(PROTESTANT REFORMATION to 1600 – continued)

home | 16-17th centuries index


previous | next

Queen Elizabeth

Henry VIII died in 1547 at the age of fifty-five after he had grown a waistline of 54 inches and had suffered ailments. He was succeeded by a son, Edward VI, who died after a little more than six years. And he was succeeded by Mary Tudor, the devout Catholic daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She began her rule with clemency for those who had taken up arms against her and pursued a policy of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants.

Then Queen Mary announced that she would marry Prince Philip of Spain. Insurrections erupted against Mary. The rebellions were quelled, she married Philip in July 1554, two years before he became King Philip II, and she launched an effort to return her realm to Catholicism – not a popular move.

She thought herself kind toward the poor, but she had several hundred Protestants burned at the stake. Many Protestants fled to the continent, and the devout Mary was to become known as "Bloody Mary."

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary

Princess Elizabeth

Princess Elizabeth

Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, survived by maintaining a discrete silence. Her mother, Anne, was a commoner from an exceptional family. Anne had been exceptionally intelligent, something Elizabeth appears to have inherited.

Elizabeth had been reared a Protestant, and she was ill-disposed to Roman Catholic jurisdiction which did not recognize the legitimacy of her birth.

In 1558, "Bloody Mary" died and Elizabeth was her successor. Her regal bearing and intelligence impressed England's common people, and her reign began with their enthusiastic support. Protestant exiles returned to England, and they advocated the Church of England being purified of its remnants of Catholicism. They were to become known as Puritans. The wanted to strip away the trappings and formalities that had been building in Christianity during the previous 1300 or so years. Theirs was an attempt to "purify" the Church of England and their own lives.

Elizabeth kept to middle ground regarding religious doctrine and ceremony. Elizabeth is reported to not have cared what people believed so long as they kept quiet about it. What she insisted upon was dignity in church services and political order. Elizabeth governed without use of clergymen in foreign or domestic bureaucratic affairs. The Church of England's archbishops were restricted to Church affairs.

Ruling in Scotland, meanwhile, was Elizabeth's nearest relative, Mary Stuart, who was Roman Catholic. Elizabeth had inaugurated a policy of aloofness from Catholic Spain, and the King of Spain, Philip II, was plotting to replace her with Queen Mary. Mary was a rallying point for those in England opposed to Elizabeth. In support of Mary and against Elizabeth, uprisings occurred. Two attempts were made on Elizabeth's life.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, also had her troubles. Her marriage to her first cousin, Henry Stuart, was unhappy, and in February 1567 his residence was destroyed by an explosion. He was found murdered in the garden. James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was believed to have orchestrated Henry Stuart's death, but he was acquitted of the charge, and in May 1567 he and Mary married. An uprising against the couple followed. Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle, and on 24 July 1567 she was forced to abdicate in favour of James, her one-year-old son by Henry Stuart. Mary fled to England and sought protection from her cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth had her confined to various castles and manor houses.

In 1570 Pope Pius V (r 1566-72) excommunicated Elizabeth, describing her as "the pretended Queen of England, the Servant of Wickedness." The pope declared her deposed. He declared her subjects "not to obey her" and threatened excommunication for any who remained faithful to her rule. Elizabeth's Catholic subjects were being asked to choose between their faith of their queen while there were those looking forward to military opposition to Elizabeth from Catholic France or Spain.

Elizabeth didn't exacerbate her problem by religious argumentation. So long as Catholics refrained from acts of treason they could think as they pleased. She encouraged industry and trade. She saw care for the poor as a responsibility of her government. She held Puritans in check regarding their hostility toward Catholics.

In 1587, Elizabeth's problem with Mary ended. Long in custody while living in great luxury, Mary was connected to the 1586 Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth and put her, Mary, on the throne in Elizabeth's place. Mary was tried, convicted and beheaded.

Upon hearing of Mary's execution, Pope Sixtus V (r 1585-90) promised to pay Philip one million gold ducats if his troops invaded England. It was the beginning of Spain sending an armada of ships and troops to invade England. Elizabeth had angered King Philip by sending 8,000 troops in 1585 to help the Protestant Dutch fighting his rule. The historian Max Boot writes that at Philip's court "it presented a clinching argument in favor of invading England and deposing its troublesome queen." Boot adds that Philip thought it the "best way to safeguard his existing domains in the Americas and the Low Countries." note21

Queen Elizabeth visited her troops at Tilbury Camp and made her famous "heart of a king" speech, expecting an invasion. She said,

I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chief strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I come among you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live and die among you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king.

According to Max Boot, Elizabeth "had almost no army of her own, just a pitiful militia that could not possibly stand for long against [the] battle hardened Spanish veterans" being transported with the Spanish Armada. England's only hope, writes Boot, lay in preventing the Armada from landing. note22

The English Navy scattered the Spanish Armada, and only about 65 of Spain's ships made it back to their home port. According to Max Boot the English had "superior training, morale, organization, strategy, seamanship – and technology." The English won, he adds, because British ships outgunned the Spanish Armada. "The English fleet had one-third more firepower." note23

The following year, 1589, England sent a counter-armada to invade Portugal, led by Francis Drake. It failed in its effort to put a pro-English pretender, Dom Antonio, on Portugal's throne. The war between Spain and Elizabeth dragged on. Philip died in 1598, at seventy-one, and Elizabeth died a natural death five years later, in 1603.

Her rule was followed by that of her cousin, James I, the King of Scotland and son of the beheaded Mary Stuart.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.