the difficult early years of queen elizabeth I -- 12/21/16

Today's selection -- from The Sultan and the Queen by Jerry Brotton. Queen Elizabeth I began her forty-four year reign in dire circumstances. The finances of the country were precarious due to debts she had inherited from her father's wars. To make matters worse, since she was determined to carry forward the religious revolution her father had started when he broke away from the Catholic church, she was excommunicated, thus effectively cutting her country off from trade with the rest of Europe:

"Elizabeth came to the throne facing a national debt of nearly £300,000 incurred by her late father's wars with France, poor harvests and a slump in the cloth trade. Her creditors threatened to repossess English assets abroad. ... [Then], on ... May 24, 1570, John Felton, a well-known Catholic sympathizer living in Ber­mondsey, just south of the Thames, crossed London Bridge and nailed a printed document to the door of the Bishop of London's palace near St. Paul's Cathedral. It was a copy of a papal bull issued in Rome on February 25 by Pope Pius V, entitled Regnans in Excelsis ('Reigning on High'), declaring the excommunication of Elizabeth I. The bull (so called after its lead seal, or bulla), named after its opening words, con­demned 'Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England' for 'having seized on the kingdom and monstrously usurped the place of Supreme Head of the Church in all England,' reducing 'the said kingdom into a miserable and ruinous condition, which was so lately reclaimed to the Catholic faith' under Mary and Philip.

Coronation Portrait of Queen Elizabeth

Pope Pius V

"It cataloged a litany of perceived sins, based on Elizabeth's legislation of the late 1550s, including the abolition of 'Catholic rites and ceremonies,' the introduction of prayer books 'to be read through the whole realm containing manifest her­esy,' and other 'impious rites and institutions, by herself entertained and observed according to the prescript of Calvin.' It concluded: 'We do out of the fullness of our Apostolic power declare the aforesaid Elizabeth as being a heretic and a favourer of heretics, and her adher­ents in the matters aforesaid, to have incurred the sentence of excom­munication, and to be cut off from the unity of the Body of Christ. And moreover We do declare her to be deprived of her pretended title to the kingdom aforesaid.' The bull issued one last particularly divisive edict: 'We do command and charge all and every noblemen, subjects, people, and others aforesaid that they presume not to obey her or her orders, mandates, and laws.'

"For England's Catholics, the bull created a terrible dilemma, com­pelling them to choose between religion and country. For Felton, it proved fatal in the most gruesome manner. Within days of posting the bull he was arrested and imprisoned in Newgate, where he declared that Elizabeth 'ought not to be the queen of England.' Such treasonous statements landed him in the Tower of London, where he was put on the rack and became the first Englishman to be tortured by the state for his Catholic beliefs. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered at the scene of his crime, in St. Paul's churchyard. On August 8 he addressed a hostile crowd and a hangman named Bull (a joke not lost on many Protestant observers), insisting that he had done nothing wrong other than promote a solemn papal edict. Refusing the ministrations of attendant Protestant clergy, Felton was hanged, cut down before losing consciousness, and then disemboweled; as the hangman pulled out his still beating heart he is said to have cried out 'once or twice, "Jesus," ' before he finally expired."


Jerry Brotton


The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam


Viking an imprint of Random House


Copyright 2016 by Jerry Brotton


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