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Queen Elizabeth I - Jews and Catholics

Queen Elizabeth Ist

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Queen Elizabeth I - Jews and Catholics

  • Queen Elizabeth I - Jews and Catholics
  • The Catholic Plots and War with Spain
  • History of the persecution of English Jews 1290 - 1655
  • The reputation of the Jews in Elizabethan England

  • Prejudice against Elizabethan Jews
  • How Jews were portrayed in Elizabethan Plays and Literature

There was prejudice against both members of the Jewish and Catholic religions. Religion in Elizabethan England was firmly in the hands of those adhering to the Protestant religion. The people of England were expected to adhere to the religion of the reigning monarch. And Queen Elizabeth I was a Protestant.

Queen Elizabeth I and Catholics
Queen Elizabeth had spent her whole life surrounded by the fanatical views of both Protestants and Catholics. The English people careered from the Catholic religion to the Protestant religion as the following shows:1509 -1547:

  • 1509 -1547: King Henry VIII - Catholic then established the Church of England in 1531 adhering to many Protestant doctrines.
  • 1547 -1553: His son, King Edward VI, adhered to the Protestant religion. Edward died young and was succeeded by his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey
  • 1553: Queen Jane only reigned for nine days and was replaced by Edward's sister Mary
  • 1553 -1558: Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic - she obtained the name Bloody Mary for her persecution of Protestants
  • 1509 -1547: Queen Elizabeth succeeded Mary. She adhered to the Protestant religion but was tolerant to Catholics

The life of Queen Elizabeth had been dependent on her outward conformity to the Catholic religion during the reign of her half-sister Mary. When Elizabeth succeed to the throne of England she wanted to show tolerance to Catholics. Her level of tolerance decreased as the years went by due to the various Catholic plots aimed at replacing Elizabeth with a Catholic monarch and returning England to the 'old' religion.

Queen Elizabeth I and the Popes of Rome
In 1570 Pope Pius V (1566-1572) issued a bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I for her actions in separating the English Church from the Roman Church and her persecution of Roman Catholics in Britain. In 1580 Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) conspired to have Queen Elizabeth I assassinated after his initial failure to get Emperor King Philip II of Spain to attack Ireland, the Netherlands and then England.

Queen Elizabeth I , the Catholic Plots and War with Spain
The decline in Protestant / Catholic relations with Queen Elizabeth was caused by various Catholic plots in Europe and England and the war between Protestant England and Catholic Spain:

  • In 1569 the Nevilles of Durham and Percys of Northumberland plot to overthrow Elizabeth I and reinstate Roman Catholicism in “The Rising of the North”
  • In France on August 24 1572 the St Bartholomew's Day massacre occurred when French Protestants were massacred by French Catholics in Paris which was witnessed by Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Walsingham. Similar atrocities elsewhere in France result in thousands of deaths, and caused panic in England with fears of a Catholic invasion
  • March 18, 1581 - The English Parliament passes strict legislation against Roman Catholics with heavy fines hearing Mass
  • 1584 - The Protestant William of Orange is murdered and England sends aid to the Netherlands
  • 1585 - Elizabethan War with Spain from 1585 - 1603 exploded due to various conflicts surrounding the wealth and power to be gained from trade from the New World. For specific facts and information about America please refer to Colonial America . And the differences in Religion. The fanatical Catholics in Spain saw a war, and the conquest of England, as a religious crusade which had been given Papal blessing
  • 1586 - The Babington Plot - Sir Francis Walsingham discovers plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Catholic Mary Queen of Scots
  • 1588 August 8 - The Catholic Spanish Armada of 132 ships is defeated by the English fleet of  34 ships and 163 armed merchant vessels
  • 1593 - Penalties are proposed for people who refuse to attend Church of England services and to make it a crime to attend Catholic services
  • 1595 - Catholic Spanish forces land in Cornwall and burn the town of Penzance
  • 1597 - King Philip II sends a second armada against England - a storm scatters his ships
  • The war with Catholic Spain only ends with the death of  Queen Elizabeth I and the succession of King James I

The Catholic plots, the Catholic war all played a massive part in the decline of Protestant / Catholic relations during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Non-conforming Catholics were punished under the  Elizabethan Recusants and Recusancy Laws .

Queen Elizabeth I and the Jews
The prejudice against the Jewish race in Elizabethan England was a completely different matter to the prejudice against the Catholic faith. But to understand this it is necessary to look at the history of Anti-Semitism in England.

History of the persecution of English Jews 1290 - 1655
The persecution of English Jews dated back to the Medieval era of King Edward I. In 1255 a number of Jews were imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting execution for the alleged murder of Hugh of Lincoln. Eighteen Jews were hanged. In 1270 anti-semitic feeling grew, until King Edward I decreed that the Jews were a threat to the country, decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow star to identify them in public. All the heads of Jewish households were arrested, many taken to the Tower and executed. Finally, in 1290 King Edward banished all Jews from England. The exile of Jews lasted until 1655, when Jewish scholar Manasseh ben Israel obtained Oliver Cromwell’s assent for Jews to return to London.

The reputation of the Jews in Elizabethan England
Jews had come to England following the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of 1066.  The expulsion of Jews from England by Edward I initiated a further decline in the reputation of the Jews. Jews were looked upon as heretics. In Europe the Catholics treated both Protestants and Jews as heretics. The Spanish inquisition set days for interrogating heretics and those who not acquitted were burnt at the stake. The reason for this method of execution for Jewish and Protestant heretics was because the Church was “forbidden to shed blood". The reputation of the Jews suffered badly during the Medieval era. Jews were considered to be responsible for spreading the Bubonic Plague or Black Death amongst Christians. There was no cure for this terrible disease and angry and frightened people always look for someone to blame - it did not matter that Jewish people were also struck down by the illness.

The Demonising of the Jews
Christians believed that Jews possessed magical powers which they had obtained by making a pact with the Devil. Jews were therefore associated with Elizabethan witches. The stereotypical Jewish features consisted of a long, hooked nose and a swarthy complexion and the Jews were believed to worship the devil. Witches were also believed to worship the devil and were also stereotyped as having long, hooked noses, warts and wrinkles. Jews celebrated the Sabbath, witches celebrated at their Sabbat.

Queen Elizabeth I and the Jews
There were a small number Jews in Elizabethan England. Jews had long been restricted to only two occupations - money lending and as peddlars. Elizabethan Jews would have had to outwardly conform to the Christian Protestant religion. Any adherence to the Jewish religion would have been undertaken in utmost secrecy, just as with the Catholics.

Prejudice against Elizabethan Jews
There were few Jews in England. Most Elizabethans would never had even met one Jew. All that was known about Jews and their religion and customs were from vague rumour and reputation mixed with horrifying wives tales about the Jews being responsible for spreading the Bubonic Plague.

How Jews were portrayed in Elizabethan Plays and Literature
Anti-Semitism was rife in Elizabethan England. Theatre audiences expected Jews to be portrayed according to the Jewish stereotype. The dramatists of the Elizabethan era gave their audiences what they expected to see. William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice in which a Jewish character called Shylock was depicted as the stereotype Jew who was also a money lender. Jews were known to circumcise the men of their race. In the plot Shylock agrees to lend the hero 3,000 ducats, and as forfeit would have to return a pound of flesh if the debt was not repaid. Elizabethan men would have been horrified to see this as a connection to the Jewish ritual of circumcision. Christopher Marlowe wrote the play entitled the Jew of Malta. His Jew is also depicted  as a cruel, egotistic, and greedy man.

Queen Elizabeth I - Jews and Catholics
The Elizabethan era saw great forms of prejudice against people who did not adhere to the Protestant religion. But the prejudice against Catholics related to their faith whilst the Anti-Semitism extended to the whole of the Jewish race as well as their religion. Religion in Elizabethan England

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