biography of Mary Queen of Scots, it will probably be Antonio Fraser’s biography that you will buy. Antonio’s biography is one of the great books of 20th century English history, because on page 601 of the paperback edition describing Mary’s trial, Lady Antonio says: “Despite her lowly position without council Mary never at any time lost her head.”
This meant that the hope that a Catholic queen would succeed to the English throne on the death of Elizabeth was dashed. Mary’s young son, James VI, the King of Scotland, was brought up in the strictest Presbyterian way. He read theology morning, noon and night. He became the most educated king ever to reign in any country anywhere. But given the kind of upbringing, he didn’t know who his father was, his mother was taken away when he was six months old, he grew up in a court where he was practically disregarded, because John Knox was not going to be pushed around by a baby, even if the baby was king. James had terrible personality problems. He wasn’t Catholic, and that was what counted. He was a strong protestant, at least on paper. So there was no hope for that.
If England was ever going to be re-Catholicized from the top, the only way to do it was by invasion. Who was going to invade? Phillip the King of Spain, because as Elizabeth’s brother in law, remember he had been married to Mary, he had some kind of claim, he thought, to the English throne. He organized a fleet, the famous Spanish Armada which set sail in 1588 in order to invade England and put Elizabeth to death or put her in jail and take over the country and restore Catholicism, if he possibly could. The Spanish Armada was defeated. Legend says that it was defeated by people like Sir Francis Drake. The truth is that the Spanish Armada was destroyed by wind and weather off the coast. It was good at the time from the propaganda point of view. Because Elizabeth could claim, and indeed did claim, that her victory was not due to mere things like feats of arms, it was divine intervention, because God controls the wind and the waves. After that, Queen Elizabeth could do no wrong.
By the time she died, she had so carefully integrated her life with that of the country as a whole that her religious settlement of 1559 by then was accepted. What might have been a temporary expedient in 1559, turned out to be a lasting settlement. It did not solve the Puritan problem. It acquired a cache of respectability and of divine approval which it might not otherwise have had. Elizabeth when she died was deeply respected, not least because of her own personal self-sacrifice. By not marrying, and not having children, she made it possible for James of Scotland to become King of England and thereby unite the two countries peacefully. Elizabeth psychologically occupied in people’s minds the place that had been removed by Protestantism of the Virgin Mary. She was the virgin queen.