Just as there was a
Protestant Reformation, so there was a Catholic Counter-Reformation.
Between 1545 and 1563, the Council of Trent responded to the
Protestant challenge by reforming the Catholic Church of abuses and
defining Roman Catholic doctrine with new clarity. It denounced all
the Protestant "heresies" and set about training a new generation of
priests to obliterate them. England was one of the main targets of
Roman Catholicism in England is best seen in three phases:
1559 The Bishops appointed by
Mary were deprived, but most ordinary ministers conformed.
Many gentlemen (especially in the
North of England) continued to attend Catholic worship in the safety
of their own households.
Initially, Elizabeth's government took
few measures against Catholic gentry. But every Member of
Parliament had to swear the Oath of Supremacy (recognizing Elizabeth
as Governor of the Church of England and denying papal jurisdiction),
this excluded scrupulous Catholics from influence.
The Oath of
I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that
the queen's highness is the only supreme governor of this
realm and of all other her highness's dominions and countries,
as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as
temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state,
or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power,
superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or
spiritual, within this realm; and therefore I do utterly
renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers,
superiorities, and authorities, and do promise that from
henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the
queen's highness, her heirs, and lawful successors, and to my
power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions,
pre-eminences, privileges, and authorities granted or
belonging to the queen's highness, her heirs, and successors,
or united or annexed to the imperial crown of this realm: so
help me God and by the contents of this Book
During the 1560s, most Catholics began
to drift into conformity. The two universities (Oxford and
Cambridge) were also purged of Catholics.
William Allen, one of these ejected
dons, went to Louvain and helped organize the printing of Catholic
propaganda in English.
In 1568, he founded a seminary at
Douai to train new English Catholic priests.
Coughton Court, Warwickshire
Home of the Throckmortons,
one of England's foremost recusant families
influx of new missionary priests, the revolt of the Northern
Earls, and the deposition of Elizabeth by Pope
Pius V all helped provoke the
government into harsher measures against Catholics.
Catholic feeling was exacerbated by the Saint Bartholomew's Day
Massacre (24 August 1572). French Catholics killed thousands of
Protestants (or Huguenots).
England's relations with Spain also steadily deteriorated.
founder of the Society of Jesus
English College at Rome was established to train more priests and this
soon fell under the sway of the Society of Jesus - Protestants
regarded Jesuit priests as the most seditious and dangerous,
for in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taken
by all priests, Jesuits took a fourth vow of complete obedience to the
seminaries were established at Valladolid (1589) and Saint Omer (1596)
1574, the first missionary priests began to arrive in England,
and in 1580, the first Jesuits. By the end of Elizabeth's reign
missionary priests were serving in England.
Two of the most
important English priests were Robert Parsons (or Persons) and
was saintly and
persuasive. He traveled around England, staying with Roman
Catholic families, preaching sermons and publishing attacks on
Protestant ideas on a secret press. In 1581, he captured,
tortured, and executed.
saintly but more effective. He had been an Oxford don, but left for
the Continent in 1574 and became a Jesuit. He returned briefly to
England in 1580 with Campion, but then went to Spain, where he spent
his time trying to persuade Philip II to invade England and restore
Catholicism. From 1597 to his death in 1620, he was in charge of the
English College at Rome.
the end of Elizabeth's reign there were only about twenty Jesuit
priests in England, but their influence was far disproportionate to
their numbers because of their high-level connections in Spain and
English Jesuits in particular, and Catholics in general, were
especially distrusted because it was known that some (for example, the
Jesuit Robert Southwell) were willing to use equivocation
in their dealings with Protestants.
English knew that Roman Catholic leaders were plotting with Spain,
attempting to assassinate Elizabeth, and trying to put Mary, Queen of
Scots on the throne. This led to widespread hatred of Catholics
(especially at the time of the Spanish Armada 1588) and persecution
increased during the 1580's.
Between 1581 and 1588 at least sixty-four priests were executed.
(Eighteen laymen and two women were executed for their part in
Cardinal William Allen was given the task of restoring England to
Catholicism if the Spanish invasion succeeded and he published
an Admonition to the English encouraging them to revolt against the
"deposed" "bastard" Elizabeth.
However, the Elizabethan government
cautiously disarmed Catholic gentlemen and imprisoned many of them at
the time of the Spanish Armada, and the Spanish army never actually landed.
Consequently, there was never a point when a Catholic uprising would
have stood any real chance of success.
persecution of English Catholics was as cruel as it was necessary in
the government's eyes. One of the chief seekers of priests, Richard Topcliffe, showed particular relish in his use of his own personal
portable rack, and priests sentenced to death died painfully by
hanging, drawing, and quartering.
[More on Tudor
Catholic threat diminished after the defeat of the Armada, although
the assassination of Elizabeth remained a constant threat.
supporter of Philip II's attempted invasion of England
To lessen the
Catholic threat, Elizabeth's government also tried tactics of "divide
and rule". In 1590, a dispute developed between Jesuits and other
priests imprisoned at Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, over who (the Jesuits
or a Bishop appointed for the purpose) should control the mission to
England. The quarrel soon spread throughout the English priesthood.
helped the group of priests who opposed Jesuit control (known as the
even arranging to have their pamphlets printed.
In 1603, 13
leading Appellants made a Protestation, repudiating the political
ideas of the Jesuits. This was a real propaganda coup for the English
continued to work for regime change in England.
In 1594, Parsons
(under the pseudonym Doleman) published A Conference about the next
succession, which argued that the people of England had the right
to choose their monarch, and that on Elizabeth's death, Parliament
should appoint Philip II's daughter - not the Protestant James VI.
Naturally, this alienated James VI who was eager to succeed to the
English throne, and who had the
best claim to do so.