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Religion in the Age of Elizabeth

            In a period when political and religious ideas were enmeshed and differences entrenched, the ascension of a Protestant Queen to a religiously confused nation was precarious. Despite the brevity of Mary's reign, she had managed legislatively to reassemble Catholicism. Following a decade of religious oscillation and volatile foreign relations, Elizabeth's religious settlement was not only fluid and ecumenical however Elizabeth was not predominantly concerned that every man, woman and child accepted the doctrines and practices of "one consistent religion. What she wanted was obedience and loyalty." It may have instituted quasi-Catholic church vestments and aesthetics, however the settlement punished those who were publicly defiant and refused to comply with its Protestant practices. When discussing the actual threat of English and continental Catholics posed, one must be cautious in regard to exaggerated accounts by Protestants with vested interests, such as Walter Mildmay and Earl of Leicester.
             By the cessation of Mary's reign, Catholicism had been re-established with the support of an inherently conservative people. A number of revisionist historians refute traditionalist claims, asserting that England was still largely Catholic in 1558. There was an ardent Protestant minority in southern England and key Protestants such as John Foxe returned from exile. In order to gauge how severe the threat of Catholicism was, it is necessary to consider the perceived threat (and who shaped this perception), the political power enjoyed by Catholics, the challenges from international Catholic powers such as Spain and France, the threat posed by Mary Stuart and the public's reaction to Protestant changes. The assumption was that the vast majority of Catholics would favour their allegiance to the church over loyalty to Elizabeth. Yet by the end of her reign, Catholicism had not utilised their numeral advantage or harnessed its influence in any significant manner against the national Church, thus leaving Catholicism marginalised and impotent in England.

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