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Thread: How Protestant was Elizabethan England?

  1. #1

    Default How Protestant was Elizabethan England?

    Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Queen, based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots, highlights that 35 years after the passage of the Act of Supremacy, the English religious question was far from settled, with regional and class issues playing major roles in personal adherence. A large percentage of rural aristocrats appear to have remained Catholic, judging by their involvement in various conspiracies, and England's traditional North/South social divide also appears to have come heavily to the fore, with London and the South firmly Anglican, but the rest of the country appearing to practice the old faith in secret. Of course, with most personal faith largely clandestine in nature, true statistics will be thin on the ground, but had Anglicanism truly become established as the majority religion by the end of Elizabeth's reign?
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    Politics.ie Member Big Brother's Avatar
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    Good question.

    I doubt it.

    The Elizabethan era brought the rise of an anti catholic elite with access to money and printing presses which were used to propogandise against catholicism (history rarely changes).

    Elizabeth also launched vicious genocidal campaigns against catholics in Ireland and the north (while hypocritically washing her hands of them in public).

    Her agents also destabilised Scotland and launched a systematic propoganda campaign to discredit teh church there. This is why anti catholic bigotry is such a problem there compared to the south of England: The propoganda in Scotland was much more vicious.

    When John Knox said "he who has god on his side is in the majority" he was acknowledgeing that most Scots were catholics when Mary Queen of Scots was deposed.

    The proseltysiation of Scotland came later and was intensive.

    Scotland wasn't a majority protestant country until late into Elizabeths reign, if even then.

    Like most revolutionary movements in history, protestantism in England and Scotland was driven by financial self interest - the lure of church wealth for nobles.

    But that wealth was used by teh church to feed and educate the poor.
    W
    When the monasteries were shut down they were converted into teh wealthy estates and grand family mansions we see in England and Scotland today.

    And while catholic Britain was no model of equality there was far less inequality than emerged after protestantism took hold.

    Protestantism was basically a mechanism to build England's identity and empire, strengthen the King the nobles and the merchant classes and economically subordinate the people.

    Its legacy is proven in that while there isn't perfect fair play in Ireland, we are a far more egalitarian country than England, where any collective morality has disappeared.

    500 years on there are strong echoes of what happened in Elizabethan England and Scotland: A clear campaign to take a minority of wrongdoers in the church and use them to destroy its reputation.

    Same old same old.

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    Politics.ie Member Astral Peaks's Avatar
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    Relying on Gregory or Eleanor Hibbert (a.k.a.Jean Plaidy) for ones historical analysis is a risky business.

    They were both essentially romance writers.

    Try this article, it will help you...

    Guild of St. George - A Comparative Guide to Religion in Elizabethan England

    I have read this, it is also very comprehensive: Danger to Elizabeth: the Catholics under Elizabeth I. - Alison Plowden - Google Books

    If you have Wiley access, this is supposed to be good, referenced in a few other books I have read.

    The politics of religion and the religion of politics in Elizabethan England - Collinson - 2008 - Historical Research - Wiley Online Library
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    Politics.ie Member Dame_Enda's Avatar
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    By the time of James I only around 5% of the English are thought to have been Catholic according to a program I saw about the Gunpowder Plot some time ago. However it was always higher among the nobility. Many of the aristocratic Howards in particular were secretly Catholic ever since the Reformation (our last Lord Lieutenant was was one of them).

    Below is a map of Catholic recusancy (failure to attend Anglican church services weekly as required by law) 1715-20:

    Fair and Balanced

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    Politics.ie Member the secretary's Avatar
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    Who cares!

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    Politics.ie Member corelli's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FloatingVoterTralee View Post
    Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Queen, based on the life of Mary Queen of Scots, highlights that 35 years after the passage of the Act of Supremacy, the English religious question was far from settled, with regional and class issues playing major roles in personal adherence. A large percentage of rural aristocrats appear to have remained Catholic, judging by their involvement in various conspiracies, and England's traditional North/South social divide also appears to have come heavily to the fore, with London and the South firmly Anglican, but the rest of the country appearing to practice the old faith in secret. Of course, with most personal faith largely clandestine in nature, true statistics will be thin on the ground, but had Anglicanism truly become established as the majority religion by the end of Elizabeth's reign?
    Seriously, you are relying on Philippa Gregory to come to an accurate conclusion on, well, anything?

    She writes historical fiction, not academic text books.

    And to answer your question, there was deep seated and vocal catholic opposition until the Act of Settlement and the advent of the Hanoverians, LONG after Elizabeth shuffled off.

    James II was forced to abdicate because of his faith, if you remember.

    Not being smart, but you do actually remember a Stuart being made a Cardinal and everything, no??
    "......... we must sometimes listen to those who, consumed with zeal, have scant judgment or balance. To such ones the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruin.........We feel bound to disagree with these prophets of doom who are forever forecasting calamity -- as though the world's end were imminent."

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    Politics.ie Member Dame_Enda's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by corelli View Post
    Seriously, you are relying on Philippa Gregory to come to an accurate conclusion on, well, anything?

    She writes historical fiction, not academic text books.

    And to answer your question, there was deep seated and vocal catholic opposition until the Act of Settlement and the advent of the Hanoverians, LONG after Elizabeth shuffled off.

    James II was forced to abdicate because of his faith, if you remember.

    Not being smart, but you do actually remember a Stuart being made a Cardinal and everything, no??
    Well he would say he never abdicated. He fled England and was therefore said by Parliament to have abdicated, but he strongly disagreed.

    I think the real religious division in England in the 17th century was between High Church (Catholic in appearance) Protestantism and Low Church (essentially Calvinist) Protestantism. Most Scottish Jacobites were not Catholics but the Episcopalian Scots, while the Presbyterians were Williamites and then Hanoverians. Probably only 2% of Scots were Catholic after the Reformation of 1560.

    James II's son would likely have gained the throne peacefully in 1715 had not Queen Anne suddenly appointed a Hanoverian Whig as Lord Treasurer (the Duke of Shrewsbury). Before then the govt was Tory, and they were not Catholic but High Church, and knew the Hanoverians intended to dismiss them for making peace with France in the War of the Spanish Succession. In the 18th century perhaps 25% of Tories were closet Jacobites, but many insisted the Stuarts would have to convert first. There was a schism in the Anglican Church after James II was deposed between Juring and Non-Juring clergy (the latter who refused to recognise the deposition of James II's line). But they were not Catholics but High Church Protestants who saw the monarch as head of their church regardless of his religion.
    Last edited by Dame_Enda; 22nd March 2013 at 05:17 PM.
    Fair and Balanced

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    Politics.ie Member corelli's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dame_Enda View Post
    Well he would say he never abdicated. He fled England and was therefore said by Parliament to have abdicated, but he strongly disagreed.

    I think the real religious division in England in the 17th century was between High Church (Catholic in appearance) Protestantism and Low Church (essentially Calvinist) Protestantism. Most Scottish Jacobites were not Catholics but the Episcopalian Scots, while the Presbyterians were Williamites and then Hanoverians. Probably only 2% of Scots were Catholic after the Reformation of 1560.
    Well, why did he flee England? You are dancing on the head of a pin there!

    I think the second bit is essentially true of you say the main political division was between high and low church, rather than religious division. After all, Henry VIII was esentially what we would today call a High Church Anglican, with some small differences.
    "......... we must sometimes listen to those who, consumed with zeal, have scant judgment or balance. To such ones the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruin.........We feel bound to disagree with these prophets of doom who are forever forecasting calamity -- as though the world's end were imminent."

  9. #9
    Politics.ie Member Dame_Enda's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by corelli View Post
    Well, why did he flee England? You are dancing on the head of a pin there!

    I think the second bit is essentially true of you say the main political division was between high and low church, rather than religious division. After all, Henry VIII was esentially what we would today call a High Church Anglican, with some small differences.
    Well it was religion too when you consider that the Puritans and their descendents the Nonconformists were persecuted (much less under the Williamite Toleration Acts) since the Restoration of 1660. Google the Sacherevell riots for more info on the High-Low Church divisions.

    I'm not entirely certain James II couldn't have survived if he had stayed put. The book "The Army and the Glorious Revolution" argues that it was the commanders who defected to William while the rank and file still supported James until he fled. I think had he might have survived (but that's doubtful I know) had he remained a private Catholic instead of trying to legislate for toleration so soon (especially given the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes 1685 in France which led to massive French Protestant refugee flows to England), and had he not unwisely sacked all the Protestants from his government. Parliament knew he was Catholic before his accession to the throne and they voted him a grant of 6,000,000 - the largest grant to a Stuart monarch until then.

    Also, the plan to pack the parliament with people who would repeal the Penal Laws threatened the careers of the existing political class and I think that was also a factor. He was using the Corporation Act to purge the corporations (that elected MPs back then) of those opposed to toleration. The elections in the end had to be cancelled because of the imminent invasion by William and last minute attempts by James to win over those he had alienated (which were not very convincing).
    Last edited by Dame_Enda; 22nd March 2013 at 05:41 PM.
    Fair and Balanced

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    It gives me faith in this country that we care enough about history to keep a thread like this going.

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