Protestantism In England During The Reign Of Elizabeth

Chapter VII --Protestantism In England During The Reign Of Elizabeth


Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII. by Anne Boleyn, came to the throne without opposition. During the reign of her half-sister Mary her life had hung by a thread. Gardiner had a will to "go roundly to work" with her, and Mary at times was possessed with a similar inclination. But the revolt of the popular mind against the sacrifice of the princess, and the danger of aggrandizing France beyond measure by leaving Mary Stuart the nearest heir to the English crown, served as an effectual shield to Elizabeth. Severities against her were limited to imprisonment, and the demand that she should conform to the Roman Catholic mode of worship,--a demand to which Elizabeth could accede without large sacrifice of personal scruples. Though not a few may have entertained the suspicion that she would go wrong in her religious policy, the nation generally gave her a welcome.


It was not as the enthusiastic champion of any particular faith that Elizabeth began to rule. She proclaimed no purpose to revolutionize the existing order of things. For a time she even continued to attend Mass. Equally remote from the spirit of radical Protestantism and from Roman Catholic bigotry, she was more nearly akin in disposition to a Lorenzo de' Medici and other representatives of the Italian humanism than to a Calvin or a Plus V. Without ambition for speculative clearness, concerned more for æsthetics than for logic, she preferred a sort of mean between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant schemes. While superior to the grosser phases of traditional Romanism, she liked much of the old ritual, was decidedly in favor of the celibacy of the priesthood,

1 Cecil wrote to Archbishop Parker in 1561: "Her Majesty contiuneth very ill affected to the state of matrimony in the clergy; and if I were not therein very stiff, her Majesty would utterly and openly condemn and forbid it" (Strype's Parker, i. 214.)
insisted upon having a crucifix in her chapel, and would have opened the churches to images but for the resolute opposition of the bishops. Prescribed ceremony was more to her taste than free address, and on one occasion she expressed the conviction that four or five preachers were enough for a county. She disliked irregularities, and could be tyrannical in asserting her high notions of the royal prerogative. But it was only outward uniformity that she insisted upon. She had too little dogmatic zeal to be interested to force her individual creed upon her subjects. Like Cecil, her chief counselor, who served her so faithfully during her long reign, she made the political the dominant standpoint. She held that an independent style of worship would be a disorderly and disrupting factor in the realm; but with private belief, or with a moderate expression of private belief, she did not care to interfere, provided the belief was not in its very terms a challenge to the legitimacy of her rule.


However far Elizabeth might have been willing to tolerate Romanism, she was forced, by her position, to renounce its claims. The fanatical Pope, who had demanded more than even Mary was willing to concede, naturally failed to come to any agreement with Elizabeth. His requirement that she should submit her right to the crown to his decision provoked, of course, the scorn and aversion of the proud Queen, and forestalled every thought in her mind of acknowledging the papal headship.

On the demand of Paul IV., see Sarpi, Istoria del Concil. Trid., lib. v.; Pallavicino, lib. xiv. According to Sarpi, Paul IV. carried his ill-timed boldness so far as to mention the feudal dependence of England upon the Roman See.


Parliament, in 1559, restored the Act of Supremacy, by which the sovereign was made the head, or, as the new version of the title ran, Supreme Governor of the English Church. The Act included a clause empowering the Queen to name commissioners for the exercise of her ecclesiastical authority. On this clause was founded the Court of High Commission, destined to win an evil name by its arbitrary proceedings. The royal supremacy was supported by penalties ranging from forfeiture of goods and chattels to the pains of high treason, according to the number of the offense. The same year the Act of Uniformity was passed, requiring every minister to use none other than the established Liturgy, under pain, for the first offense, of forfeiting goods; for the second, of a year's imprisonment; for the third, of imprisonment during life. To secure the conformity of the laity, absence from church without reasonable excuse was made punishable by fines. Very little show of opposition was made to these measures. The bishops, indeed, with one exception, refused to comply with the demands of the government, and were deposed. But out of nine thousand and four hundred clergy only about two hundred lose their positions by a decided refusal to accept the new order of things.

Strype, Annals, i. 255; Neal, History of the Puritans, i. 82 ed. 1842. A larger number probably evaded the requirement. Not a few rendered only a partial and mixed conformity.
Some revision was made of the second Prayer Book Of Edward VI. A few items most obnoxious to Romish prejudice were omitted or modified. The Forty-two Articles which had been propounded under Edward were reduced by convocation, in 1563, to the Thirty-Nine which have held their place in the English Church down to the present. These articles were confirmed by Parliament in 1571, and subscription to them was made obligatory upon all priests and teachers of religion. By an Act of 1563 all holders of office, lay or spiritual, were required to take oath of allegiance to the Queen, and to abjure the temporal authority of the Pope. A second refusal of the oath was to be reckoned as treason. But it would seem that there was no serious intention to use all the rigor which the Act legitimated; for instructions were given that great caution should be employed in tendering the oath to Romish recusants, and that it should in no case be proffered a second time without previous consultation with the higher authorities.


In general, the actual dealing with Roman Catholics in the early part of Elizabeth's reign was much milder than the laws. No doubt it was only a maimed sore of tolerance which they enjoyed, and individuals were subjected to considerable hardships. But, as has been freely allowed by Roman Catholic writers, 1 Charles Butler, Historical Memoirs of the English, Irish and Scottish Catholics, 3d ed., i. 345-347, 352, 353. there was no general and severe persecution. Elizabeth had been on the throne nearly twenty years before a single priest was capitally punished for what any one would wish to call the exercise of his religion. 2 Strype'e Parker, ii. 134. But thereafter severities were greatly multiplied, and we have the record that before the end of the reign of Elizabeth about two hundred -- a large proportion of whom were priests --had been executed, and several score had died in prison. 3 Dodd's Church History, iii. 159-170; Butler, i. 398. It is a question, however, to what extent these executions fall under the category of religious persecution. The government certainly based them on political rather than on religious grounds. It is true that the laws under which capital inflictions took place allowed any active propagation of the Roman Catholic religion to be construed as treason. This was especially the case after the year 1584, when all Jesuits, missionary priests from foreign seminaries, and priests ordained since the first year of the reign, were made liable to be adjudged traitors if found within the kingdom after a certain date. But, on the other hand, as appears from the statements of Cecil and Walsingham, the government claimed that those who suffered came to their deaths in reality as agents and abettors of an assault against the throne. 1 Hallam, Constitutional History, chap, iii. How far this claim was well founded will appear from the following facts: (1) In the year 1569 a rebellion was started under the auspices of some of the leading nobles, the avowed object of which was the restoration of the old religion. The rebellion was also in the interest of the Queen of Scots, and there is no reasonable ground to doubt that if it had come to a successful issue Elizabeth would have been dethroned in favor of the Scottish queen. (2) In 1570 Pope Pius V. declared Elizabeth deposed, proclaimed her subjects absolved from all allegiance to her, and forbade them to obey her under pain of excommunication. 2 Wilkins, Concilia, iv. 260 261; Collier, Eccl. Hist., vi. 471-474 (3) The same Pope welcomed the project which was negotiated by Ridolfi, in 1571, for dethroning Elizabeth by means of a Spanish invasion. In this plot, whether with or without the Pope's cognizance, the assassination of Elizabeth, as an advantageous preliminary to the invasion, was coolly discussed. 3 Froude, x. 208, 250; Green, ii. 382, 383. (4) The successor of Pius V., besides appointing a jubilee in honor of the Saint Bartholomew massacre, patronized an insurrection in Ireland in 1579, as a preparation for a descent upon England. (5) The attempt of Philip II. to conquer England was at the same time a papal project, and was preceded by the stipulation that Philip should hold the crown of that kingdom as a fief of the Holy See. 1 Ranke, History of England, i. 318. (6) The immediate heads of the party upon whom the capital sentence was mainly inflicted were the industrious allies of Rome and Spain in the whole series of projects for invading England and dethroning Elizabeth. We refer to William Allen, who inaugurated the scheme of foreign seminaries as training schools for Roman Catholic refugees from England,

These seminaries, with the dates of their foundation, are given as follows: Douay, 1569 (temporarily transferred to Rheims); Rome, 1579; Valladolid, 1589; Seville, 1593; St. Omer, 1596; Madrid, 1606; Louvain, 1606; Liege, 1616; Ghent, 1624.
and to Robert Persons (or Parsons), the superior of the Jesuit mission in the English realm. In 1576 the earliest of the foreign seminaries began to pour its missionary priests across the channel, and in 1580 the first contingent of Jesuits, including the eloquent and ill-fated Campian, entered the country and engaged actively in the work of reviving Romish zeal and devotion. It is probably true that the seminary priests and Jesuits were not sent out with any commission for political conspiracy, and that most of those who came to the scaffold had not been guilty of any specific effort for the overthrow of the government. But it is undoubtedly true, on the other hand, that their superiors were active agents and organizers of political revolution; 1 Butler, i. 419-422. Berington, a Roman Catholic priest, complains bitterly of Persons as a restless intriguer (Steinmetz, History of the Jesuits). that they themselves declined to render a satisfactory denial of the Pope's authority to depose the Queen; a
2 Butler, i. 429, 430; Berington, Introduction to Memoirs of Panzani, quoted by Blunt, Reformation of the Church of England, ii. 459. Berington criticises those who were arraigned as follows: "They seemed to consider themselves as the subjects of a foreign master, whose sovereignty was paramount and whose will was supreme."
and that they would have powerfully assisted any promising attempt at revolution inaugurated under the papal sanction. In their own view, indeed, they were martyrs for religion, and there is no need to deny them the honor of a self-sacrificing and heroic devotion to their cause. At the same time the government cannot be blamed for regarding them as agents for executing the revolutionary schemes of their acknowledged head the Pope of Rome, though the capital inflictions, in the absence of clear proof of direct complicity in treasonable attempts, must be condemned.


Six years after the Jesuit emissaries entered England came the culminating conspiracy. A seminary priest by the name of Ballard is supposed to have been the prime mover, though the conspiracy takes its name from Babington, a young gentleman who engaged with several companions to kill the Queen. The plot, which included in its design assassination, insurrection, and invasion, was avenged in the blood of the chief English confederates, and drew after itself a consequence no less serious than the execution of Mary Stuart. She had been a prisoner in England for a long time, and by virtue of her position as a Roman Catholic and the next claimant after Elizabeth to the English throne, was the centre, whether with or without her knowledge, of all Romish plots. Being declared guilty of complicity in the Babington conspiracy, she was brought to the scaffold in 1587. This startling act of vengeance urged to a speedy execution against England of a great project which had been under consideration, and in 1588 the Grand Armada set sail from Spain, to be destroyed by British valor and the fury of wind and wave.


The unpatriotic and treasonable course of the more zealous and bigoted section of English Romanists naturally tended to the disadvantage of the much larger number who had showed exemplary loyalty and patience, and helped greatly toward the ascendancy of Protestantism. If the majority of the older generation still inwardly maintained their preference for the old faith, a majority of the younger generation in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign were well purged of any inclination to Romanism. The instruction of the people passed gradually from the hands of priests who had reluctantly abandoned the Romish rites to those who had an inward sympathy with Protestantism, and whose influence was also aided by better morals than had characterized the old order. "By the close of the Queen's reign the moral temper as well as the social character of the clergy had greatly changed. Scholars like Hooker could now be found in the ranks of the priesthood, and the grosser scandals which disgraced the clergy as a body for the most part disappeared. . . . The influence of the new clergy was backed by a general revolution in English thought. The grammar schools were diffusing a new knowledge and mental energy through the middle classes and among the country gentry. The tone of the Universities -- no unfair test of the tone of the nation at large-changed wholly as the Queen's reign went on. At its opening Oxford was a 'nest of Papists,' and sent its best scholars to feed the Catholic seminaries; at its close the University was a hotbed of Puritanism." 1 Green, History of the English People,ii. 404, 405.


In mentioning Puritanism we have mentioned Elizabeth's thorn in the flesh. Indeed she hated the Puritans not a whit less than she did the radical Papists.


As previously indicated, the rise of the Puritans is explained by the conservative cast which the English Reformation assumed under the supervision of the crown. To ardent minds it seemed that the movement was hindered from reaching its proper goal. Familiarity with foreign models increased their dissatisfaction. Many who had been exiled in the reign of Mary, came back from Strasburg, from Geneva, or from Zurich, with a pronounced distaste for pomp and prelacy. They began to criticise, to make protests, to seek amendments of the established worship and polity. They were answered with persecution, and persecution naturally urged them to more uncompromising views. Being placed under constraint by the crown, while they commanded a large following in Parliament, they were naturally inclined to be advocates of Parliamentary privilege. Moreover, the type of government which they favored in the Church could hardly fail to suggest to their minds that civil government is best ordered where the monarchical feature, if not eliminated, is at least restricted. 1 Compare Macaulay, History of England, i. 44, 45.


In the first years of Elizabeth the feature of the establishment which was specially obnoxious to the radical reformers was the use of the surplice and other vestments which had a popular association with the Romish worship. The imposition of these habits was nothing more than a piece of governmental policy or prejudice. The people were not fond of them. The bishops with few, if any, exceptions would gladly have dispensed with them. 2 Neal, History of the Puritans, i. 92, 93; Soames, Elizabethan Religious History, chap. i.; Zurich Letters, nos. xv., lx., c., and cxi., ed. 1846. But Elizabeth was pertinacious in the demand that her servants should appear in the prescribed livery. In addition to the obnoxious vestments, there were certain ceremonies and practices which evoked censure.

3 The petition presented to James I. at his accession indicates the points relating to the church service upon which most stress was laid. Neal gives them thus: "That the cross in baptism, the interrogatories to infants, baptism by women, and confirmation may be taken away; that examination may go before the communion; that the ring in marriage may be dispensed with; that the service may be abridged; church songs and music moderated to better edification; that the Lord's day may not be profaned, nor the observation of other holidays strictly enjoined; that ministers may not be charged to teach their people to bow at the name of Jesus; and that none but canonical scriptures be read in the Church" (i. 228).

Between 1570 and 1572 the controversy advanced to a more serious stage, and the constitution of the Church, as well as its fashions, was called in question. Under the lead of Thomas Cartwright, whose views caused his ejection from Cambridge University, it began to be asserted that the Scriptures gave no warrant either for the name or the function of archbishop or archdeacon, and that the powers of the bishops ought to be greatly retrenched. In fact, a distinct attack was made upon prelacy, and the leaning of the Puritans to an essentially Presbyterian type of church government was made manifest. Cartwright, in his controversy with Whitgift, maintained at once the binding obligation of the New Testament model, the parity of the original bishops among themselves, and the limitation of their oversight to a single congregation. 1 a convenient summary of his arguments is given in B. Brook's Memoir of Cartwright, chaps. iii, and v.


While the Puritans considered themselves justified in a measure of non-conformity, they were not for the most part separatists. Some of their number, it is true, withdrew into separate congregations. We read of one of their assemblies in London being broken up by the authorities in 1567, and a hundred of its members being put under arrest. Separation, however, was not the approved policy. The more distinguished representatives of the Puritan party thought it better to remain in the Church and to labor for its reformation. The advocacy of separation, as a matter of principle, became especially characteristic of those who held the most democratic views of church government, who contended for the self-governing faculty of each individual congregation, and thus became the fathers of the Independents or Congregationalists. Such were Robert Brown, Barrowe, Greenwood, and Robinson. As refusing communion with the Established Church and sharply assailing its constitution, they were treated with great severity. Some found refuge in Holland. Several,including Barrowe and Greenwood, were sentenced to death under a harsh and forced construction of the Libel Act. 1 The feeling of the authorities had been exasperated against the sectaries by a series of violent tracts, dating from 1588, and known as the Martin Mar-Prelate tracts.


From the year 1564 to the end of the reign of Elizabeth the work of disciplining the Puritans was one of the constant tasks of the government. If the zeal of the bishops relaxed in this work, the Queen's sceptre became a goad to urge them forward. Parker, her first archbishop, served her as a faithful instrument, though not without some inward reluctance. Grindal, who followed, earned her displeasure by too great a leaning to liberty. Her third archbishop, the energetic and dogmatic Whitgift, needed no spur. Under his administration the Court of High Commission became an effective instrument of ecclesiastical rigor. With unlimited prerogative of inquiry it combined the right to fine and imprison. Being largely determined in its operations by the archbishop, it had the odious character which attaches to a personal despotism. But if Whitgift did not save his reputation, he gained his immediate aim. He had the satisfaction of seeing the Puritans checked and non-conformity greatly restrained. His satisfaction however, would have been much less,could he have foreseen that the check was only as a dam to heap up waters whose accumulated force would soon loosen the foundation stones of the ecclesiastical structure.


While the Puritans suffered from the intolerance of their opponents, they were not themselves advocates of tolerance. They believed generally in an established religion, and in substantial penalties for offenses against religion. As respects the relations of Church and State, they contended not for a divorce, but for an adjustment which should leave the Church in a less servile relation to the civil power.


It is noteworthy that throughout the first stages of the Puritan controversy the upholders of the established polity took a moderate ground as respects its sanctions. They were content to maintain that it was agreeable to Scripture and to Christian history, and, as being introduced by the lawful authority of the realm, should be accepted by all loyal subjects. They did not dream of asserting for it an exclusive validity. The arbitrary and sectarian notion that the New Testament authoritatively prescribes a specific form of church government came from the Puritan rather than from the prelatical party. A high Presbyterian preceded a high episcopal theory. Cranmer and his associates had no thought of the divine right of episcopacy. To unchurch those who were living under a Presbyterian economy, or to dispute the proper ministerial character of those who had received only Presbyterian ordination, did not enter the heads of the great body of Elizabethan divines. 1 Macaulay, i. 56, 57. Even a man of such controversial and high-church instincts as Whitgift, made episcopacy nothing more than an admissible and desirable institute. He used language involving an unqualified denial of its necessity, in that he declared against the necessity of any one specific type of polity. "I find," he says, "no one certain and perfect kind of government prescribed or commanded in the Scriptures to the Church of Christ.... Notwithstanding government, or some kind of government, may be a part of the Church, touching the outward form and perfection of it, yet it is not such a part of the essence and being, but that it may be the Church of Christ, without this or that kind of government." 1 Works, i. 184, 185, Parker Society edition. Richard Hooker, who took up the controversy, and in his "Laws Of Ecclesiastical Polity" made the most celebrated reply to the teachings of Cartwright, argued from the same standpoint. He remarks: "He which affirmeth speech to be necessary among all men throughout the world, doth not thereby import that all men must necessarily speak one kind of language; even so the necessity of polity and regiment in all Churches may be held without holding anyone certain form to be necessary in them all." 2 Book iii. chap. ii. - Hooker, to be sure, thinks the Scriptures favorable, rather than otherwise, to episcopacy. "If we did seek," he says, "to maintain that which most advantageth our own cause, the very best way for us and strongest against them were to hold even as they do, that in Scripture there must needs be some particular form of church polity which God hath instituted, and which for that very cause belongeth to all churches, to all times." 3 Book iii, chap, x. That Hooker refused to proceed in this way, which he regarded as controversially most advantageous, shows the clearness of his conviction that it was a way of falsehood. The advantage, however, which the gifted author declined to use, men of a different calibre were beginning to seize upon. A sermon by Bancroft in 1589 (or February, 1588, by the old reckoning) announced the divine right of episcopacy.

1 So the sermon has commonly been interpreted, though Hallam fails to find in it so large a meaning. G. G. Perry regards the sermon as marking a new era in the controversy by asserting for episcopacy that divine right which the opposing party had claimed for presbytery (History of the Church of England, pp. 343, 344. Compare Hook, Archbishops, x. 195).
This was novel doctrine at that time, and was far from claiming general acceptance even among those not infected with Puritanism. It appears also that the first advocates of the doctrine hesitated to carry it to its extreme consequences. Early in the reign of James I. the Convocation of Canterbury, under the presidency of Bancroft, adopted a canon which was plainly meant to recognize the Scottish Church--then without any regular episcopacy -- as a part of "Christ's holy Catholic Church." 2 Grub, Ecclesiastical History of Scotland. ii. 282. Again, in 1610, at the consecration of the Scottish bishops, Archbishop Bancroft declined the suggestion of Andrews, Bishop of Ely, that the candidates, as not having received episcopal ordination, should first be ordained presbyters, maintaining "that thereof there was no necessity, seeing where bishops could not be had, the ordination given by the presbyters must be esteemed lawful, otherwise it might be doubted if there were any lawful vocation in most of the reformed churches." 3 Spottiswood, History of the Church of Scotland, iii. 209, ed. 1851. It was not to be expected, however, that the subject would rest at this point. The claim of divine right must be followed by more intolerant pretensions, else we should observe here an exception to the general tendency of ecclesiastical hierarchies, Christian or pagan, to forget moderation, when once started on the road to self-deification. We shall find Bancroft's doctrine bearing fruit in the time of Laud. Nor is it a barren doctrine in our own day; for the whole scheme of sacramental magic which is taught by modern ritualism hangs upon the doctrine of the divine right and unbroken succession of bishops, as channels of authority and grace.


While the Puritan controversy ruffled the ecclesiastical surface, the general condition of the English nation, during the later years of Elizabeth, was one of peace and prosperity. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada the danger of foreign invasion, which had hung as a threatening cloud upon the horizon, was no longer a cause of serious apprehension. In this time of lessened tension English talent reached its opportunity to anglicize the Renaissance, and the era was begun which is immortalized by the names of Shakespeare, Spenser, and Bacon.