The history of England is full of examples of how societies in our fallen world have ongoing battles between the forces of darkness and the forces of light who are led by God. During the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553), who succeeded his father Henry VIII on the throne, England witnessed the spread of the gospel. Edward VI was devoted to the printing and sharing of God’s word to the masses for every citizen to read. He asked that churches regularly preach God’s word using both the Old and New Testaments at every service to encourage people in the ways of the Lord.
Edward VI also welcomed an exiled Miles Coverdale back to England and made Coverdale his chaplain. The young king urged pastors to teach children to read and write so the kids could hear or read the holy scriptures whenever time would allow. Additionally, he banished the oppressive religious system of Roman Catholicism, ordering that all Catholic images at various sites be replaced with quotes from the Bible.
However, as the young king made all these reforms, there were still a lot of papist sympathizers in places of influence in English society. They wanted Edward’s older half-sister, Mary Tudor, to ascend the throne. When Edward died at the age of 15 of measles and smallpox, it allowed his older and devoted Catholic sister to reign.
Mary wasted no time in reversing everything her brother sought to accomplish. With the help of her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Mary implemented a campaign to show the pope she could be “the papacy’s most loyal daughter.” Her plan was to rid England and Ireland of any non-Catholic Bible along with genuine Christianity. So began the bloody reign of Mary I.
In 1554, with the help of her Parliament and the lobbying of her cousin the cardinal, Mary outlawed the reading of scripture and ordered every “preacher, printer, bookseller” out of England. Churches were raided to confiscate copies of the Bible and the works of Erasmus to be publicly burned. The homes of Christians were raided, their Bibles confiscated, and they were called before Inquisitors who tried to force them to reject any non-Catholic interpretation of the Bible as they were imprisoned.
So many true believers were imprisoned that the prisons themselves became Christian schools and churches. Bloody Mary ended up ordering over 300 genuine Christians to be executed with the majority of them being burned at the stake for refusing to become papists and clinging to God and the Bible instead of to the interpretations and traditions of priests. Some Christians managed to escape, taking copies of the Bible and Erasmus with them as they fled to other parts of Europe.
But Mary’s reign, by God’s hand, was cut short. Toward the end of her reign, her belly started to swell. She spread the news that she and her husband Philip were going to have a child–an heir. But in the summer of 1955 it became clear that wasn’t the case and she became the target of ridicule. In the midst of the embarrassment, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer and to add insult to her injury, her husband Philip lost a major battle against France after they allied themselves with Spain in the war. After a five-year reign, Mary died a miserable death in 1558. Several hours later, her partner in crime and cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, died of influenza.
Elizabeth I, the sister Mary hated and kept locked up, ascended the throne of England to bring back the exact changes her late brother Edward had implemented before his death. Elizabeth ushered in a long successful reign. She championed the wide distribution of Bibles, the education of the masses, and laid the foundation that would eventually allow her successor and cousin, King James I, to authorize a time-honored, incomparable version of the Bible.
Mary I was indeed a powerful, wealthy, and influential ruler. But despite all of that, she couldn’t win in her efforts to destroy God’s word or destroy his church. No one ever can. And no one ever will.
There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord. PROVERBS 21:30
38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. ACTS 5
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,”PERSECUTIONS IN ENGLAND DURING THE REIGN OF QUEEN MARY.”
Mary I, Encyclopedia.com.
Riplinger, G. A. (2003). In Awe of Thy Word. Ararat, VA: A. V. Publications. pages 838-841, 888, 891.