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Religious Wars and the “Common Peace”: Anglican Anti-War Sentiment in Elizabethan England*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2014

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The “age of religious wars” usually serves as the main interpretive framework for students of late sixteenth-century European history. This period is often conceptualized as just preceding the establishment of a secularized, politique-based state system that provided domestic tranquility as welcome relief from extended, highly partisan warfare. It is true that religious sentiments ran high among certain Protestants and Catholics who believed millions of souls were at stake, and that passionate defenses of doctrinal purity, to the point of taking up arms, characterize a good deal of the polemic of the age. Consequently, since prominent clerics were most vocal and influential in stirring up pious fervor for holy causes, many historians have focused on clerical martial rhetoric and found in it the ideological basis for the “religious wars” that ensued. Unfortunately, a hint of teleology informs much of the historical narrative that then follows, as if confessional devotion were synonymous with volatile, even bellicose calls for godly reform. A broader, more nuanced look at some of the pertinent sources, however, suggests that in many, perhaps even the majority, of cases, newly energized evangelicals found holy causes abhorrent and contrary to the gospel message.

Research Article
Albion , Volume 28 , Issue 3 , Fall 1996 , pp. 415 - 436
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 1996

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I would like to thank Janelle Greenberg and Linda Levy Peck for offering helpful suggestions on an earlier version of this article.


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2 Bonney, , European Dynastic States, pp. 530-31Google Scholar. See also Rowen, Herbert H., The King's State: Proprietary Dynasticism in Early Modern Europe (New Brunswick, N.J., 1980)Google Scholar.

3 Bonney, , European Dynastic States, pp. 130-31Google Scholar. Repgen concludes “that the actual reasons for war, even in the confessional age, can hardly ever be exclusively or even predominantly attributed to the complex ‘religion.’” Repgen, , “What is a ‘Religious War’?” pp. 311-23Google Scholar. Braudel's, Fernand monumental La Mediterranée et le monde méditerranéen à l'époque de Philippe II (Paris, 1949)Google Scholar was one of the first important works to stress the non-religious aspects of late sixteenth-century warfare. For more recent examples see Lloyd, Howell A., The State, France, and the Sixteenth Century (London, 1983)Google Scholar; Holt, Mack P., The Duke of Anjou and the Politique Struggle during the Wars of Religion (Cambridge, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Crouzet, Denis, Les guerriers de Dieu: la violence au temps de troubles de religion, vers 1525-vers 1610, 2 vols. (Seyssel, 1990)Google Scholar; Thompson, I. A. A., War and Government in Habsburg Spain, 1560-1620 (London, 1976)Google Scholar; Rodríguez-Salgado, Mia J., The Changing Face of Empire: Charles V, Philip II, and Habsburg Authority, 1551-1559 (Cambridge, 1988)Google Scholar; Parker, Geoffrey, The Dutch Revolt (Ithaca, N.Y., 1977)Google Scholar.

4 Charles V avoided religious categorization altogether and viewed the Schmalkaldic wars as a “breach of the public peace,” which threatened the integrity of the empire and fomented treason. Repgen, , “What is a ‘Religious War’?” pp. 311-23Google Scholar.

5 Note Bishop of Norwich John Parkhurst's excitement over the rumor of peace between England and France in a letter to Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich, dated August 13, 1563. His prayers were rewarded soon thereafter with the proclamation of the Peace of Troyes in London on April 11, 1564. See The Zurich Letters, ed. and trans. Hastings Robinson, Parker Society, vol. 53 (Cambridge, 1842), 1: 113n.Google Scholar; Strype, John, Annals of the Reformation…In the Church of England, Vol. 1, Pt. 2 (Oxford, 1824), pp. 115-16Google Scholar.

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7 See, for example, Elton, G. R., The Parliament of England, 1559-1581 (Cambridge, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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11 Hale, , “Incitement to Violence?,” pp. 511-13Google Scholar. This gap would be in keeping with the Jacobean predilection for peace. See Coward, Barry, The Stuart Age (London, 1980), pp. 106-14Google Scholar; Lee, Maurice Jr., James I and Henry IV: An Essay in English Foreign Policy, 1603-1610 (Urbana, Ill., 1970), pp. 11-16, 136Google Scholar. Coward contends that “James's vision of himself as rex pacificus and international peacemaker dominated his conduct of English foreign policy” (p. 106).

12 Hale, , “Incitements to Violence?”, pp. 511-13Google Scholar; Walzer, , Revolution of the Saints, pp. 268-99Google Scholar.

13 Walzer, , Revolution of the Saints, p. 290Google Scholar.

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16 Smith, Thomas, A Discourse of the Commonweal of This Realm of England, ed. Dewar, Mary, The Folger Shakespeare Library (Charlottesville, Va., 1969), pp. 9293Google Scholar; Schwoerer, Lois G., “No Standing Armies!”: The Antiarmy Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (Baltimore, 1974), pp. 818Google Scholar.

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18 See for example, Gascoigne, George, Dulce bellum inexpertis in The Complete Works of George Gasciogne, ed. Cunliffe, John W. (Cambridge, 1907-1910), stanzas 55-58, 1: 152Google Scholar; Humphrey, Lxaurence, The Nobles, or Of Nobilitye (London, 1563), sigs. n4r–n6rGoogle Scholar; Florio, John, His First Fruites: Which Yeelde Familiar Speech, Merie Prouerbes, Wittie Sentences and Golden Sayings (London, 1578), sigs. 38v–39vGoogle Scholar.

19 Harleian MS, 5176, fol. 107r; Proceedings in the Parliaments of Elizabeth I: Volume I (1558-1581), ed. Hartley, T. E. (Wilmington, Del., 1981), p. 34Google Scholar.

20 MacCaffrey, Wallace, “Parliament and Foreign Policy,” in The Parliaments of Elizabethan England, ed. Dean, D. M. and Jones, N. L. (Oxford, 1990), p. 83Google Scholar; Neale, , Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments, pp. 204-05Google Scholar.

21 During the crisis of the 1580s and 1590s, Sir Walter Raleigh referred to these two camps as the “men of war,” and the “scribes.” The foreign secretary, Francis Walsingham, stood out in the first group, while Lord Burghley and his son, Robert Cecil, dominated the second. Wernham, R. B., The Making of Elizabethan Foreign Policy 1558-1603 (Berkeley, Calif., 1980), pp. 82-84, 92Google Scholar. Jorgensen, Paul A., “Theoretical Views of War in Elizabethan England,” Journal of the History of Ideas 15 (1952): 469-79CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Waggoner, G. R., “An Elizabethan Attitude Toward Peace and War,” Philological Quarterly 33 (1954): 2033Google Scholar.

22 MacCaffrey, , “Parliament and Foreign Policy,” p. 75Google Scholar; Bell, Gary M., “Elizabethan Diplomacy The Subtle Revolution,” in Politics, Religion, and Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of De Lamar Jensen, ed. Thorp, Malcolm R. and Slavin, Arthur J. (St. Louis, 1994), pp. 267-88Google Scholar.

23 Crowson, P. S., Tudor Foreign Policy (London, 1973), pp. 39Google Scholar; Ashton, Robert, Reformation and Revolution 1558-1660 (London, 1984), pp. 79107Google Scholar; Smith, A. G. R., The Government of Elizabethan England (New York, 1967), pp. 112Google Scholar.

24 This point was reiterated over and over, especially in Parliament. In 1571 Lord Keeper Nicholas Bacon said that through peace “we generally and joyfully possess all,” and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Walter Mildmay, opened the subsidy discussions in 1576 with a striking recitation on England's peace and justice as the envy of all its wartorn neighbors. Even with the realization that war with Spain was approaching in 1586-87, the somewhat modified message exalted more the inward peace of England, with its “mild Church of the gospel” that foreign Catholics were trying to destroy. Hartley, , Proceedings, pp. 36, 184-85, 442, 502-04Google ScholarPubMed; idem, Elizabeth's Parliaments: Queen, Lords and Commons, 1559-1601 (Manchester, 1992), pp. 54-55.

25 Southgate, W. M., John Jewel and the Problem of Doctrinal Authority (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), p. 179Google Scholar.

26 Using chapter 24 of the prophet Isaiah as his text, and speaking of Christ's return and rule, Calvin states that “since we are still widely distant from the perfection of that peaceful reign, we must always think of making progress.” Calvin, John, Isaiah (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1948), 1: 102Google Scholar.

27 The use of martial language to describe spiritual struggles or battles dates back to the apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians in which he enjoined the church to “put on the full armor of God” (including swords, shields, arrows, etc.), but at the same time emphasized that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood., but against the spiritual forces of evil” (Letter to the Ephesians, 6: 10-18). Erasmus, the most pacifist humanist of his day, vividly, even militantly, laid out his Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503) in much the same way. The book was very popular in England, especially in high circles.

28 Klein, Arthur J., Intolerance in the Reign of Elizabeth, Queen of England (Boston, Mass., 1917; repr., Port Washington, N.Y., 1968), pp. 93-94Google Scholar; Collinson, Patrick, The English Puritan Movement (London, 1967), p. 103Google Scholar.

29 Even though the existence of “Anglicanism” before Richard Hooker has been questioned of late, we can use the term here simply to refer to those Elizabethan prelates who served the Church of England faithfully by accepting both episcopacy and the royal supremacy. This clearly differentiated them from Presbyterians and radicals. Lake, Peter, Anglicans and Puritans? Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (London, 1988), p. 227Google Scholar.

30 Lake, Peter, Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 7792CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

31 Collinson, , Elizabethan Puritan Movement, p. 103Google Scholar.

32 idem, “Episcopacy and Reform in England in the Later Sixteenth Century,” in Studies in Church History, vol. 3, ed. G.J. Cuming (Leiden, 1966), pp. 91-125.

33 Russell, Conrad, The Causes of the English Civil War (Oxford, 1990), pp. 6875Google Scholar.

34 Rosinsky, Larry M., “James Pilkington: The Study of an Elizabethan Bishop” (Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1975), pp. 200-03Google Scholar.

35 Ibid, pp. 370-78; Pilkington, James, Works, ed. Scholefield, James, Society, Parker, vol. 35 (Cambridge, 1842), p. 461Google Scholar.

36 Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, Reign of Elizabeth, Addenda 1566-1579, ed. Lemon, Robert and Green, Mary A. E. (London, 1856-1872), p. 53Google Scholar.

37 Calendar of State Papers, Foreign Series, Reign of Elkabeth, ed. Turnbull, William B., et al. (London, 1863-1874), 8: 544Google Scholar. Rosinsky, , “James Pilkington,” pp. 219-20Google Scholar.

38 Collingwood, Charles, Memoirs of Bernard Gilpin, Parson of Houghton-Le-Spring and Apostle of the North (London, 1884), pp. 210-11Google Scholar. The only detailed treatment of Pilkington and the northern rebellion of 1569 is in Rosinsky, , “James Pilkington,” pp. 232-60Google Scholar.

39 Pilkington, , Works, pp. 149, 157-58Google Scholar.

40 Ibid, p. 159.

41 Ibid., pp. 427, 432.

42 Ibid., pp. 433-34.

43 Kelley, Donald R., “Elizabethan Political Thought,” in The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500-1800, ed. Pocock, J. G. A. (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 7276Google Scholar; Allen, J. W., A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1957), pp. 169-83Google Scholar.

44 According to Donald Kelley, the “vernacular Scriptures” served as the main source for the language of social protest that arose out of the Reformation's “purification of language,...doctrine and Christian life in general. Law, Liberty, Authority, Tradition-these totemic concepts were all purged and redefined.” Kelley, Donald, “Ideas of Resistance before Elizabeth,” in The Historical Renaissance: New Essays on Tudor and Stuart Literature and Culture, ed. Dubrow, Heather and Strier, Richard (Chicago, 1988), p. 48Google Scholar.

45 Southgate, , John Jewel, pp. 176-91Google Scholar; Booty, John E., John Jewel as Apologist of the Church of England (London, 1963), p. 136Google Scholar.

46 Southgate, , John Jewel, pp. 189-91Google Scholar.

47 Porter, H. C., “The Nose of Wax: Scripture and the Spirit from Erasmus to Milton,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 14 (1964): 158-59CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 A Defence of the Apologie of the Churche of Englande (London, 1567)Google Scholar; Booty, , John Jewel, p. 136Google Scholar. The Elizabethan church settlement included statutory recognition that the bible, the works of the early fathers, and the decrees of the first four councils provided the basis for Anglican belief. I Eliz., cap. 1, sec. 20.

49 Jewel, John, A Treatise on the Holy Scriptures, in Works, ed. Ayre, John, Society, Parker, vols. 23-26 (Cambridge, 1846-1850), 4: 1173Google Scholar; Southgate, , John Jewel, pp. 175-79Google Scholar; Greenslade, Stanley, The English Reformers and the Fathers of the Church (Oxford, 1960), pp. 5, 79Google Scholar.

50 Jewel, John, An Apology of the Church of England, ed. Booty, J. E., The Folger Shakespeare Library (Charlottesville, Va., 1963)Google Scholar.

51 Tertullian, , On Idolatry and The Chaplet, or De Corona, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Roberts, Alexander and Donaldson, James (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1956), 3: 73, 99100Google Scholar. See also Recognitions of Clement, 2: 39Google Scholar, in Anti-Nicene Fathers, 8: 105Google ScholarPubMed.

52 Brock, Peter, Pacifism in Europe to 1914 (Princeton, N.J., 1972), pp. 711Google Scholar.

53 Jewel, , Commentary on First Thessalonians, in Works, 2: 884Google Scholar.

54 This statement bears striking resemblance to Origen's polemic against so many kingdoms in his day taking vengeance at every opportunity and being a “hindrance to the spread of the doctrine of Jesus throughout the entire world.” Origin, , Against Celsus, 2: 30Google Scholar, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, 4: 444. Jewel may be reflecting also the poor reputation of soldiers, which he would have had in common with Tertullian and Origen as well.

55 Jewel, , First Thessalonians, 2: 885Google Scholar.

56 Sandys, Edwin, Sermons, ed. Ayre, John, Parker Society, vol. 41 (Cambridge, 1841), pp. xxvxxxviiiGoogle Scholar.

57 Fox, Alistair, “English Humanism and the Body Politic,” in Reassessing the Henrician Age: Humanism, Politics and Reform, 1500-1550 (Oxford, 1986), pp. 5051Google Scholar; Elton, G. R., “Reform and the Commonwealth-Men' of Edward VI's Reign,” in The English Commonwealth 1547-1640: Essays in Politics and Society, ed. Clark, Peter, Smith, Alan, and Tyacke, Nicholas (New York, 1979), pp. 2338Google Scholar; Jones, R. D. Whitney, The Tudor Commonwealth 1529-1559 (London, 1970), passimGoogle Scholar.

58 Sandys, , Sermons, p. 57Google Scholar.

59 Ibid., pp. 60-61.

60 Latimer asserts “that where war is, there be all discommodities; no man can do his duty according to his calling, as appeareth, now in Germany, the Emperor, and the French king being at controversy.” Latimer, Hugh, Sermons, ed. Corrie, George Elwes, Parker Society, vol. 27 (Cambridge, 1844), pp. 390-91Google Scholar.

61 Sandys, Sermons, p. 61.

62 Ibid., p. 83.

63 Ibid., pp. 282-86.

64 Ibid., p. 257.

65 This idea can be traced to Seneca who believed that too much peace encouraged immoral excesses that came from “the weakening effects of luxury and idleness.” Waggoner, , “An Elizabethan Attitude Toward War and Peace,” p. 33Google Scholar; Jorgensen, , “Theoretical Views of War,” pp. 476-78Google Scholar.

66 Sandy's Sermons, p. 286.

67 Curteys, Richard, A Sermon Preached Before the Queenes Maiestie, by the Reuerenae Father in God the Bishop of Chichester, at Greenwiche, the 14 Day of Marche 1573 (London, 1573), sigs. B6r–v, B8r–v, C4r, D4r–vGoogle Scholar.

68 idem, A Sermon Preached Before the Queenes Maiesty at Richmond the 6 of March 1575 (London, 1575), sig. D1v; idem, Two Sermons Preached by the Reuerend Father in God the Bishop of Chichester, the First at Paules Crosse on Sunday Being the Fourth Day of March (London, 1576), sigs. D5V, D6V.

69 Curteys was a zealous reform-minded prelate whose ambitious ideas engendered hostility and opposition within his diocese, eventually culminating in his suspension before his death in 1582. The best treatment of the bishop in action is Manning's, Roger B.Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex: A Study of the Enforcement of the Religious Settlement 1558-1603 (Leicester, 1969), pp. 63125Google Scholar. Manning calls Curteys a “conforming Puritan,” because he supported both episcopacy and the Prayer Book but also promoted bible-based preaching in every parish (pp. 71-72).

70 Stockwood, John, A Sermon Preached at Paules Crosse on Barthelmew Day, Being the 24 of August 1578 (London, 1578), pp. 3844Google Scholar.

71 MacLure, Millar, ed., Register of Sermons Preached at Paul's Cross 1534-1642, rev. Jackson Campbell Boswell and Peter Pauls (Ottawa, 1989), p. 58Google Scholar.

72 Udall, John, The True Remedie Against Famine and Warres (London, 1590), sigs. 57v–58rGoogle Scholar.

73 MacLure, , Register of Sermons, p. 65Google Scholar.

74 Gravet, William, A Sermon Preached at Pavles Crosse on the XXV Day of June Ann. Dom. 1587, Intreating of the Holy Scriptures, and the Vse of the Same (London, 1587), pp. 6174Google Scholar.

75 Lupset, Thomas, A Treatise of Charitie (London, 1533)Google Scholar.

76 Certain Sermons or Homilies, Appointed to be Read in Churches, in the Time of Queen Elizabeth (4th ed.; London, 1766), 1: 64-67, 129-40; 2: 536-37Google Scholar.

77 Liturgical Services. Liturgies and Occasional Forms of Prayer Set Forth in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, ed. Clay, William Keatinge, Parker Society, vol. 30 (Cambridge, 1847), pp. 476-77Google Scholar.

78 Ibid., p. 615.

79 Ibid., p. 644.

80 Ibid., pp. 644-46.

81 For how the image of the “Christ-like Prince of Peace” became associated with Elizabeth iconog-raphically see King, John N., “The Royal Image, 1535-1603,” in Tudor Political Culture, ed. Hoak, Dale (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 122-32Google Scholar.

82 Kellner, Hans, “Triangular Anxieties: The Present State of European Intellectual History,” in Modern European Intellectual History: Reappraisals & New Perspectives, ed. LaCapra, Dominick and Kaplan, Steven L. (Ithaca, N.Y., 1982), pp. 116-17Google Scholar.

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