Protestant versus Catholic

Religious turmoil

Shortly before Henry's death, he announced that in future, all church services, (including Bible readings) were to be conducted in English,. However, the services were still to follow the form of the Catholic Mass. This caused problems for Protestants and Catholics:

  • Protestants who refused to attend these services were burned as heretics
  • Catholics who still professed loyalty to the Pope were executed as traitors.
More on Protestants: Protestants were those who objected to, or protested about, many aspects of the Catholic Church. (See Religious / philosophical context: The Reformation).

Throughout Doctor Faustus, and especially during the scenes set in Rome, aspects of Catholic religious practice are ridiculed by the anti-Catholic Marlowe. The Pope and his Cardinals as seen as venial and power-hungry. See Themes > Religious themes > Satire of the Pope and Catholicism.

Public differences of opinion

Marlowe was writing at a time when many of the population would have had to adapt, under different rulers, to different versions of the Christian faith. They would have held a variety of views – no matter what the current monarch, and current laws, expected them to believe.

A person born in 1510 who lived for fifty years would have lived in a country that was Catholic, then Protestant (under Henry VIII and Edward VI), then Catholic (Mary I) and once again Protestant (Elizabeth I). In those years, the same person would have witnessed much religious debate and controversy and seen both Catholic and Protestant martyrs burned alive.

Introduction of the Book of Common Prayer

Edward VIUnder Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, the Church in England became considerably more Protestant. In 1549, Archbishop Cranmer produced a new Prayer Book, based on a translation of the mass, but incorporating Protestant ideas. An Act of Uniformity made its use compulsory in all churches and it was revised in 1552.

However, in 1553, Edward died. There was a brief struggle for power during which the sixteen-year old Protestant Lady Jane Grey was briefly proclaimed Queen and was then executed, as Mary, Henry VIII's first child, claimed the throne.

The (brief) return of Catholicism

Mary I had been brought up as a Catholic by her mother, Katherine of Aragon. During the five years of her reign, from 1553 to 1558, Mary reversed the movement to Protestantism in England. Those who refused to declare loyalty to the Pope and to Catholicism (including Archbishop Cranmer) were burnt at the stake – giving Mary her nickname of Bloody Mary. She married the Spanish King, Philip II, son of the Emperor Charles V, but died in 1558 without an heir.

Danger for the Protestant champion

During Mary's reign, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was in considerable danger. As a Protestant, she was seen by Mary as a possible focus of Protestant rebellions. To avoid execution, Elizabeth had to make some concessions to Mary's re-introduction of Catholicism. However, as soon as Mary died in November 1558, Elizabeth was proclaimed Queen. She at once set about re-introducing Protestantism to England.

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