The moderate Protestantism of Elizabeth I was a compromise not only between the Protestant and Catholic faiths but also between the various competing factions in the Protestant movement (i.e. Calvin vs. Luther and Zwingli).
During her long reign, Elizabeth’s religious policy made life easier for some and harder for others but, overall, at least initially, it set the nation-state on a more even keel than it had enjoyed in years. If avoiding civil disorder was one of Elizabeth’s general political aims, then her religious policy was more of the same.
For certain individuals like John Shakespeare, this doubtless caused considerable consternation. As a Catholic, how should he fulfil his job to remove the trappings of Catholic pomp and circumstance from Stratford’s Guild Hall? Although we do not know how he personally felt about this responsibility, we can imagine that it was difficult to part with something so culturally endemic and visually rich as the wall paintings that on his orders, were white-washed.
Similar sentiments may lay at the heart of Roger Martyn’s lamentations regarding required changes in his parish church. Like John, Roger was forced to part with an entire way of life (i.e. celebrations and festive meals) to which he had developed an emotional bond. Interestingly, for whatever reason, Roger’s accounts highlighted the impact of these changes not on his personal religious feelings and beliefs, but on the outward trappings of such. Not everyone believed such destruction to be wrong. Iconoclasm, such as forced upon Roger and John had biblical roots. For religious men like John Jewel (Apologica Ecclesia Englicanae), such lush and vibrant Catholic imagery was proof positive that, at least according to the scriptures, the Roman Catholics were the heretics, not the Protestants.
For many Catholics, Elizabeth’s policy may well have been welcomed, at least at first. Not only did it allow men like John Donne and Ben Jonson to publicly switch their religious allegiance, but it also provided Catholics with a cover under which to carry on (quietly) as before. If they were willing to superficially comply with the requirements demanded by Elizabeth’s religious policy, the Catholics were, for the most part ignored. Elizabeth had no desire to meddle with her subject’s inner beliefs – i.e. the windows to their souls. However, later in her reign, when fears over the claims of Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne were rampant and religious fighting in Europe accelerated, Elizabeth cracked down on those Catholics who stuck their heads above the proverbial parapet. Doubtless, towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, it again became uncomfortably obvious for Protestants and Catholics alike, that their religious futures were uncertain.
In conclusion, although Elizabeth’s moderate religious policy had initially stabilised England’s political situation (for better or for worse), but the end of her reign another big and unsettling change was in the cards. Who would know if perhaps if would not be of the same magnitude as that suffered under the auspices of her father, Henry VIII, with the Reformation?
Leave a Reply