CHAPTER IV. THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH (1558-1603)
Parliament met (1585) at a time when the discovery of the plot against Elizabeth and the news of the assassination of William of Orange had created great excitement through the country. An association that had been formed to defend the life of the queen or to revenge her death was granted statutory powers by Parliament. The queen was authorised to create a special commission with authority to deal with all plotters and to exclude from succession to the throne everyone in whose interest she herself might be assassinated. An Act was passed by which all Jesuits and seminary priests were commanded to leave England within forty days under penalty of treason; all persons not in holy orders studying in any foreign seminary or college were ordered to return within six months and to take the oath of supremacy within two days of their arrival if they did not wish to be punished as traitors; all persons harbouring or assisting a priest were to be adjudged guilty of felony; all who sent their children abroad except by special permission were to be fined £100 for each offence, and all who had knowledge of the presence of a priest in England, and who did not report it to a magistrate within twelve days were liable to be fined and imprisoned at the queen's pleasure. This Act was designed to secure the banishment or death of all the seminary priests, and if any of them survived it was due neither to the want of vigilance nor to the mildness of the government. Spies were let loose into every part of England to report the doings of the clergy and laity. Wholesale arrests were effected, and great numbers of the clergy put to death merely because they were priests, and of the laymen merely because they harboured priests. Three were executed in 1585, thirteen in 1586, and seven in 1587. To secure the conviction of the prisoners, though the law had made the conviction sufficiently certain, but more especially to create popular prejudice against them in the minds of loyal Englishmen, a series of questions were administered to them known as the "bloody" or "cut-throat" questions, as for example, "whose part would you take if the Pope or any other by his authority should make war on the queen."
The dismissal of the Spanish ambassador after the discovery of the Throckmorton plot and the assistance given by England to the rebels in the Netherlands helped to increase the hostility between England and Spain, and to induce Philip II. to make renewed efforts for the overthrow of Elizabeth's government, while at the same time the merciless persecution of the Catholics in England drove many of them who wished to remain loyal to co-operate with their brethren abroad and to assist Philip's schemes. This unfortunate combination of English Catholics with Spanish politicians did more to mar the work of the seminary priests, and to set back the rising Catholic tide than all that could have been accomplished by Elizabeth's penal laws or merciless persecution. The large and increasing body of English people who began to look with a friendly eye towards the old faith were shocked by the adoption of such means, and when they found themselves face to face with the necessity of selecting between an Anglo-Spanish party and Elizabeth, they decided to throw in their lot with the latter. The discovery of the Babington plot for the rescue of Scotland's queen led to the death of its author and the execution of the lady in whose favour it had been planned (1587). The news of Mary's execution created a great sensation both at home and abroad. To prevent hostilities on the part of Mary's son, James VI. of Scotland, or of the Catholic sovereigns on the Continent, Elizabeth, pretending to be displeased with her ministers for carrying out the sentence, ordered the arrest of Davison the secretary to the council, and had him punished by a fine of £10,000 and imprisonment in the Tower. Philip II. was not, however, deceived by such conduct, or influenced by the overtures made for peace. Elizabeth's interference in the affairs of the Netherlands, the attacks made by her sailors on Spanish territories and Spanish treasure-ships, and the execution of Mary Queen of Scotland determined him to make a final effort for the overthrow of the English government. The great Armada was got ready for the invasion of England (1588). But the Spanish ships were not destined to reach the English harbours, nor the Spanish soldiers whom they carried on board to test their bravery and skill in conflict with Elizabeth's forces on English soil.