popeOn this day 443 years ago, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull entitled Regnans in Excelsis, declaring Queen Elizabeth I to be a heretic and threatening anyone who obeyed her orders and laws with excommunication. More than 11 years had passed since the English Parliament had re-established the English church’s separation from the church of Rome, so it seems unlikely that the papal bull was created solely in response to that act. Instead, it was probably an attempt to support Roman Catholic attempts to seize the English throne.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. The Pope had never approved the annulment of Henry’s first marriage, and accordingly did not recognise the second marriage, which would have meant that Elizabeth was an illegitimate child, so that the rightful heir to the English throne was the senior descendant of Henry’s sister, namely the Roman Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.

The papal bull had the effect of encouraging plots for the overthrow of the Queen, but it also provoked the English Parliament into taking measures to repress such plots, and the net result was a harder time for Roman Catholics in England. The papal bull was renewed in 1588 by Pope Sixtus in support of the Spanish Armada, but the Spanish Armada was defeated and the Pope never regained political power in England.

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