Regnans in Excelsis was a papal bull issued on 25 February 1570 by Pope Pius V declaring "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime" to be a heretic and releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her and excommunicating any that obeyed her orders.
The bull, written in Latin, is named from its incipit, the first three words of its text, which mean "ruling from on high" (a reference to God). Among the queen's offences, "She has removed the royal Council, composed of the nobility of England, and has filled it with obscure men, being heretics."
The Papacy had previously reconciled with Mary I, who returned the Church of England to Roman Catholicism. After Mary's death in November 1558, Elizabeth's Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy of 1559, which re-established the Church of England’s independence from Rome. This bull can be seen as an act of retaliation for the religious settlement, but as it was delayed by eleven years it was most likely instigated by pressure from Philip II of Spain, the Duke of Norfolk or Mary, Queen of Scots, all of whom had a vested interest in overthrowing Elizabeth. The delay was caused in part by a number of royal Catholic suitors who hoped to marry Elizabeth, and because she had tolerated Catholic worship in private. The Bull was issued in support of, but following, the 1569 "Northern Rebellion" in England, and the first Desmond Rebellion in Ireland, with foreign Catholic support, and hardened her opinion against her landowning Roman Catholic subjects.
Aftermath of the bull
The bull provoked the English government into taking more repressive actions against the Jesuits, whom they feared to be acting in the interests of Spain and the papacy. This reaction soon seemed justified: it was the publication in England of Pius's exhortation that gave the impetus to the Ridolfi plot, in which the Duke of Norfolk was to kidnap or murder Queen Elizabeth, install Mary Queen of Scots on the throne and then become de facto king by marrying her.
To relieve the pressures on Roman Catholics in England, Pope Gregory XIII issued a clarification in 1580, explaining that Catholics should obey the queen in all civil matters, until such time as a suitable opportunity presented itself for her overthrow. Soon after the start of the Anglo-Spanish war (1585-1604) an Act "against Jesuits, seminary priests and other such like disobedient persons" was passed into law.
In 1588 Pope Sixtus V, in support of the Spanish Armada, renewed the solemn bull of excommunication against Queen Elizabeth I, for the regicide of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587 as well as the previously catalogued offences against the Roman Catholic Church. During the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada, it transpired that most of the Roman Catholic residents in England remained loyal, and that those who were a real threat to the throne, like Cardinal William Allen and Robert Parsons, were already exiles.
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- ↑ McGrath, Patrick (1967). Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I. Poole, England: Blandford Press. p. 69.
- ↑ Text of Regnans in excelsis, 1570.
- ↑ Haynes, Alan (2004). Walsingham: Elizabethan Spymaster and Statesman. Stroud, England: Sutton Publishing. pp. 13. ISBN 0-7509-3122-1.
- ↑ Text of Sixtus V's 1588 Bull against Queen Elizabeth in support of the Armada
- Text of Regnans in Excelsis of Pope Saint Pius Vhr:Regnans in Excelsisla:Regnans in excelsissl:Regnans in Excelsis