"The Catholics were never a serious threat to Elizabethan Church and State." How far do you agree with this statement?

Essay by ladymacbeth May 2005

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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.



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