Torture, Heresy and the Sisters Who Defied Queen Bess

Daily Mail (London), March 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Torture, Heresy and the Sisters Who Defied Queen Bess


Byline: DAISY DUNN

GOD'S TRAITORS

by Jessie Childs (Bodley Head PS25 PS20)

WHEN Elizabeth I was Queen, a young woman was taken to the Ouse Bridge in York, stripped naked, and subjected to torture by peine forte et dure -- compression by weights so heavy that her ribs 'burst forth of the skin'.

Her crime was to be a Catholic who refused to attend church and yield to the Protestant faith demanded of her by Queen and country. Margaret Clitherow, a butcher's wife believed to have sheltered a Catholic priest at her home, was one of 200 who died for their belief in the late 16th century. So much for Elizabethan tolerance.

Historians have often remarked on the clemency of Good Queen Bess, but the more you read of Jessie Childs's moving historical account of a family's struggle against the tide of Protestantism, the harder it becomes to dispute her view that tolerance simply had no currency among the monarchs of the age.

Elizabeth could turn a blind eye to pockets of Catholicism at the beginning of her reign, but the year 1570 had to mark a watershed. It was then that the Pope issued a bill excommunicating her and classing her an imposter, a heretic, since she had made it clear that she would not be sharing her sister Mary's Catholic faith.

From that moment on, any refusal by her subjects to accept her religious settlement was bound to be deemed a challenge to her authority, and therefore an act of heresy.

Childs paints a vivid, sometimes even humorous picture of devout Catholics keeping up appearances (and avoiding financial penalties) by attending church, but sneaking off afterwards to 'scoffeth at the preacher' and enjoy their 'popish trash' in private. …

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