Reviewed by Melissa Harkrider (Wheaton College)
Published on H-Albion (October, 2009)
Commissioned by Brian S. Weiser
Marian Catholicism: A Reassessment
In his 1992 monograph The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy observed that “a convincing account of the religious history of Mary’s reign has yet to be written.” Since then numerous studies have reexamined traditional religion in sixteenth-century England and demonstrated the vitality of Catholicism in this period. Mary I’s own popularity, the appeal of the restored church, and the initiatives of Cardinal Reginald Pole, for example, have received careful attention in the work of Duffy, David Loades, Thomas Mayer, and Lucy Wooding. Yet the historiography of the Marian church continues to be shaped by the prevailing view of its ineffectiveness in comparison with the Elizabethan church that succeeded it. In this essay collection, coeditors Duffy and Loades and their contributors offer a valuable reappraisal of Marian Catholicism.
Loades begins the collection with an introductory essay on Mary’s personal piety. While previous studies have primarily depicted the queen’s conservative views in static terms, Loades demonstrates the complexity of the queen’s faith. He notes that Mary received an excellent humanist education. She remained, however, insular in her religious views even after her marriage to Philip brought her into closer contact with the Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation. Her priorities as a Catholic ruler focused on the restoration of the sacraments and on religious education. She showed little interest in going on pilgrimages or restoring religious shrines, which had been notable features of her mother’s piety. Rather, devotion to the Mass was the centerpiece of Mary’s faith. Her defense of the doctrine of transubstantiation and her commitment to the exclusion and punishment of married clergy, for example, derived from this belief. Indeed, her uncompromising dedication to the sacrament of the altar meant that she refused to view the denial of the corporeal presence of Christ as anything less than blasphemy. Loades argues that Mary’s convictions on this point meant she, rather than her bishops or advisers, was the driving force in the persecution of Protestants during her reign.
The first section of the volume evaluates institutional aspects of the Marian church. Loades’s essay on the Marian episcopate, for example, notes that Mary’s bishops were characterized by their conservative views and their theological training. Many were able administrators and diligent preachers, but, contrary to their reputation in Protestant literature, most were not active persecutors. The effectiveness of the Marian episcopate, however, was hampered by its mixed composition, which included older men, survivors, and new appointees. As Loades suggests, many of the men restored to their positions did not possess the zeal or commitment required for the task. Mary’s newer appointees were more suited to the task, but, as Loades observes, they lacked the time needed to transform the Marian church. Claire Cross’s essay evaluates the importance of the universities to efforts by the queen and Cardinal Pole to restore Catholicism. She argues that the departure of Protestant intellectuals helped to facilitate the rapid reclamation of the universities for Catholic orthodoxy. As Cross shows, Pole enacted legislation intent on rooting out Protestantism and encouraging sound Catholic doctrine. Moreover, both universities attracted generous endowments not only from the queen but also from lay benefactors. Yet, as with the Marian episcopate, time prevented the fruition of Mary and Pole’s plans for Catholic higher education. C. S. Knighton’s essay considers the composition of Mary’s restored foundation at Westminster Abbey. Knighton methodically examines the membership and finances of the abbey. He emphasizes, for example, the modest size of the community compared to its predecessors and notes that the abbey likely did not achieve its projected target of forty monks. Knighton suggests that the inadequacy of the community’s endowment and its own estate policy often presented further challenges to its growth. Knighton’s study is further supplemented by a detailed biographical survey of the members of the Westminster community. The first section concludes with an essay by Ralph Houlbrooke on the role of the clergy and church courts in implementing and enforcing Catholicism in Norwich. Houlbrooke shows that this process was facilitated by the capitulation or departure of the city’s leading Protestant clergy. John Barret, for example, became an active participant in the effort to persuade his former coreligionists to reject Protestantism and helped influence the subscriptions of Robert Watson and Thomas Rose. Houlbrooke argues that the submission of leading Protestants likely contributed to the passivity of the Protestant minority in Norwich.
The second section includes three essays on the influence of Pole and Bartolomé Carranza. The first essay by Mayer describes the volume of appeals made to Pole in his role as legate and archbishop. Mayer employs these records to bolster his argument for the effectiveness of Pole’s final legation. Duffy’s essay provides a compelling assessment of Pole’s views of preaching. Duffy begins with a judicious reinterpretation of a 1558 letter from Pole to Carranza that has served as the basis for the claim that Pole harbored serious concerns about preaching. Duffy argues instead that a careful analysis of the letter shows Pole possessed a more nuanced view of the value of this practice. Moreover, Duffy argues that Pole’s sermon on St. Andrew’s Day in 1557 demonstrates the cardinal’s effectiveness in analyzing the problems confronting the Marian church in London. John Edwards’s essay examines the religious treatises of Carranza as well as the Spanish and Roman Inquisition records of his trial to argue for the influence of Carranza and other Spanish clergy on the Marian church.
The final section focuses on different aspects of Marian Catholicism. Wooding examines the centrality of the Mass to the restored church and the multiple layers of meaning it possessed in this period. The Mass served as a symbol of religious continuity between the Marian church and the Henrician Reformation. Its bodily imagery offered the hope of reconciliation for a fractured community, and its efficacy was defended by humanists who appealed to multiple sources, including scripture and the church fathers. Wooding’s essay astutely demonstrates the intricacy and complexity of the Mass and shows its ability to synthesize various ideas within Marian Catholicism. William Wizeman’s study evaluates the ministry of Thomas Watson and his efforts to convey Catholic theology to his audience. Through Catholyke doctryne and Twoo Sermons, Watson emphasized the centrality of the sacraments, notably the Mass and penance; the church’s role as mediator of God’s grace and as arbiter of divine truth; the priest’s role as minister of God’s Word; and the importance of the cult of saints, purgatory, and papal supremacy. Gary Gibbs offers a reappraisal of Henry Machyn’s manuscript and suggests that the text should be understood more as a sophisticated chronicle than an autobiographical work. Machyn’s text reveals Mary’s use of traditional religious symbols and ceremonies to appeal to her subjects’ loyalty and sympathy with Catholic orthodoxy. Through their participation in such rituals, Machyn and others engaged with the key political and religious policies of her administration. Gibbs’s study effectively argues that neither Mary nor Machyn should be considered disconnected from the cultural developments of this period. Patrick Collinson concludes the volume with his analysis of the Marian persecutions in Kent. Collinson begins by acknowledging that, while Protestants remained a minority even in Kent, a disproportionate number of men and women were executed for heresy in this region. Collinson’s judicious study evaluates the sources for John Foxe’s account of the martyrs in Kent and also discusses Foxe’s handling of this evidence. Notably, Collinson offers a compelling case for the heterodox beliefs of several martyrs.
The contributors to this volume succeed admirably in providing a more balanced evaluation of Marian Catholicism. Their collective efforts, however, do not always offer a consistent view of the restored church. Edwards’s essay on Carranza, for example, stresses Pole’s ambivalent attitude toward preaching despite Duffy’s argument for Pole’s support for preaching and his own astute sermon on the challenges confronted by the London church. Similarly, Wooding and Wizeman disagree over the importance placed on papal supremacy, the efficacy of good works, and the role of the priest. Nevertheless, this collection’s depth and range provides a valuable reassessment of Mary’s religious policies and the vibrancy of Catholicism during her reign.
. Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992), 524.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-albion.
Melissa Harkrider. Review of Duffy, Eamon; Loades, David, eds., The Church Of Mary Tudor.
H-Albion, H-Net Reviews.
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