The Roman Catholic Restoration In The Reign Of Mary (1553-1558).

The Roman Catholic Restoration In The Reign Of Mary (1553-1558).


The harm which resulted to the Protestant cause from the defective administration under Edward VI. was augmented by the plot of the Duke of Northumberland to change the succession. An unscrupulous ambition was the mainspring of the plot, though the Duke made it appear to the dying King and to others that he was consulting for the perpetuity of the noble system of faith and worship just completed. Lack of public sympathy wrecked his enterprise, and the outcome was a sad list of executions, among which was finally included that of the guileless, devout, and accomplished girl,--victim to the intemperate scheme of those who placed the crown upon her reluctant brow, --the Lady Jane Grey. To add to the disheartening effect of his futile attempt, Northumberland upon the scaffold abjectly recanted his Protestant faith, or rather declared that it had never been his except in pretence.


The accession of Mary though immediately threatening to the reforms which had been accomplished in the preceding reign, was not understood by the nation to imply a reunion with Rome. Since the death of her mother Catharine, that is, for nearly twenty years, she had professed to accept the Anglo-Catholic system devised by Henry VIII. It was felt, therefore, that she might be content to carry the nation at least no farther back than to that system. Had a different conclusion been entertained, no small amount of that friendly assistance of all parties which eased her way to the throne would have been withheld.


But the nation misjudged the mind of the Queen. While in her public acts Mary at first recognized the ecclesiastical independence of England, and bore the title which had been conferred in the Act of Supremacy, she at the same time entered into secret communication with the papal court. The national feeling found little response with her. Her heart was with Rome and Spain. By inheritance from her Spanish mother, as well as by memory of the wrongs which her mother had suffered, she was rendered in disposition and sympathy more Spanish than English. Her Spanish bent was speedily revealed in her obstinate determination, contrary to the will of Parliament and the nation at large, to accept the hand of Philip II. The marriage was consummated about a year from the beginning of her reign, the most that the opposition could effect being a careful limitation of the powers of the foreign consort. On the Spanish side the marriage was regarded as a politic step toward the universal monarchy which Charles V. was aspiring to found, and Philip II. treated it as little else than an accessory to political advantage. He remained in the country not much over a year, quite to the satisfaction of the people, but much to the anguish of the Queen, who lavished an affection upon him that he in no wise returned.


The Spanish match was rightly regarded by the discerning as a prophecy of a relentless assault against Protestantism. There was no long waiting for the fulfillment. Toward the close of the year 1554 Cardinal pole returned to England as papal legate.

1 Pole, who was related to the royal family, and in his earlier years was highly regarded by Henry VIII., had resided on the Continent since 1532. His return at an earlier date had been rendered impossible by his attempts to concert an armed invasion of England, for the purpose of bringing back the country into the unity of the Church. For a complete account of Pole's career see W. F. Hook, Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, vol viii., or vol. iii. of the New Series.
Measures were now hastened through for subjecting the kingdom to the papacy and the Roman Catholic faith. A subservient Parliament responded to the demands of the court. The whole ecclesiastical legislation of the preceding reigns was swept away, with the exception that it was provided that the property which had been confiscated and secularized should not be restored. Full connection with Rome was resumed. The sanguinary laws against heresy were revived, and a fierce crusade was begun against the Protestants.


The character of the persecution is no subject for doubt or speculation. It was persecution for heresy, for the crime of believing contrary to the mediæval dogmas. The insurrectionary attempts which occurred may have exasperated the authorities. But those who shared in rebellion were hung for that crime. Those who were sent to the stake were condemned on the specific charge of heresy. In many eases the denial of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass was the sole ground of sentence to the fire. No record and no profession of loyalty had any power to rescue. The persecution was not even in pretence anything else than a means of avenging defection from the Roman Catholic faith and of restoring that faith to supremacy.


The chief responsibility for the persecution admits of more inquiry. Some differences of opinion have been elicited. But most of the grounds needed for a probable conclusion are at hand. These grounds lead us to divide the responsibility between the Queen, her chancellor Stephen Gardiner, Cardinal Pole, and the Queen's Spanish advisers. While Bonner, Bishop of London, won peculiar infamy in the persecution, there is reason to conclude that he was rather the harsh executioner of the victims than a responsible author of their apprehension and arraignment. 1 "What made him odions was the vulgar, bullying personalities in which he indulged when the heretic, brought before him as a judge, provoked his angry passions" (Hook, Lives of the Archbishops,. vii. 311).


That the Queen took a leading part in initiating and urging on the severities cannot be questioned. No one of her subordinates excelled her in intolerant zeal or fanatical preference for the Romish Church. As she declared to Parliament, she believed that "she had been predestined and preserved by God to the succession of the crown for no other end save that He might make use of her above all else in the bringing back of the realm to the Catholic faith." In pursuing this end she identified pity with criminal weakness. Edicts issued under her authority express surprise at a relaxation of the prosecutions against heretics, and authorize extreme rigor in dealing with the guilty. 2 Burnet, Collection of Records, part ii. book ii. nos. 20, 32; Wilkins, Concilia, iv. 177. With a zeal mounting into ferocity, a few months before her death she ordered the sheriff of Hampshire immediately to execute a convicted heretic, whose recantation had caused the officer to withhold him from the flames." 3 Burnet, Reformation, ii. 568.


Gardiner's share in the persecution was probably not so great as has sometimes been represented. In restoring the severe laws against heresy he no doubt fulfilled an active part. But in this, however agreeable it may have been to his own way of thinking, he was urged on by the will of the sovereigns. 1 Ranke, History of England i. 204, 209; Massingberd, The English Reformation, p. 429. That he was really in favor of persecution is implied by the correspondence of Renard, the ambassador of Charles V. 2 Such at least is the inference from Froude's references to that correspondence (History of England, vi. 196, 197). On the other hand, we have the fact that he stood aloof after the first executions, and that his death, near the end of 1555, placed no check upon the carnival of intolerance. The conclusion seems to be that Gardiner, who was more politician than dogmatist, favored at the outset the execution of some of the influential leaders of the Protestants as a means of terrorism.


Pole has frequently been praised as an exponent of mild and tolerant principles. No doubt his position in previous years had been that of a somewhat liberal Roman Catholic, as opposed to the party of uncompromising bigotry. No doubt he preferred gentle measures when they would avail. But the fact remains that when he was the Queen's most trusted and influential adviser, the executions continued, and that men and women were burned in his own See of Canterbury. He evidently connived at the whole ungodly proceeding, and, more than that, helped it on in its later stages. 3 Wilkins, Concilia iv. 173, 174. He either did not wish to check the persecution, or else did not dare to do so, lest he should give countenance to the charge of heresy which was cast out against himself by the fanatical Pope. 1 Hook, Lives of the Archbishops, viii. 384-391.


Be respects the Spanish advisers of the Queen, two facts might appear to be in favor of their exculpation. The ambassador of Charles V., while he urged to great rigor against rebels, opposed persecution for heresy as being impolitic; and the chaplain of Philip II. publicly criticised the burning of the distinguished victims with which the crusade opened, declaring that such violent methods were contrary to the spirit of the gospel. As to the first of these facts, it may be replied that the politic ambassador could not compel the Spanish theologians who had access to the Queen to see with his eyes. Moreover, a historian of that nation has given credit to Carranza, who became the Queen's confessor, for bringing many, and among them Archbishop Cranmer, to the flames. 2 Fernandez, quoted by Massingberd, p. 436. As to the sermon of the royal chaplain in favor of tolerance, it was simply a piece of official hypocrisy to ward off odium from Philip, whose popularity at best came near a perilous deficit. The same chaplain, Alphonso de Castro, was the author of a book on the Just Punishment of Heretics, -- previously published, and published again after the sermon, -- in which the violent repression of heresy is explicitly advocated.

3 The following will serve as a specimen: "Nullum est gravins haeresi peccatum, nullum est ergo crimen, cujus odium sit Christiano viro magis incutiendum, et inde per consequens sequitur, ut nullum sit crimen pro quo justius aliquis possit occidi, quàm pro haeresi fixa at insanabili. Si Martinus Lutherus cùm primum coepit effundere venenum suum, et legitime admonitus noluit resipiscere, fuisset (ut decebat) capitis animadversione punitus, caeteri timorem habuissent, et non prorupissent tot tanque pestiferae haereticorum factiones, quales, proh dolor, hodie Germania sustinet" (De Justa Haereticorum Punitione, lib. ii, cap. xii., Antverpiae, 1568).
On the whole, it is difficult to escape the conviction that the Spanish advisers of the Queen, Philip himself included, helped to supply fuel to her intolerant zeal.


During the persecution about two hundred and eighty persons were burned at the stake, nearly a hundred, as is computed, died in prison, while many hundreds purchased safety by exile. The stamp of peculiar infamy which attaches to the reign of Mary is due not so much to the number of the victims as to the mode and the grounds of their execution. The burning of two hundred and eighty persons for heresy in the space of three and a half years stands without parallel in English history. The preceding one hundred and fifty years, during which the Lollard Statute had been in force, fails to give record of such an aggregate of victims; while the long reign of Elizabeth presents five instances of burning for heresy, and that of James I. adds two more. Other reigns were disfigured by violent persecutions; but in the unique horror of burning men alive for their religious opinions, the reign of Mary Tudor must bear forever in English annals an odious distinction.

1 Tierney, a Roman Catholic priest, whose learned notes have added much to Dodd's Church History, makes this candid acknowledgment: "As to the number and character of the sufferers, certain it is that no allowances can relieve the horror, no palliatives can remove the infamy, that must forever attach to these proceedings. The amount of real victims is too great to be affected by any partial deductions. Were the catalogue limited to a few persons, we might pause to examine the merits of each individual case; but when after the removal of every doubtful or objectionable name, a frightful list of not fewer than two hundred still remains, we can only turn with horror from the blood-stained page, and be thankful that such things have passed away" (Dodd's Church History, ii. 107).


Among the first to suffer were Rogers, Bishop Hooper, Lawrence Sanders, Bishop Ferrar, Rowland Taylor, and Bradford. It is narrated of Rogers, who was the protomartyr of this reign, that he seemed to be transported above all sense of pain, and bathed his hands in the flames as if they had been cold water. Sanders kissed the stake, and died exclaiming: "Welcome, the cross of Christ! Welcome, everlasting life!" Taylor journeyed toward the place of his execution as toward a place of pleasant fellowship and rest. Coming within two miles of Hadleigh, he cheerfully remarked: "Now I know I am almost at home. I lack not past two stiles to go over, and I am even at my Father's house!"


But the victims, who from their eminence attracted most attention, were Latimer, formerly Bishop of Worcester, Ridley, Bishop of London, and Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Ridley and Latimer were burned at Oxford, Oct. 16, 1555. Cranmer was burned at the same place, March 21, 1556.


If he was not the most scholarly of the three, Latimer is perhaps the most interesting on account of his strongly marked individuality. As respects doctrine, it was only by slow degrees that he broke sway from the Roman Catholic system. His interest was preëminently on the side of the practical, and the staple of his sermons corresponded. In the pulpit he rarely indulged in theological subtleties, his aim being to quicken the conscience of the people, and to lead them to a devout and upright life. In pursuance of this aim he used plain language and homely illustrations, though never descending into vulgarity. The simplicity and directness of his sermons were a reflex of the man. "He was," says Demaus, "a straightforward, upright man, who meant what he said, and practised what he taught; one who never sunk the man in the mere theological polemic, in whose eyes sin was always worse than error, and a pure life of more importance than a mere orthodox creed. This love of practical religion it was Latimer's mission to infuse into the English Reformation." 1 Biography of Hugh Latimer, p. 525. With this simplicity, honesty, and love of practical piety Latimer joined an equally courageous and humorous bent. He had indeed his hour of weakness, and under the great pressure that was brought to bear upon him (1532) signed a list of articles which carried with them implications that he strongly opposed in heart. But on the whole he was a man of conspicuous courage. He reminded the highest of their duty and responsibility with the same freedom as the humblest. He did not shun to address this bold charge to Henry VIII. while urging him to remove the prohibition against the circulation of the Bible: "Wherefore, gracious King, remember yourself; have pity upon your soul; and think that the day is even at hand when you shall give account of your office, and of the blood that hath been shed with your sword." Latimer had the qualities of the true censor. The moral earnestness, directness, and fire with which he sent home his denunciations of wrong remind of the Jewish prophet. At the same time he escaped the unpleasant impression which is apt to be made by the censor's office, through his abounding humor. His humor, indeed, was a prominent element of his power, a chief means of stamping truth upon the hearts of the people or of putting opponents to rout. Among other instances we have the following: A friar, whom his brethren put forward to answer the popular preacher, had argued from the pulpit that if the people were allowed to read the Bible, they would pervert the meaning and be led utterly astray. The ploughman, reading that no man having put his hand to the plough should look back, would soon forsake his labor; the baker, reading that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, would make nothing but insipid Bread; and simple people, following the command to pluck out the offending right eye, would soon fill England with the spectacle of blind beggars. The next Sunday Latimer undertook to reply to his critic, who was present with his friar's hood. "As for the comparisons," said. he, "drawn from the plough, the leaven, and the eye, is it necessary to justify these passages of Scripture? Must I tell you what plough, what leaven, what eye is here meant? Is not our Lord's teaching distinguished by those expressions which under a popular form conceal a spiritual and profound meaning? Do we not know that in all languages and in all speeches it is not on the image that we must fix our eyes, but on the thing which the image represents? For instance," he continued, as he looked straight at the friar, "if we see a fox painted preaching in a friar's hood, nobody imagines that a fox is meant, but that craft and hypocrisy are described, which so often are disguised in that garb." The confusion of the poor friar at this point can better be imagined than told. Latimer's humor followed him to the end. The chamber of the Tower, where be was confined, prior to his transference to Oxford, being very badly heated, he complained to the jailer, and told him that if the government intended to burn him, they ought to see to it that they did not suffer him first to freeze to death. By this time Latimer had become bowed down by age and infirmity.


Ridley was less in years and less probably in popular power, but he ranked high in scholarship and general ability. Burnet commends him as being "for learning and solid judgment the ablest man of all that advanced the Reformation." 1 History of the Reformation, ii. 496. He was comely in person, persuasive in address, courteous in manners, and exemplary in the ordering of his life. In debate he was ready and apt. His answer, during his examination, to the miserable pretence that the Church exercises no severity, was perhaps the best that has ever been given. "I thank the court," said he, "for their gentleness, being the same that Christ had of the high priest. He said that it was not lawful for him to put any man to death, but committed Christ to Pilate, yet would he not suffer him to absolve Him, though he sought by all the means he might to do so."


The undaunted spirit with which Ridley looked forward to the hour of supreme trial appears in these words written a few months before his martyrdom:
"All of us here are in good health and comfort, watching with our lamps alight, when it shall please our Master, the bridegroom, to call us to wait upon him unto the marriage feast." At the stake a sermon was preached in honor of the Romish faith. Ridley, wishing to reply, was told that he could not do so unless he would renounce his false opinions. To this he responded, that as long as the breath was in his body, he would never deny his Lord Christ and His known truth. Latimer bore himself with equal bravery, and as he saw a blazing fagot laid at Ridley's feet encouraged his companion with the memorable words: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."


Archbishop Cranmer was a man to whom unqualified praise cannot be awarded. He exhibited, it is true, highly commendable traits. He was very ready to overlook a personal injury. He was full of kindness to the poor and the unfortunate, and assisted them liberally with his means. He opposed some of the more cruel measures of Henry VIII. with commendable courage. Some of his apparent inconsistencies may be explained as the result of the peculiarities of his position and of the times. He lived in a transition age, and his own mind was in more or less of a transition state. He was not a man like Calvin, pushing his reasonings far and wide into the field upon which he entered, and speedily and decisively grasping a new set of opinions. It was but gradually that he abandoned old opinions for new, so that with good conscience he may have countenanced at one time persecution for articles of faith which he himself finally adopted. A good degree of charity also should be extended to him for apparently acting in some instances below the standard of a courageous and straightforward man. To one so reverent of kingship what temptation more trying than that imposed by the will of a prince from whom he has received abundant favors? How easy to entertain the suggestion that it is better to hold on to one's place in spite of same unwelcome compliance to royal wishes than to give over that place to an utter enemy of the good cause? Such considerations may palliate, but cannot excuse the conduct of Cranmer. He was pliant in a very unworthy degree to the arbitrary will of Henry VIII. His final recantation, also, to save himself from the fate of Ridley and Latimer, argues against his moral heroism and steadfastness. After all that may be said about the subtle arts with which he was plied, about the diligence employed to flatter him and awaken his love of life, it still remains true that he yielded and denied the faith of his heart. No great stress needs to be laid upon the fact that his recantation was sixfold. After the first disavowal, the remaining were drawn on by natural sequence. The probable history of the affair is well expressed by Strype. "The unhappy prelate," says he, "by over-persuasion wrote one paper with his subscription set to it, which he thought to pen so favorably and dexterously for himself that he might evade both the danger of the State and the danger of his conscience too. That would not serve, but another was required as explanatory of that. And when he had complied with that, yet, either because written too briefly or too ambiguously, neither would that serve but drew on a third, fuller and more expressive than the former. Nor could he escape so; but still a fourth and fifth paper of recantation were demanded of him to be more large and particular. Nay, and lastly a sixth, which was very prolix, containing an acknowledgment of all the forsaken and detested errors and superstitions of Rome." 1 Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol, iii. pt, 1. p. 391. The text and the circumstances of the recantations are given by Hook, Lives of the Archbishops, vii. 394-407.


Notwithstanding the recantation, it was decided that Cranmer must die. The man who had taken a leading part in making null the marriage of Catharine of Aragon, and in causing the nation to Stray from Roman supremacy, could obtain no mercy under a Spanish sceptre. Never did malice and bigotry more signally defeat their own intent. In order to make the most of the degraded Primate, he was allowed to address the people prior to his execution, his judges making no question but that he would urge unqualified submission to the Roman Catholic Church. But another spirit was in Cranmer in that hour. The fear of torture and death was at length mastered, and he closed his address with declarations that astonished his judges. After making a total recall of his recantation, he added: "And forasmuch as my hand has offended in writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished; for when I come to the fire it shall be first burned." Cranmer kept his promise. As the flames leaped up about him, the offending hand was stretched forth that it might be first burned. 2 The details of the scene are given in a letter of a Roman Catholic witness, quoted in Foxe's Acts and Monuments, and also in Strype's Memorials of Cranmer.


The pathos of Cranmer's repentance was well-nigh as effectual as would have been an example of true martyrdom. Indeed, weakness atoned for and triumphed over at last in such a signal manner, probably touched the hearts of many, who stood in doubt of their own ability to endure the fiery ordeal, more deeply then would a record of unswerving steadfastness. His death helped on the invincible recoil against Romanism which the work of blood was creating in the minds of the people. It was significant of a profound reaction when a lady wrote to Bonner, "You have lost the hearts of twenty thousand, that were rank Papists, within these twelve months." "The martyrs alone," says Froude, "broke the spell of orthodoxy, and made the establishment of the Reformation possible."


Mary died Nov. 17, 1558. If her reign had been unhappy for her subjects, it was no less so for herself, and her life went out in the midst of deep shadows. Afflicted by ill health, miserably deceived in her hope of an heir, neglected by Philip whom she worshipped, humiliated by national reverses, particularly the loss of Calais, making herself hated by her subjects through a persecution which she counted her bounden duty to God and the Church, opposed and plagued at last by the Pope, compelled in self-respect to shelve the requirements of the very pontiff whom she was laboring to enthrone over the consciences of her subjects, Mary had cause enough to die broken-hearted.


Cardinal Pole survived the Queen but a few hours. The bells which notified him of her departure sounded the knell for his great enterprise. Four years before he had stretched forth his hands over the prostrate representatives of the nation in Parliament, and with quiet but deep exultation had accepted their submission and proclaimed England restored to the unity of the Church. Now he was dying, himself under the papal frown, and every day making it more manifest that the great scene of the nation's reconciliation to Rome was an empty pageant, a solemn farce.

1 The hostility of the Pope to Spain had eventuated in war in 1557. As England assisted Philip II. against France, the Pope's ally,Paul IV. gave token of his displeasure in cancelling Pole's legation. At the same time, reviving an old grudge, he cited him to Rome to prove there his soundness in the faith. "The citation of Pole to appear before the Inquisition, as a reputed heretic, was never revoked. He who in England was condemning to the stake was afraid to appear in Rome, lest the furnace he heated for others might be heated sevenfold for himself" (Hook, Lives of the Archhishops, viii 353, 354).