Reigning in the Highest Places: The Excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I in its Roman and Spanish Contexts

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Abstract

In 1570, Queen Elizabeth I was famously excommunicated by Pope Pius V. The bull, known after its opening line, regnans in excelsis (“He who reigns in the highest place”), became a powerful tool of anti-Catholic propaganda in the hands of the regime and it served as a catalyst for harsh measures against Catholics in England. In this, the historiography is in agreement. However, three contextual aspects of the publication of the bull which are explored here have been generally ignored or misunderstood. First, the bull responded to the demands of a reinvigorated Catholic Church which was applying the reforms envisaged at Trent. Second, the queen of England was denounced by some of her subjects whose depositions have received little attention and the case against her was solidly grounded in Catholic understandings of the papal powers of excommunication and deposition. Third, Philip II of Spain’s refusal to implement the bull was founded on pragmatic reasons and were prompted by his displeasure at not being mentioned in the bull.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-90
JournalSixteenth Century Journal
Volume51
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2021

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