Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Terrorism: 1582

by Barbara Kyle

"It's all so familiar in our own deplorable time: torture...spies and counter-spies...mutually exclusive faiths, the cult of martyrdom...projects for exterminating the liberties of peoples...the implacable hates, the use of assassination, the division of families, the riving asunder of friends, and the conflict within the individual conscience itself, which tore men's hearts open." - A.L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth's Dilemma

In 1582 Elizabeth Tudor, age forty-nine, had ruled England for twenty-three years, and under her reign the country had enjoyed peace and increasing prosperity. But her throne, and her life, were under constant threat. Religion was the cause.

Elizabeth's first act as Queen in 1559 had been the Act of Supremacy. It had made the realm Protestant and confirmed the monarch's position as head of the English church, without doing violence to Catholics. Elizabeth herself advocated religious tolerance, saying she had "no desire to make windows into men's souls," but she knew that strong leadership was needed to restrain the growing antagonism between Puritans and Catholics, and she hoped her religious settlement would unify them.

It did not. Neither side was satisfied.

The Puritans felt she had not taken England far enough away from "papist" customs, while Catholics considered her a heretic and found the concept of a woman as head of a church grotesque. They believed her Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, was the rightful claimant to the English throne, one who acknowledged the supreme authority of the pope.

Mary Queen of Scots

Enter Mary, Queen of Scots

In 1568 Mary was deposed in her own country and fled to England seeking Elizabeth's help, but Elizabeth, anxious that Catholics would rally around the Queen of Scots, put her under house arrest. Mary's supporters in England and abroad were outraged.

Mary herself, though comfortably lodged in a series of castle suites, chafed at her captivity and secretly communicated with leaders who were eager to free her by insurrection or invasion, or both.

In 1570 Pope Pius V issued an edict of excommunication against Elizabeth that called on Catholics throughout Christendom to rise up and depose her. This emboldened English Catholics in their opposition to the Church of England, and many refused to attend their parish churches. Known as "recusants" (from the Latin recusare, to refuse), these dissenters faced heavy fines.

A Hinge of History

In France, in August 1572, on the feast day of St. Bartholomew, the country's Catholic rulers instigated a savage attack on French Protestants, the Huguenots. In a convulsion of religious violence, over three thousand men and women were slaughtered in Paris by mobs of their Catholic neighbors. The carnage spread throughout France, claiming seventy thousand Huguenot lives.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre sent shock waves through England. The Protestant island nation, its population far smaller than that of powerful France, was galvanized by fear.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

Licence to Kill

Elizabeth had at first been lenient with Catholic recusants; they were merely fined. But in 1580 the threat to her became dire when Pope Gregory XIII, reinforcing the anathema against her, issued a declaration that it would be no sin to assassinate her. It was a clear licence to kill.

Assassination plots multiplied. Jesuit infiltrators from abroad fomented insurrection. Mary Stuart's supporters pledged to free her by force of arms. Elizabeth's government leaders discovered and thwarted the plots, but in their acute alarm they became more aggressive in rounding up agitators, real and perceived. Punishments became harsh: no longer mere fines, but imprisonment and, in some cases, death.

By 1582 England, feeling under siege, was in the grip of mind-darkening terror.

Note: The quote at the top of this post is by eminent Elizabethan historian A.L. Rowse. His words sound eerily apt for our own paranoid times.

The above is the Historical Preface that opens my new historical thriller, The Traitor's Daughter.

The Traitor's Daughter is the latest in my internationally published Thornleigh Saga series. The seven-book series follows a middle-class English family's rise through three tumultuous Tudor reigns. I hope you'll enjoy them all.

For details please see www.BarbaraKyle.com

“Riveting Tudor drama in the bestselling vein of Philippa Gregory”
USA Today on The Queen's Exiles

“A heart-stopping thriller...Kyle is a master at her craft.
RT Book Reviews on The Queen's Exiles

"Riveting, adventurous...superb!"
- Historical Novel Society on The Queen's Gamble


  1. Seems we have not progressed as much as we like to think. Just names and dates have changed.

  2. However, this was NOT unthinking paranoia. There were real reasons to the fear. The Jesuit infiltrators were not just bringing in new priests to perform Masses. They were there to foment rebellions and possibly assassination plots. Mary of Scotland was no white innocent in this. She deserved her execution. Elizabeth tried to set a middle way; however, the people would not let her. Stability was the key. The instability was from the Roman Catholic faction. The example from France and her own experience of her sister Queen Mary's reign, when she did not know if she would be put to death because of religion, ultimately set her later policies on strict containment because they showed no different.

  3. It's all dependent on the personal angle. To the Catholics, Henry had discarded all stability and the established order. He broke with the Pope for his personal reasons. To Rome, this was a huge political loss. Realistically speaking, if Henry had not pushed for the divorce or had his divorce been granted, England might be Catholic today. Just saying...


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