CHAPTER XV. MARY (ii), 1555-58 - THE PERSECUTION

Here we reach the turning point of the reign; the point at which the great persecution began. If anything like justice is to be rendered to the leading actors in the ensuing tragedy, it is necessary to differentiate between these two divisions of Mary's rule.

[Mary's policy, 1553-4]

We must remark that throughout these first eighteen months, Mary had proved herself to be the reverse of a vindictive woman. Her leniency in the case of Northumberland's accomplices had been almost unparalleled. A second rebellion when she had been barely six months on the throne was treated with no more than ordinary severity, though a very few of those implicated with Northumberland, who would otherwise have been spared, were executed in consequence. The advocates of the old religion had come into power, but their power had certainly not been used more oppressively than that of the opposition party under Warwick or even under Somerset: and there was more excuse for the treatment of Cranmer and Ridley at least than there had been for that of Gardiner and Bonner. If Latimer and Hooper, Ferrar and Coverdale, were imprisoned, it was no more than Heath and Day and Tunstal had suffered. The deprivation of the married clergy was certainly a harsh measure, since the marriages had been made under the aegis of the law; but that appears to be the one measure which had hitherto savoured of bigotry - at least, which had gone beyond the bounds of even-handed retaliation. What, then, was the change which now took place? And how may we account for it?

[1555 The persecution]

The sanction of parliament had at last been obtained by the Acts just passed for the enforcement of the old religion by the old methods. There was nothing novel about the procedure or the penalties; but practically a reversion to the pre-latitudinarian line of demarcation between heresy and orthodoxy. All or very nearly all of the martyrs of the Marian persecution would have been sent to the stake under Henry for making the same profession of faith. The crucial question was acceptance of Transubstantiation, for the denial of which several victims had perished within the last twenty years, whose doom both Cranmer and Latimer had at the time held to be justified. But in the interval, the conditions had changed. A large proportion of the most learned scholars had adopted the new doctrine, and the legislature had sanctioned it. The methods which were usually efficacious in stamping out sporadic heresy, methods which only involved an execution here and there, lost their efficacy when the heresy had ceased to be sporadic. Hecatombs were required instead of occasional victims; and even the sacrifice of occasional victims had already begun to revolt the public conscience before Henry's career was closed. But this did not alter the vital postulate. Falsehood was none the less falsehood because it had been sanctioned for a time, none the less demanded drastic excision. Gardiner, standing for the old order, saw nothing revolting in applying again the principles which had been consistently applied before he became an old man. It is probable also that he expected immediate success to result from striking fearlessly and ruthlessly at the most prominent offenders - the rule of action habitually adopted by Henry and Cromwell - a rule generally maintained while Gardiner himself lived: that he never anticipated the holocaust which followed. It is remarkable that in his own diocese of Winchester there were no burnings. Mary had already sufficiently proved her own freedom from vindictiveness; it cannot fairly be questioned that she was moved entirely by a sense of duty however distorted.

[Whose was the responsibility?]

From the Spaniards [Footnote: See Renard's correspondence, passim. But the numerous citations therefrom alike in the Anti-Catholic Froude and the Catholic Stone (Mary I.) are sufficiently conclusive on the point.] there was no incitement to persecution, but the contrary - not that Philip had any abstract objection, but both he and Renard were concerned entirely with the present pacification of the country and its reconciliation to the Spanish marriage; both were aware that persecution would have the opposite effect. The demand for the suppression of heresy did not take its rise among the lay nobility, of whom the majority were prepared to accept whatever formulae might be most convenient. The theory [Footnote: Moore, p. 221, asserts this view.] that they rather than a section of the clergy were the moving cause has no foundation in the evidence, beyond the fact that the Council officially as a body urged Bonner and others forward. Paget and his associates certainly resisted the enactments at first. Still neither they nor the Commons can be freed from responsibility. The persecution was not however a move of one political party against the other; no section was so committed to protestantism as to be exposed to serious injury: no political motive can be even formulated. Vindictiveness, or a moral conviction of the duty of stamping out heresy, alone can make the proceedings intelligible. Of the former there is no fair proof, while the latter is entirely consistent with the prevailing spirit among the zealots on both sides, and with the known character of the persons who must be regarded as the principal instigators. Its source lay with Mary herself, a passionately devoted daughter of the old Church, and with a few ecclesiastics. Since there is no doubt that from the time of Pole's arrival, his influence predominated with her personally, he, more than Gardiner, must share with her the ultimate responsibility.

[Comparison with other persecutions]