|Martyrdom of Bishop Hooper|
Back to the reign of Mary and the fate of the Reformers in that reign. Mary was not the fanatical Catholic that John Foxe in his famous Actes and Monuments (aka “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”) and his literary heirs, the 19th century Evangelical Anglican authors, would make her out to be. But she was a tormented soul, and her torment caused pain—real pain—for countless of religious dissenters.
Remember that for the first seventeen years of her life she had been not only a royal princess, but the heir-apparent to the Throne of England. On an even more important foundation, for the first ten years or so of her life she enjoyed the security of her parents having a reasonably loving marriage. When she was bout thirteen that marriage was souring fast, and Mary found herself torn between the conflicting interests of her two parents. At this period of life she began to experience severe menstrual issues that may have been—it is too late for an autopsy—due to the stress of seeing her parents’ marriage fall apart and her own future cast in doubt. Her father, whom she adored, “didn’t want” her as Queen to succeed him. He loved a yet-to-conceived son over a daughter whom he had fashioned into an elegant and learned woman. When Archbishop Cranmer—and this key people, pay attention—annulled her parents’ marriage, Mary lost the Title “Royal Highness,” and her status as a Princess. She was now simply The Lady Mary, the King’s bastard. This is a difficult comedown, and if so for an English Princess, even more for an Infanta of Spain, granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the founders of the Spanish Empire and the most powerful (as well as the most blue-blooded) royalty of Europe. All of a sudden her prospects for a marriage of rank and a life of privilege disappeared. Her father appointed her a Lady-in-Waiting the little Boleyn baby that had taken her place in history. That was humiliating, but what was far more painful is that he separated her from her mother in an attempt to force both Mary and Katherine to acknowledge the annulment, the Boleyn marriage, and the succession of the new Princess, Elizabeth.
When Mary came to the throne she freely promised not to disturb the consciences of any of her subjects. Moreover, as we have seen, bishops and clergy—even those who had supported Cranmer’s Reform—were allowed to remain in their Sees and Benefices (and many promoted) providing they were willing to give up their wives, and return to Catholic doctrine and practice. One has to admit that the clergy of the Church of England were, for the most part, more committed to their having a job than having a wife. But even today how many marriages falter on career vs. commitment?
Remember: Mary had a score that she was determined to settle and that was with Archbishop Cranmer, the man whose toadieness to her father, had broken her mother’s heart and taken away her own happiness for over twenty years. Mary was going to make the Archbishop pay. We will get to that in a future posting as Cranmer’s role in the reign of Queen Mary deserves an entry—at least one—of its own.
In 1554, as part of the negotiations to readmit the Church of England to the Roman Communion, the old Heresy Acts were revived. Mary had already arrested the handful of Protestant bishops who would not back down on Cranmer’s Reforms. She now prosecuted them and had them executed. As the reign went on—and we will look at this—Mary seems to have become more and more impassioned against the religious changed that had taken place in England. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the leading reasons undoubtedly was her increasing anxiety that she would not be able to provide a heir to the throne and the Crown would go to her Protestant sister Elizabeth who would restore the Protestant faith. Mary was determined to keep England Catholic, even after she died.
It was only in 1555, two years after her coming to the throne, that persecution of Protestants broke out in force. In the remaining three and a half years of her reign, about 300 ordinary Englishmen died in defense of their Protestant faith, most very cruelly by being burned “at the stake.” In the big picture Mary was no more “bloody” than had been her father or would be her sister in the days of their having worn the crown. But the memory of the “Marian Martyrs” long provided grist for the mill of anti-papalism in England.