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"The Catholics Were Never A Serious Threat To Elizabethan Church And State." How Far Do You Agree With This Statement?

1773 words - 7 pages

Haigh argues that the 'strategic and logical errors' of the Seminary Priests not only prevented Catholicism from posing a serious threat during the reign of Elizabeth but were responsible for its decline. However, other historians - and historical evidence - suggest that when Elizabeth came to the throne, the Catholics were a serious threat. The involvement of the Catholics at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign - in formulating the Religious Settlement and in passing the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity - shows that Elizabeth considered them a power to be reckoned with. However the Policy of Continuity undid much of the Catholic input to the Religious Settlement, by introducing the people to Protestant ritual via their regular service, and the Seminary Priests, on top of Haigh's purported 'strategic and logical errors', found them an unwilling audience. Increasingly strict government legislation meant that the Recusants, although they held strong beliefs, could not air them and the Church Papist majority never heard what the inflammatory Jesuit and Seminary Priests had to say.The fact that within 5 years of the Religious Settlement, Louvainist attacks on the Elizabethan Church were reaching England is testament to the excellent organisation of the Catholics at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign. The Protestants, exiled, divided and weakened during Mary's reign, could not have hoped to pose such a formidable challenge to Elizabeth in the 1560s. By 1566, Elizabeth was suggesting ships be searched for smuggled Catholic books. However, it swiftly transpired that the Catholics had nothing to put their organisation towards. The fact that the Pope offered no decisive guidance on the event of Elizabeth's ascension was hugely detrimental to the size of the Catholic threat: they were amply prepared to take action at the beginning of the reign, but did not know what action to take. The penalties the Government imposed upon Catholics had grown increasingly harsh, from the 1560s when the Queen 'only took vigorous action against individuals who openly defied the law' (Doran) to the 1590s when even Catholics who promised not to rebel were not tolerated. In an increasingly hostile political and religious climate, it became increasingly difficult for Catholics to operate - just as the Protestants had had their power bases broken down during the previous reign. If action had been taken while the Government's policy was still tolerant, and the Catholics still had their Marian-era power, they might have been a far more serious threat than they eventually became. The Papal Bull of 1570 came too late - Doran suggests that William Allen actually advised Catholics to ignore it. It could be that by this point in the reign, its effective incitements of civil war were unpalatable to the weakened religious minority, with the 1569 Northern Rebellion fresh in their minds as an example of how disorganised and scattered they had become. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots in...

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