Protestant versus Catholic

Religious turmoil

Shortly before Henry's death, he announced that in future, all church services were to be in English, including Bible readings. However, the services were still the same as the Catholic mass, so:

More on Protestants: Protestants were those who objected to or protested about, many aspects of the Roman Catholic Church. (See Religious/philosophical context: The Reformation)

In Hamlet, some of the beliefs expressed seem to be Protestant, and others – such as the idea of purgatory – are definitely Catholic. (See Big ideas: Judgement.)

Public differences of opinion

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

Introduction of the Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer published 1549Under 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.

More on the Prayer Book: An Act of Uniformity made its use compulsory in all churches. It was updated in 1552.

However, in 1553, Edward died.

More on the succession: There was a brief struggle for power — the sixteen-year-old Protestant Lady Jane Grey was briefly declared Queen, then executed, as Henry's first child, Mary, claimed the throne.

The (brief) return of Catholicism

Mary I by Anthonis MorMary I had been brought up as a Catholic by her mother Katharine 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 Roman 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 declared rightful Queen. She at once set about re-introducing Protestantism to England.

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