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Roman catholicism in England Essay

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When Mary gained the throne following Edward’s death in 1553, one of her main priorities was to restore Roman Catholicism in England. She herself was a devout Catholic and having been through the reforms of Henry and Edward, she was determined to bring the country back to the ‘true faith’. During the start of her reign, Mary’s popularity was at its peak. This can be seen from source 1 and 2. Source 1 does not mention religion directly, but the proclamation is very much about opposing Mary’s marriage Philip of Spain, the centre of Catholic power in Europe.

Source 2 shows Mary and the people’s response to source 1, as told by the Spanish Ambassador following the rebellion. It showed the support for Mary as people ‘cried out loudly that they would live and die in her service’. These two sources together suggest that the fact Mary was a Catholic did not affect her position on the throne as only a minority were prepared to go against her because of it. Source 3, a modern interpretation, backs this suggestion. It states that there was ‘little enthusiasm for the overthrow of the Catholic Queen’, implying that Protestantism was still not firmly established amongst the common people.

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Mary was quick to repeal the religious laws of Edward’s reign and gave up her title of Supreme Head of the Church. The Pope became head of Church of England again, and Mary’s cousin Cardinal Pole became the papal legate in England. He was given the task of restoring the old church, but eventually became one of the reasons why Mary could not fulfil her dream of completely returning the Church to Rome. The Pope was anti-Spanish and so Mary’s marriage with Philip of Spain did not improve relations.

When the Pope summoned Pole to face heresy charges in Rome, Mary insisted that he should be tried in an English court and consequently force her to adopt a similar role to Henry as Supreme Head of the Church. This showed that she ultimately failed to return the Church under the authority of the Pope, a difficult situation for the Catholic Queen. Mary may have been misled by the reaction to her ascension to the throne regarding how popular Catholicism was. The support for here claim the throne led her to believe firmly that the people were Catholic at hear, and that they were only being led by Protestant officials.

When she became Queen, there was widespread rejoicing with many places quick to restore the Mass, altars, images and relics banned from previous reigns. All this had happened without any official requirements so technically the people were breaking the law to perform these Catholic traditions, further highlighting support Catholicism had within the people. However, the initial support quickly died away, much due to Mary’s own actions. Being extremely Catholic she was determined to punish the heretics and by this she hoped to set and example to the people and hence stamp out Protestantism.

One of the key figures burnt at the stake was Archbishop Cranmer, who allegedly recanted but was stilled not spared. Over 200 were burnt during Mary’s 5 year reign, a total greater than those burnt by the Spanish Inquisition, and was very much counterproductive. Many common folk had been indifferent about religion, but this sudden increase in persecution led them to look more closely at the new religion which so may were willing to die for. By creating martyrs Mary ensured that Protestantism became much more prominent with more people taking notice of it.

Even the Catholic population disliked the persecution, as they did not like seeing people die such a painful death for their beliefs. It also made it much easier for Elizabeth to impose a new Church Settlement, as Mary’s religious policies were so unpopular. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, a bestseller during Elizabeth’s reign, helped to more firmly establish Elizabeth’s position by creating the image of Bloody Mary, and by her extreme religious persecutions Mary’s name was to be tarnished forever. Mary’s religious policies also faced many other difficulties due to events during Henry and Edward’s reign.

The monasteries and chantries had been dissolved and much of the land sold to gentry. These were impossible to be restored again as much of the wealth gained by the crown from the dissolutions had been spent and the nobility would not give up on their own interests. Mary’s religious acts had to be passed through Parliament and thus she was forced to agree that their privileges would not be affected by the return of the Church to Rome. This also led to conflicts with the Pope, as his authority was not restored fully in England. Despite this, Mary’s restoration of Catholicism had its successes.

As the 3 sources together highlight, there was only one rebellion during her reign, which was only partly caused by her Catholic faith and was mainly caused by her Spanish marriage rather than her religious reforms. The Edwardian religious acts were successfully repealed and services returned to the old traditional way. There was little united opposition to return to Catholicism, especially not compared to the Pilgrimage of Grace or the Many Headed Monster during Henry and Edward’s reign, both of which the rebels mentions a desire for the monarch’s religious reforms to stop.

In comparison the Wyatt’s Rebellion does not mention opposition to Catholicism, evidence for that religion was not a big enough factor to persuade people to rebel against the Queen. Mary’s biggest failure perhaps was the failure to produce a Catholic heir. The Reformation’s success had a lot to do with the longetivity of Henry’s reign, further helped by Edward’s short reign. This ensured that for a period of around 20 years the monarch had been in favour of reforms (this is questionable for Henry but he did ensure that the country did not return to Catholicism).

Mary’s reign lasted only five years, not long enough for her reforms to take root. The lack of a Catholic dynasty meant that many of the changes could be quickly undone when the Protestant Elizabeth came to the throne, resulting in the ultimate failure of her restoration. Overall, Mary’s restoration of Catholicism can only be called a success within her lifetime. England was very much Catholic during her reign, largely due to her determination to make sure her country followed her faith.

However even whilst she was alive there were significant failures, such as the failure to restore monasteries and chantries and conflicts with the Pope mainly because of her Spanish marriage. The biggest failure I think was her failure to produce and heir to continue her legacy. After her death the restoration stopped and was very much reversed by Elizabeth. Hence with hindsight and viewing the long term results, Mary’s restoration to Catholicism had limited success during her reign and all but passed away with her.

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