CHAPTER IV. THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH (1558-1603)
With the establishment of the ecclesiastical commission (1559) to search out and punish heresy and generally to carry out the provisions of the Supremacy Act, and with the appointment of new bishops (1559- 60) the work of reforming the faith of England was well under way. Still the new bishops were confronted with grave difficulties. From the reports of the Spanish ambassador, who had exceptional opportunities of knowing the facts but whose opinions for obvious reasons cannot always be accepted, the great majority of the people outside London were still Catholic, and even in London itself the adherents of the old faith could not be despised. Quite apart, however, from his reports, sufficient evidence can be adduced from the episcopal and official letters and documents to show that the change was not welcomed by a great body in the country. As the best means of enforcing the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity a visitation of both provinces was arranged. In London Masses were still celebrated, and attended by great multitudes; in Canterbury itself within sight of the archiepiscopal palace public religious processions were carried out. In Winchester, where the memory of Gardiner was still cherished, many of the clergy refused to attend the visitation; the laymen were discreetly absent when their assent was required; the churches were deserted and even the people attending the cathedral "were corrupted by the clergy." In Hereford Bishop Scory described his cathedral, "as a very nest of blasphemy, whoredom, pride, superstition, and ignorance;" the justices threw every obstacle in the way of his reforms; fasts and feasts were observed as of old; and even the very butchers seemed leagued against him, for they refused to sell meat on Thursdays. In Bath and Wells many of the justices were openly disobedient, and even the people who conformed outwardly could not be relied upon. In Norwich, Ely, Salisbury and Chichester "Popery" was still strong amongst the clergy, people, and officials. At Eton it was necessary to expel the provost and all the teachers except three before the college could be reduced to subjection, and at Oxford the visitors were driven to admit, that if they expelled the fellows who refused to subscribe, and the students who would have no religious service except the Mass, the houses would be deserted. In the northern provinces where the visitation did not begin till some time later it was discovered that matters were still worse. The principal noblemen were openly Catholic, and many of the magistrates denied that they had ever heard of the Act of Supremacy, while others of them "winked and looked through their fingers." In York the diocese was in a state of anarchy; in Carlisle the bishop confessed that he could not prevent the public celebration of the Mass; in Durham the bishop wrote that he found himself engaged in a conflict with wild beasts even more savage than those which had confronted St. Paul at Ephesus. To make matters worse it was reported that public sympathy was on the side of the recusants, and that hopes were being expressed by many that the present advisers of her Majesty might soon be displaced, even though it were necessary to have recourse to France or Spain.
Nor was it merely from the side of the Catholics that the bishops and the government anticipated serious danger. The men, who, like Hooper, objected to the Edwardine settlement as not being sufficiently extreme, had approached more closely to Calvinism in doctrine and in ritual during their enforced sojourn at Frankfurt and Geneva. They were enthusiastic in their praise of Elizabeth for her attacks upon Rome, but they found fault with her religious programme as flavouring too much of idolatry and papistry. They objected to crosses, candles, vestments, copes, blessings, and much of the old ritual that had been retained in the Book of Common prayer, and insisted that, until religion had been brought back to a state of scriptural purity, the English people should not rest satisfied. Whatever sympathy some of the English political advisers may have had with the Puritans in theory they had no intention of yielding to their demands, as such a policy would have stirred up all the latent Catholicity in the country. The official church "as by law established" was to be a church for the nation, standing midway between Rome and Puritanism, a kind of compromise between both extremes. Elizabeth was determined to put down Puritanism, irreverence, and unlicensed preaching with a heavy hand. As a foretaste of what the champions of innovation might expect, much to the disgust of the archbishop, she struck a blow at the married clergy by ordering the removal of women and children from the enclosures of colleges and cathedrals (1561).