With communication being so difficult during the reign of Elizabeth, it was very difficult to govern such as large country and ensure that everyone was doing what they were supposed to. As a result of this many people in the North of England were still Catholics. This counted against the Northern nobles who remained loyal to Catholicism, when Elizabeth became Queen. Elizabeth as a Protestant promoted Protestants to key government positions of power.
During 1569, the Northern Earls had become enraged over a number of issues that it led to the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569. The Earls, first and foremost disagreed with Elizabeth about religion. They wanted Catholicism restored in England, instead of the Protestant Church which existed instead. Secondly, as a result of their Catholicism they had lost a great deal of influence at Court and this had annoyed many. In addition to this, Elizabeth’s lifestyle choices provoked the Earls as she refused to marry or to name and heir, leaving the future of the Kingdom in doubt.
There was however a solution to all of their problems. They had Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots as a figurehead who could replace Elizabeth. By replacing Elizabeth as Queen, Mary would be able to restore Catholicism, return the Earls to a position of influence and marry another Catholic to ensure the safety of Catholicism in England.
The key figures in the plot were Thomas Percy, the Earl of Northumberland; Charles Neville, Earl of Westmorland and Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Both Neville and Percy had lost position at court, and Norfolk too felt displaced as a result of the younger Protestant nobles which Elizabeth doted on.
It can be argued that the Revolt of the Northern Earls was a religious dispute, as the Earls wanted the restoration of Catholicism in England. Elizabeth had appointed James Pilkington as Archbishop of Durham in 1561. Pilkington was a Protestant and his appointment was supposed to stamp out Catholicism in northern England. Pilkington was harsh in his methods, and instead of turning the masses to Protestantism, the opposite occurred with many turning away from Protestantism and embracing Catholicism more fully.
However, some have argued that the Revolt was in fact a political problem rather than a religious one. Many of the Earls had felt displaced at court and a result began to detest Elizabeth. For Percy, the appointment of Sir John Forster as the Earl in charge of protecting England’s borders with Scotland cut deep. Many Earls did not like the influence and power that many ‘newcomers’ had over Elizabeth. In addition to this, Elizabeth refused to have an heir to succeed her. The Earls wanted to replace Elizabeth with Mary, Queen of Scots which would have ensured that the succession was secure. Mary, would marry the Duke of Norfolk and create an heir resulting in stability for England.
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