On the 18th of August 1553, Queen Mary I issued her first royal proclamation in which she ambiguously told her subjects that they were free to worship as they pleased (in silence). This proclamation was open to interpretation and it reads as follows:
“Her Majesty being presently by the only goodness of God settle in the just possession of the Imperial Crown of this realm and other dominions thereunto belonging, cannot now hide that religion which God and the world knoweth she hath ever professed from her infancy hitherto, which Her Majesty is minded to observe and maintain for herself by God’s grace during her time, so doth Her Highness much desire would be glad the same were all of her subjects quietly and charitably to embrace. And yet she doth signify unto all Her Majesty’s said loving subjects that of her most gracious disposition and clemency Her Highness mindeth not to compel any her said subjects there unto unto such time as further order by common assent may be taken therein.”
She added that all her subjects were “to live in quiet sort and Christian charity” and told them that any further religious changes would not be done unless with the consent of parliament. In spite of the religious violence surging in London as a consequence of radical Protestants, Mary made no move to ban the Protestant religion or change her father’s establishment (initially).
One of the many aims in Mary’s reign was reforming the Church from within. Like her maternal grandmother she recognized the crippling state of the Catholic Church in her country, and sought to remedy it. Many of the priests and bishops who were responsible for tending to their flock couldn’t speak the language, those who did were not in tune to the needs of their flock and other simply didn’t want to associate with the common people, instead they wanted to take as much money as they could and live off from their benefices. Things like these had allowed the Protestant movement to grow. Mary’s only option was reforming the entire structure of the English church. She took advantage of the printing press to produce a substantial body of homilies and reference material, much of it penned by the bishop of London, Edmund Bonnet. She also took a strong stance against married priests (something Elizabeth I also did in her reign) and in March 1554, nine months after her accession, issued an order that deprived every priest of their benefices and removed “according to their learning and discretion, all such persons from ecclesiastical promotions who contrary to the laudable custom of the church have married and used women as their wives.” One of the people affected by her policy was the Archbishop of York who had been married under Edward’s regime. While her councilors advised her it was best to wait, Mary was anxious to see religious change in the country. As a princess she had been educated by the best Humanists in her day and she was in the most true sense, a renaissance princess and like her mother and father, she blamed the current state of the country and the distrust in the Catholic Church on the priesthood. During her reign many charters and religious institutions were founded, re-founded, and established as well as scholarships to encourage young men to continue their education.
As for the Protestants, their relative freedom to practice their faith “in quiet sort and Christian charity” would all change following the Wyatt Rebellion, after which her polices became stricter and they would become more so after her marriage to Philip of Spain (who even disagreed with some of the measures, believing they were too soon).
- The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
- Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
- Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson