The Renaissance and the Elizabethan periods were times of great change in religion, and supernatural beliefs were pivotal aspects of people’s lives. Throughout the eras, people were constantly changing their religion. Numerous new rulers claimed the throne, each with different perspectives on how they wanted their kingdom to be. Therefore, religion was always alternating from one to another, forcing people to quickly convert. Rulers such as Henry VIII, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth influenced the religion of England during their reign. During the two periods, people’s belief in the supernatural was also influential to them. Religion and the view of the supernatural, during the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods, were extremely important to the people living during these times.
Because of King Henry’s reign, people were forced to suddenly convert into a different religion from the one they were previously worshipping. Before the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods, the majority of people living in England were devoted to Catholicism and the Roman Catholic Church. King Henry VIII, the father of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, was the King of England at the time. He was married to Catherine of Aragon, his first wife of many to come. After plenty of pregnancies and miscarriages, Henry soon realized that Catherine was unable to produce a healthy male heir to take over the throne later on. Although she could not give him a son, she was able to birth Mary I, who would later become Queen of England. He also thought of her as being too old to birth to any more children. Because of this, Henry requested an annulment from the Church, but he was unable to receive it because the Catholic faith believes that marriage is for life. Therefore, if the King were to announce his divorce, it would allow the Pope to excommunicate him, which put Henry in a difficult position. This was the main factor that contributed to King Henry’s break from the Roman Catholic Church. After Henry left the Catholic Church, he created his own new Church of England, to which he was Supreme Head. Many of his people began to practice a new religion called Protestantism. The groups became known as the Protestants because they protested against the Catholic Church. Over the time that Henry VIII was King of England, he had successfully changed the religion of England from Catholicism to Protestantism.
Protestantism became the main religion after King Henry created his new church of England. Protestants believed that people should only learn from the Bible. They believed any other way of teaching about God would be contradicting what the Bible says. The Protestant religion also believed in the Great Chain of Being. The Great Chain of Being was a hierarchy, created by God, that explained where all beings of life belonged in society. For example, it was believed that God chose who the King or Queen was. Therefore, if anyone disobeyed or went against the monarch, it was considered to be a sin; it would be seen as if the people went against God’s choosing. The belief in the Great Chain of Being also included somewhat of a social hierarchy. The hierarchy placement was based on the belief that beings made of pure spirit were at the top and beings of matter were towards the bottom. At the top of the hierarchy lay God and angels, followed by humans, then animals, with plants, rocks, and minerals being at the bottom. Humans are made of matter but have a soul made of spirit putting them in the center of the hierarchy. Protestantism includes numerous ideas that do not apply to Catholicism.
Mary Tudor, or Mary I, was the next ruler of England that made an impact on its religion. After King Henry’s death in 1547, the position of King of England was given to his nine-year-old son Edward VI. After a few years of ruling, Edward VI became very ill meaning if he were to die, the throne would be given to his half-sister Mary Tudor. Mary Tudor was the only surviving child of Catherine of Aragon and King Henry. Edward did not want Mary to take the throne because he knew she would convert the country’s current religion from Protestantism back to Catholicism. Despite his efforts to abolish Mary from the line of succession, she ultimately gained the title of Queen of England after Edward’s death. Even though both her father and half-brother supported the Protestant religion during their reign, Mary had other plans of how she wanted religion to be practiced throughout England. Mary believed England should be converted back to the Catholic religion and her people should be brought back to the church in Rome. One reason Mary wanted Catholicism to be the prominent religion throughout England was that both she and her mother, Catherine, were devoted Catholics. After Henry divorced Catherine, she died with a broken heart, which saddened Mary. This was Mary’s main motive to divert her country back to Catholicism. Mary wanted all her people to be Catholic so she gave them the choice of either converting to Catholicism or being burned at the stake for staying a Protestant. Nearly 300 citizens were burned alive for not agreeing to change to Catholicism. These mass killings gained Mary the nickname of “Bloody Mary”. Brutally, Mary enforced Catholicism as England’s religion when she was Queen.
Under the rule of Elizabeth I, although there were still Catholics, most of England once again converted to Protestantism. Being raised as one, Elizabeth was always truly devoted to the Protestant faith. When she became Queen, people during the time expected her to declare England as a Protestant nation and forcefully convert all the Catholics. Although she did believe in Protestantism, she did not want to abruptly change the Church because peace was her main priority. Instead, she made it clear to the people living in England that they were able to worship any faith they choose. Elizabeth’s concept to direct England towards the Protestant faith was to let Catholicism fade away naturally. She filled her Church with people of her faith, and gradually let the Catholics convert by themselves. Over time, her plan worked and England had become mainly Protestant. During her reign as Queen, many people questioned her ability to rule because she refused to restore Protestantism forcefully. Many of her advisors wanted her to start being harsher towards Catholics in order to direct them into Protestantism, but she tried to avoid this. Today, England’s religion is similar to the one that Elizabeth I created, meaning that it is tolerant and mainly Protestant. Being a tolerant leader, Elizabeth I was able to create a peaceful society while still converting England to the Protestant faith.
Although many conflicting religious beliefs existed during the Renaissance and Elizabethan eras, many supernatural beliefs were present as well. Superstition was a prominent factor in their supernatural beliefs. For example, if a bad king was chosen to rule, it would affect crop growth, their countries success, and animals behavior. Some other superstitions included saying “God bless you” after a sneeze. This was done because it was believed that right before someone sneezed the Devil could enter the person’s body and saying this phrase warded off the Devil. Most of the superstitions were created from either the fear of the unknown or the belief in witches. At the time, witches were widely believed among the people of England. They were thought to have made a pact with the Devil in exchange for supernatural powers and sought to bring people to the Devil. Most unexplainable events were blamed on witches. For instance, if beans wouldn’t grow or a plague would occur it would be blamed on a witch. Protestants believed witches should be prosecuted for their actions. It was legal to kill a witch because of the Witchcraft Act that was passed in 1563 which allowed the murdering of witches. The people would accuse many innocent people of being witches. Old, poor, single women were most often accused of being a witch. The people had a very horrific way of testing if one was a witch. They would first tie the accused to a ducking tool. Then they would dunk the chair into a body of water such as a pond or river. If the citizen floated in the water they would be considered a witch. This meant they would be killed immediately. If the accused did not float they were innocent however they most likely drowned.
Throughout the centuries of the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods, the state of the religions the people of England believed in changed dramatically and very often. In most cases, the switch between religious beliefs was caused by all the rulers’ different opinions of how religion should be practiced throughout their kingdom. The people’s supernatural beliefs, in particular the belief in witches, caused many people to acquire superstitions that affect their daily lives. Religion and the supernatural beliefs of the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods were important to people living during that time, and they helped shape the world today.