CHAPTER IV. THE REIGN OF QUEEN ELIZABETH (1558-1603)
While preparations were being made in England for the rebellion, Catholic representatives in Rome, both lay and clerical, pressed Pius V. to issue a decree of excommunication and of deposition against Elizabeth. Such a decree, it was thought, would strengthen the hands of those who were working in the interests of Mary Queen of Scotland, and would open the eyes of a large body of Catholics who stood firmly by Elizabeth solely from motives of extreme loyalty. Philip II. was not acquainted with the step that was in contemplation, though apparently the French authorities were warned that Rome was about to take action. Had the advice of the King of Spain been sought he might have warned the Pope against proceeding to extremes with Elizabeth, and in doing so he would have had the support of those at home who were acquainted most intimately with English affairs. In February (1570) the process against Elizabeth was begun in Rome, and on the 25th of the same month the Bull, Regnans in Excelsis , announcing the excommunication and deposition of Elizabeth was given to the world. Had it come five or six months earlier, and had there been an able leader capable of uniting the English Catholic body, a work that could not be accomplished either by the Duke of Norfolk or the Northern Earls, the result might have been at least doubtful; but its publication, at a time when the northern rebellion had been suppressed, and when Spain, France, and the Netherlands were unwilling to execute it, served only to make wider the breach between England and Rome, and to expose the English Catholics to still fiercer persecution. For so far Catholics had been free to combine with moderate Protestants to secure the peaceful succession of Mary Queen of Scotland without any suspicion of disloyalty to Elizabeth, but from this time forward they were placed in the cruel position of being traitors either to the Pope or to Elizabeth, and every move made by them in favour of Mary Queen of Scotland must necessarily be construed as disloyalty to their sovereign. Copies of the Bull were smuggled into England, and one man, John Fenton, was found brave enough to risk his life by affixing a copy to the gates of the palace of the Bishop of London. He was taken prisoner immediately, and subjected to the terrible death reserved for traitors (8th August 1570).
While anti-Catholic feeling was running high, Elizabeth summoned Parliament to meet in April 1571. As danger was to be feared both from the Catholics and the Puritans special care was taken to ensure that reliable men should be returned. Several measures were introduced against the Catholic recusants, who had few sympathisers in the House of Commons, but in the House of Lords, where the Duke of Norfolk, who had been released, pleaded for moderation, and was supported by a small but determined body of the Lords, the feeling was less violent. Bills were both framed and passed making it treason to obtain Bulls, briefs, or documents from Rome. The penalty of Praemunire was levelled against all aiders and abettors of those offenders mentioned above, together with all who received beads, crosses, pictures, etc., blessed by the Bishop of Rome, or by any one acting with his authority; while those who had fled from the kingdom were commanded to return within six months under penalty of forfeiture of their goods and property. It was proposed too that all adults should be forced to attend the Protestant service and to receive Communion at stated times, but the latter portion was dropped probably at the request of the Catholic lords. However subservient Parliament might be in regard to the Catholics it was not inclined to strengthen the hands of the bishops against the Puritans. Notwithstanding Elizabeth's refusal to allow discussion of the Thirty Nine Articles, or to permit them to be published under parliamentary sanction, the members succeeded in attaining their object indirectly by imposing them on recusants. Elizabeth was determined, however, to show her faithful Commons that she and not the Parliament was the supreme governor of the Church. She took Convocation and the bishops under her protection and empowered them to issue the Articles in a revised form, so that there were then really two versions of the Thirty Nine Articles in force, one imposed by Convocation and the queen and the other by Parliament.
To secure aid against Spain as well as to draw away the French from supporting the Queen of Scotland Elizabeth made overtures for marriage to the Duke of Anjou, and at the same time the party in favour of Mary determined to make a new effort to bring about a marriage between Mary and the Duke of Norfolk. Ridolfi was the life and soul of the conspiracy, assisted by the Duke of Norfolk and by the Bishop of Ross, Mary's ambassador in London. It was hoped to enlist the sympathy of the Duke of Alva, Philip II. and the Pope, none of whom were unwilling to aid in overthrowing Elizabeth's rule, but before anything definite could be done Cecil's spies brought him news of the steps that were being taken. The Duke of Norfolk was arrested in September 1571, and placed on his trial in the following January. He was condemned to death, but as Elizabeth did not wish to take the responsibility of his execution on herself she waited until it had been confirmed by Parliament, after which he was led to the block (2nd June 1572). Parliament also petitioned for the execution of the Queen of Scotland, but for various reasons Elizabeth refused to accede to their request.