Rome and the Counter-Reformation in England
By Mgsr. Philip Hughes
With a new foreword by Charles A. Coulombe
One can find many of Fr. Hughes works on the Reformation reprinted. Still, one that is lacking his is great study of the Reformation in England. He admits at the outset that the conclusion is already known by the reader before he picks up the book, that the counter-reformation failed in England. What the reader may not know is why.
To that purpose, Fr. Hughes begins his study with the accession of Queen Mary and the appointment of Cardinal Reginald Pole to England as Cardinal Legate. Then he begins the study of how they refashioned the Church to be so strong that the episcopacy universally resisted Elizabeth. He also explores the condition of the average cleric, layman and other things from official documents and primary source texts.
In the next phase, he examines in detail the rise of Protestantism again under Elizabeth, and the projects of St. Pius V and Gregory XIII to help Englishmen depose Elizabeth. The importance of this study is that in the English Protestant historical tradition, Pius V and Gregory, along with the Jesuits and others, are accused of plotting the murder and assassination of Elizabeth. Fr. Hughes, by examining official papers, shows why this was not true, albeit also offering criticism of the official policy in these years. What he shows is that Rome never really had an accurate story on what was going on in England, and as a result committed many blunders in the period when the counter-reformation might have succeeded.
Following the scene to the eventual failure, Fr. Hughes also answers the pivotal questions: Were the English martyrs really traitors to the crown, as official history maintains? Were Cardinal Allen, the founder of Douay College, or Fr. Persons of the Jesuits, active tools of Spanish policy in England? Or did they rather believe the Spaniards would help the Catholic cause? Did St. Pius V try to assassinate Elizabeth?
In all this Fr. Hughes uses primary sources, letters, and reason to paint for us the picture of the counter-reformation’s failures. If one wants to know what Catholic action and life were like in England during the Marian Restoration and the Elizabethan imposition of Protestantism, this is the work. To top it off, Fr. Hughes adds information that is simply not available in print, such as what happened to Catholics in England under the reigns of the first Stewarts, James I and Charles I, and the breakup of Counter-Reformation unity over Episcopal oversight and other issues that fractured Catholic life in England until the restoration of the Hierarchy in the 19th century.