The Catholic Threat

The Catholic Threat

The Threat from Catholic Europe

  • Papal Opposition: From the onset, Elizabeth was seen as an illegitimate ruler by Pope Pius V. In 1570, he issued a papal bull (a declaration from the Pope) called ‘Regnans in Excelsis’ excommunicating Elizabeth, freeing her Catholic subjects from their allegiance to her.

  • Foreign Powers: There were major Catholic powers in Europe during Elizabeth’s reign, particularly Spain and France. Both countries had an interest in bringing England back to Catholicism, and were concerned that the Protestant England created by Elizabeth was a direct threat to their own religious authority and stability.

  • Military Threats: There were significant threats to England from foreign military forces, such as the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Domestic Catholic Threats

  • Mary, Queen of Scots: Mary, Catholic Queen of Scotland, was viewed as the Catholic heir to Elizabeth’s throne. Many English Catholics believed she was the legitimate monarch rather than Elizabeth. She was involved in a number of plots against Elizabeth, including the Babington Plot of 1586.

  • Catholic Plots: There were several plots against Elizabeth’s reign that were orchestrated by Catholics hoping to replace her with a Catholic monarch. Among the most significant were the Ridolfi Plot (1571), the Throckmorton Plot (1583), and the Babington Plot (1586).

Elizabeth’s Response

  • Religious Settlement, launched in 1559. This was Elizabeth’s attempt to make religious peace in her country by combining Protestant doctrine and Catholic ritual.

  • Recusancy fines: Catholics who did not attend Church of England services were fined, leading to resentment and hardship amongst many Catholics.

  • Spy Networks: Under the guidance of Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s government maintained a network of spies that infiltrated Catholic communities to uncover potential threats to the Queen.

  • Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: Elizabeth took the hard decision to have her cousin executed following evidence of her involvement in the Babington Plot. This act, a regicide, shocked the royal courts of Europe but was seen by Elizabeth as necessary to safeguard her own position and reassert authority.

Elizabeth faced significant threats from Catholics both domestically and abroad. However, through a combination of political manoeuvring, strict laws and enforcement, she managed to maintain her position and see off these catholic threats.