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Political violence and persecution

In the sixteenth century many people found themselves on the wrong side of the religious divide. Protestants in Catholic countries and Catholics in Protestant countries could be seen as heretics or allied to foreign powers.

In many places religious minorities were persecuted. Some communities pledged loyalty to their government while peacefully exercising their own religion, but some defiantly justified political violence.

In England, Elizabeth I's government became increasingly nervous about the activities of the Catholic minority. One hundred Catholic priests were executed during her reign. It was thought essential to the country's security to arrest these priests who were sometimes tortured to get confessions or evidence.

The crisis of Protestantism

The confrontation between Elizabeth I and Europe's Catholic powers built up in the early years of her reign. In 1570 the Pope issued a sentence of excommunication against her - effectively indicating his support for attempts to remove her from power.

Elizabeth responded by supporting Protestants in the Netherlands and France with arms, money and soldiers.

Tensions grew between Protestant England and Catholic Spain and were a constant feature of Elizabeth's reign, but it wasn't until 1585 that the two countries drifted into war.


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Elizabeth I

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.