Sunday, January 29, 2017

Two Sisters

Mary Tudor (1516-1558) was crowned in 1553, immensely popular after the excesses under her father and those who controlled things under her stepbrother. Her coronation two months after Edward VI’s death took place with great pomp at Westminster, presided by Catholic bishop Stephen Gardiner, whom she freed from the Tower of London as her first act as ruler—all despite the papal interdict, or national excommunication of England.

Unlike her stepbrother, who was only a child when eager courtiers placed the crown on his head, Mary was a woman of 37 who brought her own perspective to the throne and, most important to this narrative, to the future of Christianity in England.

Born in Greenwich, London, the only child of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon to survive infancy, she was a bright and precocious child. At the age of four and a half she entertained a visiting delegation with a performance on the harpsichord. By the time she was nine, Mary could read and write Latin. She studied French, Spanish, music, dance and perhaps Greek. Henry VIII doted on her and boasted that “This girl never cries.” Like both parents she had a very fair complexion, pale blue eyes and red or reddish-golden hair and her father’s ruddy cheeks.

In adolescence she began to suffer physical ailments and depression, likely from the stress of separation from her mother, sent away from court by Henry after he married Anne Boleyn in 1533. Mary was deemed illegitimate and styled “The Lady Mary” rather than Princess. Her place in the royal line  was transferred to her newborn half sister, Elizabeth, her household dissolved and servants dismissed, and in December 1533 she was sent to join the household of the infant Elizabeth at Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

Mary refused to acknowledge Anne as queen or Elizabeth as princess, enraging her father; she was frequently ill, which even the royal physician attributed to “ill treatment.” Mary and her father did not speak to each other for three years. Meanwhile, she was refused permission to visit her mother, who died in 1536. That year Anne Boleyn fell from the king’s favor and was beheaded; now her daughter Elizabeth, like Mary, was downgraded to the status of Lady and removed from the line of succession.

The next wife, who married Henry two months after Boleyn’s execution, urged him to make peace with Mary. He insisted that Mary recognize him as head of the Church of England, repudiate papal authority and acknowledge the marriage of her parents as unlawful and herself as illegitimate. She offered to reconcile, submitting to his authority as far as “God and my conscience” permitted. Once reconciled, Mary returned to court, was given her own household and returned to the line of succession.

As queen, one of her first concerns was to find a husband and produce an heir that would prevent the Protestant Elizabeth, who had returned to the line of succession as next-in-line under the terms of Henry VIII’s will. Her cousin Charles V offered his only son, Prince Philip of Spain. They were wed in July 1554, despite opposition to Philip, who was unquestionably Catholic, and by right of his wife would become King of England and Ireland.

More important, Mary quickly restored the country’s religious landscape to its previous status. Reginald Pole, a priest who had negotiated with the Holy See on behalf of England, pronounced the absolution of the kingdom in a solemn ceremony, with the king and queen and Parliament kneeling before him. The altars were set up again, the married clergy removed, High Mass sung at St. Paul’s and new bishops consecrated according to the ancient ritual.

At first Parliament balked, but when Pole announced that the Holy See would not make claims against those who had seized Church property, the lawmakers reenacted the ancient statutes against heresy and repealed laws against Rome enacted during the last two reigns. Mary had Parliament replace Edward’s religious laws with the Six Articles in force in 1539, affirming transubstantiation, the reasonableness of withholding the cup from the laity during communion, clerical celibacy, observance of vows of chastity, permission for private masses and confession aloud to a priest. Married priests were removed.

Mary issued a proclamation that her subjects were not required to follow her religion. However, by the end of September leading Protestant churchmen—including John Bradford, John Rogers, John Hooper, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer—were imprisoned. Some 800 rich Protestants left the country. Under the Heresy Acts, many prominent Protestants were eventually executed.

Among these, the most curious case was that of Cranmer, the imprisoned archbishop of Canterbury, who was forced to watch Nicholas Ridley, bishop of London and Westminster, and Hugh Latimer, bishop of Worcester, burned at the stake. Cranmer recanted, repudiated Protestant theology and claimed to rejoin the Catholic faith, but Mary did not relent. On the day of his burning, he dramatically withdrew his recantation. Pole was immediately appointed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Henry VIII’s first daughter has been dubbed “bloody Mary,” in part due to these executions.

The effort to eradicate Protestantism ultimately failed. Having produced no heir with Philip, Mary was forced to acknowledge her Protestant half sister Elizabeth as next in line for the crown. Mary died in 1558, during an influenza epidemic that also claimed the life of Reginald Pole later the same day.

Elizabeth would prove as harsh as her sister, even though her personal religious views have been much debated by scholars. She was a Protestant, but kept Catholic symbols (such as the crucifix) and downplayed the role of Protestant advocacy.

Moreover, with many other political irons in the fire, she effectively restored the church to the Protestant laws of Edward VI, but with many Catholic elements, such as priestly vestments. She was given the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England rather than Supreme Head, then thought unacceptable for a woman. Under a new Act of Supremacy public officials were forced to swear an oath of loyalty to the monarch as the supreme governor. The heresy laws were repealed, but the new Act of Uniformity made attendance at church and the use of an adapted version of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer compulsory, with fines for laypeople.

In the 1560s Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s first cousin once removed, became the focus of a Catholic-led rebellion in the North. Pope Pius V, believing that the revolt had been successful, issued a bull in 1570, declaring Elizabeth “the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime,” excommunicated and a heretic. It released her subjects from allegiance to her and excommunicated Catholics who obeyed her. Parliament retaliated by declaring efforts to convert English subjects to Catholicism a treasonable offense punishable by death. In the 1570s missionary priests from continental seminaries began to come to England secretly to reconvert England; many were executed and deemed martyrs.

In all, well over 300 Catholics were tortured and executed for their faith under Elizabeth, somewhat more than the 277 Protestants under Mary.

The Reformation in England had one major episode to go before reaching the full settlement that endured until the 19th century. That story took place much later and is for another day.

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