The wonderful growth in wealth and social energy which we have described was accompanied by a remarkable change in the religious temper of the nation. Silently, almost unconsciously, England became Protestant, as the traditionary Catholicism which formed the religion of three-fourths of the people at the Queen's accession died quietly away. At the close of her reign the only parts of England where the old faith retained anything of its former vigour were the north and the extreme west, at that time the poorest and least populated parts of the kingdom. One main cause of the change lay undoubtedly in the gradual dying out of the Catholic priesthood and the growth of a new Protestant clergy who supplied their place. The older parish priests, though they had almost to a man acquiesced in the changes of ritual and doctrine which the various phases of the Reformation imposed upon them, remained in heart utterly hostile to its spirit. As Mary had undone the changes of Edward, they hoped for a Catholic successor to undo the changes of Elizabeth; and in the meantime they were content to wear the surplice instead of the chasuble, and to use the Communion-office instead of the Mass-book. But if they were forced to read the Homilies from the pulpit, the spirit of their teaching remained unchanged; and it was easy for them to cast contempt on the new services, till they seemed to old-fashioned worshippers a mere "Christmas game." But the lapse of twenty years did its work in emptying parsonage after parsonage.
In 1579 the Queen felt strong enough to enforce for the first time a general compliance with the Act of Uniformity; and the jealous supervision of Parker and the bishops ensured an inner as well as an outer conformity to the established faith in the clergy who took the place of the dying priesthood. The new parsons were for the most part not merely Protestant in belief and teaching, but ultra-Protestant. The old restrictions on the use of the pulpit were silently removed as the need for them passed away, and the zeal of the young ministers showed itself in an assiduous preaching which moulded in their own fashion the religious ideas of the new generation. But their character had even a greater influence than their preaching. Under Henry the priests had for the most part been ignorant and sensual men; and the character of the clergy appointed by the greedy Protestants under Edward or in the first years of Elizabeth's reign was even worse than that of their Catholic rivals. But the energy of the successive Primates, seconded as it was by the general increase of zeal and morality at the time, did its work; and by the close of Elizabeth's reign the moral temper as well as the social character of the clergy had greatly changed.
[Authorities. - The general history of the Catholics is given in the work of Dodd; see also "The Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers," published by Father Morris; and for the Jesuits, "More's Hisloria Provinciae Anglicanae Societatis Jesu;" to these may be added Mr. Simpson's life of Campian. ]
Scholars like Hooker could now be found in the ranks of the priesthood, and the grosser scandals which disgraced the clergy as a body for the most part disappeared. It was impossible for a Puritan libeller to bring against the ministers of Elizabeth's reign the charges of drunkenness and immorality which Protestant libellers had been able to bring against the priesthood of Henry's. But the influence of the new clergy was backed by a general revolution in English thought. We have already watched the first upgrowth of the new literature which was to find its highest types in Shakspere and Bacon. The grammar schools were diffusing a new knowledge and mental energy through the middle classes and among the country gentry. The tone of the Universities, no unfair test of the tone of the nation at large, changed wholly as the Queen's reign went on. At its opening Oxford was "a nest of Papists," and sent its best scholars to feed the Catholic seminaries. At its close the University was a hotbed of Puritanism, where the fiercest tenets of Calvin reigned supreme. The movement was no doubt hastened by the political circumstances of the time.
Under the rule of Elizabeth loyalty became more and more a passion among Englishmen; and the Bull of Deposition placed Rome in the forefront of Elizabeth's foes. The conspiracies which festered around Mary were laid to the Pope's charge; he was known to be pressing on France and on Spain the invasion and conquest of the heretic kingdom; he was soon to bless the Armada. Every day made it harder for a Catholic to reconcile Catholicism with loyalty to his Queen or devotion to his country; and the mass of men, who are moved by sentiment rather than by reason, swung slowly round to the side which, whatever its religious significance might be, was the side of patriotism, of liberty against tyranny, of England against Spain. A new impulse was given to this silent drift of religious opinion by the atrocities which marked the Catholic triumph on the other side of the Channel. The horror of Alva's butcheries, or of the massacre in Paris on St. Bartholomew's day, revived the memories of the bloodshed under Mary. The tale of Protestant sufferings was told with a wonderful pathos and picturesqueness by John Foxe, an exile during the persecution; and his "Book of Martyrs," which was set up by royal order in the churches for public reading, passed from the churches to the shelves of every English household.
The trading classes of the towns had been the first to embrace the doctrines of the Reformation, but their Protestantism became a passion as the refugees of the Continent brought to shop and market their tale of outrage and blood. Thousands of Flemish exiles found a refuge in the Cinque Ports, a third of the Antwerp merchants were seen pacing the new London Exchange, and a Church of French Huguenots found a home which it still retains in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.