Proclamation of Elizabeth I Against Seditious Books; the Chancery Warrant with the Royal Sign Manual
1 March 1568/69

Folger Shelf Mark: X.d. 85

The Elizabethan religious settlement—a legislative compromise between traditional and reformed dogma—famously Proclamation of Elizabeth Isettled little. A decade after Elizabeth's accession to the throne in November 1558, the resistance of the old Catholic nobility remained strong, with Mary Queen of Scots retaining her hold on their affections as a rival claimant to the throne, particularly after she had sought asylum in England in 1568 and become Elizabeth's "guest." Hostilities culminated in the outbreak of the short-lived Northern Rebellion in November 1569, when the militant earls of Northumberland and Westmorland marched to Durham and restored the Catholic mass in the Cathedral. In Ripon, they raised the banner of the Five Wounds of Christ, the emblem of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a by then generation-old rebellion against Henry's dissolution of the monasteries. Elizabeth's reprisals were harsh. Northumberland was executed; important rebels were attainted and their lands confiscated; those who held office under the Crown were discharged from their offices; many hundreds were killed, representing every village that participated in the rising. On another front closer to court, a cache of Catholic books was seized from the home of the annalist John Stow. In February 1570, Elizabeth was answered for her actions by Pope Pius V's bull, "Regnans in excelsis," excommunicating her and absolving her subjects from their oaths of allegiance and thus legalising rebellion. Though it was issued too late to affect the rebellion (a copy did not even reach England until May), the bull fixed loyalties in Elizabeth's mind: Catholics were henceforth traitors.

Throughout the period, authorities sought ways of stanching the flow of Catholic books from abroad. Though this proclamation backs away from a charge of treason, it does prohibit the ownership or distribution of any seditious books (with particular reference to the subject of religion) written or translated by the Queen's subjects, many of whom had gone abroad without licence. It further provides a grace period for people to turn in any of the proscribed books to the bishop of their diocese. Elizabeth would return to the subject of this proclamation twice more within two years. Her resort to the use of the royal prerogative in matters of religion was characteristic of the Tudor and Stuart monarchies.

The printed version of this proclamation on parchment is catalogued as STC 8014. For more information, consult Tudor Royal Proclamations, vol. 2, edited by Paul L. Hughes and James F. Larkin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964-1969); John Guy, Tudor England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988); Christopher Haigh, "From Resentment to Recusancy," in English Reformations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Frederic A. Youngs, Jr., The Proclamations of the Tudor Queens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).

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