Regnans in Excelsis

Eyridiki Sellou | Apr 7, 2023

Table of Content


Regnans in excelsis is the incipit of the papal bull, issued on Feb. 25, 1570, by which Pope Pius V declared Queen Elizabeth I of England a heretic and consequently excommunicated and deposed from her throne.

Referring to Elizabeth as a "servant of ignoble people, who claims to be queen of England," the pontiff intended to deprive her of all power and rights, releasing her subjects from any obligation or oath of allegiance and obedience.

Upon the death of Edward VI in 1553, the accession to the English throne of Mary I, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII, had marked a turning point in relations between the kingdom of England and the papacy. Mary's main goal was reconciliation with Rome and the restoration of the Catholic religion, thus ending the Anglican schism initiated by her father. To this end Pope Julius III, in 1554, had sent Cardinal Reginald Pole, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, who sought to rebuild the Roman hierarchy with the help of Archbishop Stephen Gardiner, appointed by the queen as Lord Chancellor. On July 25 of that year the queen married Philip II of Habsburg, son of the highly Catholic Charles V and future king of Spain. The purpose of this marriage was to ensure the birth of an heir who would avert the succession to the English throne of Elizabeth, Mary's Protestant half-sister. The queen, however, would fail to produce offspring and would see her plans for Catholic restoration fade further when, on the death of Julius III in 1555, the anti-Spanish and pro-French Paul IV ascended to the papal throne and recalled Cardinal Reginald Pole to Rome on charges of heresy. Maintaining the marriage alliance with Spain thus marked an initial break with Rome, and Mary was forced to harden her regime by reintroducing medieval laws against heresy in 1555. This was followed by what came to be known as the Persecutions of Mary, in the course of which 283 Protestants were burned at the stake, earning the queen the nickname Bloody Mary. When Mary died childless in 1558, her half-sister Elizabeth inherited the throne. The following year the English parliament enacted the Second Act of Supremacy, by which the independence of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland from papal authority was proclaimed.

The publication of a papal bull of excommunication was immediately advocated by Philip II of Spain, the Duke of Norfolk Thomas Howard and the Queen of Scotland, the Catholic Mary Stuart, in order to overthrow Elizabeth's power by deposing her from the throne. The fact that as many as eleven years passed before the actual promulgation of the bull was caused by the numerous but unsuccessful attempts of European princes and monarchs to marry Elizabeth and the permission granted by the queen to Catholic worship in private.

The outbreak in 1569 of the so-called "papists' revolt" provided the occasion for the publication of the papal document. Pius V thus intended to support Catholic forces loyal to the pope in the north of England, which, led by the Duke of Norfolk, the Earl of Westmorland and the Earl of Northumberland, aimed to depose the reigning queen and crown Elizabeth's Catholic cousin: Mary Stuart. In the same year Irish Catholics also rebelled against Elizabeth I's rule, led by James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald in the first Desmond Revolt.

The bull provoked an immediate reaction from Elizabeth who, abandoning her policy of religious tolerance, began to persecute her Catholic enemies and especially the Jesuits, who were accused of acting in the interests of Spain and the papacy. The publication in England of Pius V's excommunication of the queen thus gave rise to Catholic uprisings throughout the kingdom, including the "Ridolfi plot," an assassination attempt on Elizabeth carried out by the Italian banker Roberto di Ridolfi with the support of the Duke of Norfolk, who intended to place Mary Stuart on the throne and become de facto king of England by marrying her.

The English parliament passed a decree, known as the "Bulls, etc., from Rome Act 1570," by which those who published or circulated in England any documents from the Holy See were declared guilty of high treason.

Following Elizabeth's rejection of the Jesuits' request to relax persecution against Catholics in the Kingdom of England, Pope Gregory XIII decided in 1580 to suspend his predecessor's bull, making it clear that English Catholics were bound to obedience to the queen in all matters of civil matters, at least until an opportunity arose to depose Elizabeth. A few years later, at the outbreak of the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604) the English parliament enacted an act "against Jesuits, seminary priests and other such like disobedient persons."

In 1588 Pope Sixtus V, on behalf of Philip II of Spain in the Anglo-Spanish War, brought back into force the solemn bull of excommunication against Queen Elizabeth I for the regicide of Mary Stuart in 1587 and previous crimes against the Catholic religion. During the threat of the Spanish invasion of England, the reintroduction of Pius V's bull made it clear that most English Catholics had remained loyal to Rome, and those among them who posed a threat to the government, such as Cardinal William Allen and Jesuit Robert Parsons, were exiled by Elizabeth.

While the bull had a modest impact in England, it was the source of uprisings and revolts in Ireland, where most of the population was Catholic. Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond, used the bull to justify the second Desmond Revolt.


  1. Regnans in Excelsis
  2. Regnans in Excelsis
  3. McGrath, Patrick (1967). Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I. Poole, England: Blandford Press. p. 69.
  4. Ehler, Sidney Z., Church and State Through the Centuries, (Biblo-Moser, 1988), p. 180.
  5. McGrath, Patrick (1967). Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I (en inglés). Poole, England: Blandford Press. p. 69.
  6. "Regnans in Excelsis", Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World, (John A. Wagner, ed.), Routledge, 2000, ISBN 9781579582692 |idioma=inglés}}
  7. Haynes, Alan (2004). Walsingham: Elizabethan Spymaster and Statesman. Stroud, England: Sutton Publishing. p. 13. ISBN 0-7509-3122-1.
  8. ^ a b Pope Pius V (25 February 1570). "Regnans in Excelsis". Papal Encyclicals Online (in Latin). Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  9. ^ a b Pope Pius V (25 February 1570). "Regnans in Excelsis". Papal Encyclicals Online. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  10. ^ Ehler, Sidney Z., Church and State Through the Centuries, (Biblo-Moser, 1988), 180.
  11. ^ McGrath, Patrick (1967). Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I. Poole, England: Blandford Press. p. 69.
  12. ^ Watt, John A. (1988). "Spiritual and temporal powers". The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought c. 350–c. 1450. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 422. ISBN 9780521423885.
  13. McGrath, Patrick. Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 69. o. (1967. március 28.)
  14. Haynes, Alan. Walsingham: Elizabethan Spymaster and Statesman. Stroud, England: Sutton Publishing, 13. o. (2004. március 28.). ISBN 0-7509-3122-1
  15. Canny, Nicholas P.. Making Ireland British, 1580-1650. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 124. o. (2001). ISBN 0-19-925905-4
  16. Patrick McGrath: Papists and Puritans under Elizabeth I.. Poole: Blandford Press, 1967, s. 69. (ang.).
  17. MacCurtain M., Tudor and Stuart Ireland Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1972
  18. Garrett Mattingly: The Armada. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997, s. 216. (ang.).

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