Edward VI, Henry VIII's son, was only a child when he became king, so the country was ruled by a council. All the members of this council were from the new nobility created by the Tudors. They were keen Protestant reformers because they had benefited from the sale of monastery lands. Indeed, all the new landowners knew that they could only be sure of keeping their new lands if they made England truly Protestant.
Most English people still believed in the old Catholic religion. Less than half the English were Protestant by belief, but these people were allowed to take a lead in religious matters. In 1552 a new prayer book was introduced to make sure that all churches followed the new Protestant religion. Most people were not very happy with the new religion. They had been glad to see the end of some ofthe Church's bad practices like the selling of “pardons" for the forgiveness of sins. But they did not like the changes in belief, and in some places mere was trouble.
Mary, the Catholic daughter of Catherine of Aragon, became queen when Edward, aged sixteen, died in 1553. A group of nobles tried to put Lady Jane Grey, a Protestant, on the throne. But Mary succeeded in entering London and took control of the kingdom. She was supported by the ordinary people, who were angered by the greed of the Protestant nobles.
However, Mary was unwise and unbending in her policy and her beliefs. She was the first queen of England since Matilda, 400 years earlier. At that time women were considered to be inferior to men. The marriage of a queen was therefore a difficult matter. If Mary married an Englishman she would be under the control of a man of lesser importance. If she married a foreigner it might place England under foreign control.
Mary, for political, religious and family reasons, chose to marry King Philip of Spain. It was an unfortunate choice. The ordinary people disliked the marriage, as Philip's Spanish friends in England were quick to notice. Popular feeling was so strong that a rebellion in Kent actually reached London before ending in failure. Mary dealt cruelly with the rebel leader, Wyatt, but she took the unusual step of asking Parliament for its opinion about her marriage plan. Parliament unwillingly agreed to Mary's marriage, and it only accepted Philip as king of England for Mary's lifetime.
Mary's marriage to Philip was the first mistake of her unfortunate reign. She then began burning Protestants. Three hundred people died in this way during her five-year reign, and the burnings began to sicken people. At the same time, the thought of becoming a junior ally of Spain was very unpopular. Only the knowledge that Mary herself was dying prevented a popular rebellion.
Elizabeth, Mary's half sister, was lucky to become queen when Mary died in 1558. Mary had considered killing her, because she was an obvious leader for Protestant revolt. Elizabeth had been wise enough to say nothing, do nothing, and to express neither Catholic nor Protestant views while Mary lived. And Philip persuaded Mary to leave Elizabeth unharmed.
When she became queen in 1558, Elizabeth I wanted to find a peaceful answer to the problems of the English Reformation. She wanted to bring together again those parts of English society which were in religious disagreement. And she wanted to make England prosperous. In some ways the kind of Protestantism finally agreed in 1559 remained closer to the Catholic religion than to other Protestant groups. But Elizabeth made sure that the Church was still under her authority, unlike politically dangerous forms of Protestantism in Europe. In a way, she made the Church part of the state machine.
The “parish”, the area served by one church, usually the same size as a village, became the unit of state administration. People had to go to church on Sundays by law and they were fined if they stayed away. This meant that the parish priest, the "parson" or "vicar", became almost as powerful as the village squire. Elizabeth also arranged for a book of sermons to be used in church. Although most of the sermons consisted of Bible teaching, this book also taught the people that rebellion against the Crown was a sin against God.
The struggle between Catholics and Protestants continued to endanger Elizabeth's position for the next thirty years. Both France and Spain were Catholic. Elizabeth and her advisers wanted to avoid open quarrels with both of them. This was not easy, because both the French and Spanish kings wanted to marry Elizabeth and so join England to their own country. Elizabeth and her advisers knew how much damage Mary had done and that it was important that she should avoid such a marriage. At the same time, however, there was a danger that the pope would persuade Catholic countries to attack England. Finally, there was a danger from those Catholic nobles still in England who wished to remove Elizabeth and replace her with the queen of Scotland, who was a Catholic.
Mary, the Scottish queen, usually called "Queen of Scots", was the heir to the English throne because she was Elizabeth's closest living relative, and because Elizabeth had not married. Mary's mother had been French, and Mary had spent her childhood in France, and was a strong Catholic. When she returned to rule Scotland as queen, Man soon made enemies of some of her nobles, and to avoid them she finally escaped to the safety of England. Elizabeth, however, kept Mary as a prisoner for almost twenty years. During that time Elizabeth discovered several secret Catholic plots, some of which clearly aimed at making Mary queen of England.
It was difficult for Elizabeth to decide what to do with Mary. She knew that France was unlikely to attack England in support of Mary. But she was afraid that Spain might do so. Mary's close connection with France, however, was a discouragement to Philip. He would not wish to defeat Elizabeth only to put Mary on the throne. It would be giving England to the French. So for a long time Elizabeth just kept Mary as a prisoner.
When Elizabeth finally agreed to Mary's execution in 1587, it was partly because Mary had named Philip as her heir to the throne of England, and because with this claim Philip of Spain had decided to invade England. Elizabeth no longer had a reason to keep Mary alive. In England Mary's execution was popular. The Catholic plots and the dangers of a foreign Catholic invasion had changed people's feelings. By 1585 most English people believed that to be a Catholic was to be an enemy of England. This hatred of everything Catholic became an important political force.
Lecture Eleven. England and her neighbours.
The new foreign policy. The new trading empire. Wales. Ireland. Scotland and England. Mary Queen of Scots and the Scottish Reformation. A Scottish king for England
The new foreign policy
During the Tudor period, from 1485 until 1603, English foreign policy changed several times. But by the end of the period England had established some basic principles. Henry VII had been careful to remain friendly with neighbouring countries. His son, Henry VIII, had been more ambitious, hoping to play an important part in European politics. He was unsuccessful. Mary allied England to Spain by her marriage. This was not only unpopular but was politically unwise: England had nothing to gain from being allied to a more powerful country. Elizabeth and her advisers considered trade the most important foreign policy matter, as Henry VII had done. For them whichever country was England's greatest trade rival was also its greatest enemy. This idea remained the basis of England's foreign policy until the nineteenth century.
Elizabeth's grandfather, Henry VII, had recognised the importance of trade and had built a large fleet of merchant ships. His son, Henry VIII, had spent money on warships and guns, making English guns the best in Europe.
Elizabeth's foreign policy carried Henry VII's work much further, encouraging merchant expansion. She correctly recognised Spain as her main trade rival and enemy. Spain at that time ruled the Netherlands, although many of the people were Protestant and were fighting for their independence from Catholic Spanish rule. Because Spain and ice were rivals, Spanish soldiers could only reach the Netherlands from Spain by sea. This meant sailing up the English Channel. Elizabeth helped the Dutch Protestants by allowing their ships to use English harbours from which they could attack Spanish ships, often with the help of the English. When it looked as if the Dutch rebels might be defeated, after they lost the city of Antwerp in 1585, Elizabeth agreed to help them with money and soldiers. It was almost an open declaration of war on Spain.
Philip decided to conquer England in 1587 because he believed this had to be done before he would be able to defeat the Dutch rebels in the Netherlands. He hoped that enough Catholics in England would be willing to help him. Philip's large army was already in the Netherlands. He built a great fleet of ships, an "Armada", to move his army across the English Channel from the Netherlands. But in 1587 Francis Drake attacked and destroyed part of this fleet in Cadiz harbour.
Philip started again, and built the largest fleet that had ever gone to sea. But most of the ships were designed to carry soldiers, and the few fighting ships were not as good as the English ones. English ships were longer and narrower, so that they were faster, and their guns could also shoot further than the Spanish ones.
When news of this Armada reached England in summer 1588, Elizabeth called her soldiers together. She won their hearts with well-chosen words: "I am come ... to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust. 1 know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too."
The Spanish Armada was defeated more by bad weather than by English guns. Some Spanish ships were sunk, but most were blown northwards by the wind, many being wrecked on the rocky coasts of Scotland and Ireland. For England it was a glorious moment, but it did not lead to an end of the war with Spain, and England found itself having to spend more than ever on England's defence. Peace was only made with Spain once Elizabeth was dead.