Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Philip James de Loutherbourg, painted 1796
Be thankful you're not an Elizabethan Puritan.
Imagine you’re a zealous Protestant minister, beginning your career around the time of the accession of Elizabeth I. Here are some of the controversies, crises and calamities you can look forward to experiencing before you hit ‘retirement age’ at the close of the century:
If you’re one of the handful of Protestants who has been in exile during Mary Tudor’s brief reign, you’ll need to journey back home – not knowing exactly what you’ll find there.
You’ll be thankful to see your new Queen secure the Protestant faith with her Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy, but you won’t be satisfied with her Council’s vision of an official liturgy. You’ll settle into conformity with a half-reformed national church and begin campaigning for a more thoroughly ‘biblical’ one.
Bishop John Jewel will immediately enter into a robust debate (in print) with a number of prominent English Catholics that will continue for much of the decade, on the merits of Protestantism and the weaknesses of the Roman tradition.
The Queen will almost die of smallpox, while the question of her heir (and his or her religious affiliation) remains very uncertain.
The Church of England will present its official Thirty-Nine Articles, many of which, in your view, still smack of superstition and popery. You’ll still entertain hopes for reform …
Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, will demand that all clergy wear the ‘popish’ square cap, gown, tippet, and surplice while ministering (this was later known as the Vestiarian or Vestments Controversy). You and others who refuse to conform will be called ‘Puritans’ – the first (but not the last) time you’ll be labelled as such. You might be suspended from or even deprived of your post for a time.
Nobles in the north of England will lead a rebellion against Elizabeth (known as the Northern Rebellion), in the hopes of dethroning her and placing (the Catholic) Mary I of Scotland in her place. Thankfully their efforts will come to naught, but …
Pope Pius V will publish his bull Regnans in Excelsis, excommunicating and deposing the Queen for her heretical Protestant views and her treatment of Catholics. The international scene will grow more tense each year, as Rome and Spain make plans to overthrow the Elizabethan government and return the nation to ‘the old religion’.
The same year, a proponent of puritanism and presbyterianism, Thomas Cartwright, will preach a sermon series on the book of Acts at Cambridge. In doing so he will expose the errors in the national church’s episcopal structure – and be deprived for doing so. A debate will ensue between Cartwright’s supporters and those of his main opponent, John Whitgift. New legislation will be written to curb non-conformity as a result.
Another plot to assassinate Elizabeth and crown Mary I of Scotland, perpetrated by Roberto di Ridolfi, will be discovered. The Duke of Alba in the Netherlands will be privy to Ridolfi’s plans.
Bad news from across the Channel: Between 30,000 and 100,000 Protestants (estimates vary) will be slaughtered by Catholic mobs in France, beginning with the assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, on 24th August – St. Bartholomew’s Day.
The first English Catholic priests who have received training overseas at a college in Douai (Spanish Netherlands) will return to England to encourage their brethren and promote Catholicism. This secret missionary enterprise will continue well into the next century, to the chagrin of the Council and Protestants throughout the realm.
Edmund Grindal, an archbishop with great sympathy for your cause, will be reprimanded by the Queen and sequestered for refusing to suppress your godly meetings or ‘prophesyings’. In the wake of his censure John Aylmer, Bishop of London, will be made head of an ecclesiastical commission and will investigate and suspend some Puritan ministers like you.
Two English Jesuits, Robert Persons and Edmund Campion, will return to England and seek to win many back to Rome through various printed treatises, including Campion’s Challenge to the Privy Council. He will be captured and executed the following year, but Persons will escape and continue campaigning for the renewal of Catholicism in England – by religious and political (military) means.
John Somerville of Warwickshire will be arrested while traveling to London with a pistol to shoot the Queen. An unrelated plan to assassinate the monarch and install Mary I of Scotland will be discovered when one Francis Throckmorton is interrogated by the Queen’s ‘spymaster’, Sir Francis Walsingham – a plan involving the Duke of Guise and the Spanish ambassador, Bernardino de Mendoza. One year later you and other Protestants will be dismayed to hear of the assassination of William of Orange, the Protestant nobleman who defends the Netherlands from the Spanish.
John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, will bring a hammer against hotter Protestants like you, demanding that you subscribe to articles respecting the uniformity of the national church and the Book of Common Prayer. You might be one of the 300 ministers suspended as a result.
Yet another plot to murder the Queen and place Mary I of Scotland on the throne will be uncovered, involving Mary herself and Anthony Babington, a nobleman from Derbyshire. At long last, Mary will be convicted of treason and executed.
The Spanish Phillip II will attempt to invade England with the Spanish Armada (pictured), in an effort to depose Elizabeth and restore Roman Catholicism in your homeland. Thankfully providence will bring the defeat of this papal effort.
A series of satirical treatises criticizing the church’s bishops will be published by someone calling himself ‘Martin Marprelate’. This will cause a great deal of consternation among the authorities, and a backlash in print as well. The reputation of those called ‘Puritans’ will ultimately be damaged by these biting (but humorous) writings.
Some Puritan sympathisers, Edmund Copinger, William Hacket and Henry Arthington, will proclaim themselves the Prophets of Mercy and denounce the Queen for her opposition to presbyterianism. Needless to say, this will also damage the image of non-conforming ministers like you.
Thomas Cartwright will get into trouble again, and will be imprisoned and put on trial along with eight other Puritans for resistance to conformity and presbyterian leanings. Eventually they will all be released, but a number of works will be printed defaming their (your) cause, including one about Copinger, Hacket and Arthington called Conspiracie for Pretended Reformation (1592), Richard Bancroft’s Daungerous Positions and Proceedings and A Survay of the Pretended Holy Discipline (both 1593), and Matthew Sutcliffe’s The Examination and Confutation of M. Thomas Cartwright's Late Apologie (1596). Discouraged by these circumstances, Puritans like you will be noticeably silent for the remainder of the Queen’s reign, agitating little …
A royal act eventually known as the “Act Against Puritans” will be passed to suppress ‘seditious sectaries’ like, well … like you. It will decree punishment upon anyone over the age of sixteen who refuses to attend regular church services, or who attends "assemblies, conventicles (uh-oh), or meetings, under colour or pretence of any such exercise of religion".
A controversy will ensue at Cambridge University when Peter Baro and William Barrett preach against Calvinism there. Alarmed faculty will consult the Archbishop, and with him they’ll eventually settle the matter at Lambeth, drawing up a list of nine articles to be affixed to the creeds of the national church. This will be a mere foreboding, though, of future battles between Calvinist and Arminian defenders.
In addition to all this, the plague will visit England several times, taking its heaviest toll in the London area. It will claim 20,000 lives in 1563, 6,000 in 1578, 7,000 in 1582, and 18,000 in 1593.
Friday, April 7, 2006
Defeat of the Spanish Armada by Philip James de Loutherbourg, painted 1796