Marian Restoration

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Marian Restoration

The death of Edward VI and the succession of Mary in July 1553 marked a significant shift in religious policy in both Ireland and England, as a committed Protestant monarch was replaced by a firmly Catholic one. Mary, with the help of her cousin, the papal legate Cardinal Pole, restored England to papal obedience and the English church to Roman Catholic practice and belief. In England this was accompanied by the execution of several hundred Protestant heretics; in Ireland, however, where the Reformation's roots were far shallower, the return to Catholicism was less traumatic. Thus, rather than going to the stake for his beliefs, the Protestant archbishop of Dublin, George Browne, abandoned his wife, conformed to the new regime, and was allowed to remain as a prebendary of the re-Catholicized Saint Patrick's Cathedral. The only hint of violence was in Kilkenny, where the aggressively Protestant Bishop Bale was forced to flee the city by an angry Catholic populace.

The leading figure in the restoration of Catholicism in Ireland was George Dowdall, who returned from exile and was reinstated at his former see of Armagh in March 1553. As a good lawyer, Dowdall saw the revival of canon law as the essential vehicle for restoring Catholicism and reasserting the preeminence and standing of the church. He began by calling a provincial council of his clergy and issued seventeen canons. He may also have been influential in securing a papal bull that erected Ireland into a kingdom, thus restoring the link between Ireland, the English Crown, and the papacy that had been established by the 1155 papal bull Laudabiliter. Dowdall was certainly instrumental in securing the restoration of Saint Patrick's as a cathedral in 1554 to 1555 (despite the opposition of Lord Deputy Saint Leger). In 1554 a royal commission was appointed, which weeded out married bishops such as Browne, Staples in Meath, and Lancaster in Kildare and replaced them by conforming Catholics. Thus Browne was replaced in June 1555 by an English canon lawyer, Hugh Curwin, who set about restoring the Mass and the Roman Catholic liturgy to the Dublin cathedrals. The restoration of Catholicism was completed in 1557 when the Irish parliament repealed the Henrician Reformation legislation, and when a further royal commission was issued to identify and return the church plate and valuables that had been lost and distrained during the Reformation. After the death of Mary in 1558 it became apparent, from the grave difficulties which her half-sister Elizabeth I encountered in her attempts to reimpose Protestantism, just how effective the Marian re-Catholicization of Ireland had been.

SEE ALSO Church of Ireland: Elizabethan Era; Edwardian Reform; Protestant Reformation in the Early Sixteenth Century; Religion: 1500 to 1690


Edwards, R. D. Church and State in Tudor Ireland. 1935.

Hayes-McCoy, G. A. "Conciliation, Coercion, and the Protestant Reformation, 1547–71." In A New History of Ireland, Vol. 3, Early Modern Ireland, 1534–1691, edited by T. W. Moody, F. X. Martin, and F. J. Byrne. 1976.

Murray, James. "The Tudor Diocese of Dublin." Ph.D. diss., University of Dublin, 1997.

Alan Ford

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Marian Restoration

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