Thursday, January 5, 2012

England as Religious Haven, and its Influence on Economic Growth

     Foreigners with special skills, and those who were masters at their trades had been encouraged by the monarchy to settle in England since the Middle Ages. For instance, Queen Phillipa of Hainault notably sponsored Flemish weavers and wool merchants to take up residence in her adopted country. Foreign tradesmen sometimes assimilated well into their new communities, but other times they were seen as a threat by the native English and their businesses were boycotted in hopes that they would suffer financially and leave the country.

A detail from a 14th century illustration of Philippa of Hainault at her coronation. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.
     Tudor and Elizabethan England brought new reasons for immigrants from the Continent to settle in England, and also for Englishmen to flee persecution from their own government. This was all due to a succession of regime changes that affected religious tolerance. It all started with Henry VIII’s ever changing mind on matters of religion, and then the differing opinions of his three children. Depending on the given month and year, either Catholics or Protestants had reason to worry. In King Edward’s brief reign, many reformers eager to help establish a new Protestant kingdom flocked to England, only to flee again in fear during the reign of Queen Mary.
The atrocities suffered under Queen Mary's reign were still a very recent memory. This woodcut from Foxe's Book of Martyrs shows the burning of the elderly Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

     Queen Elizabeth established herself as someone who “wish(ed) not to open windows into men’s souls.” While Elizabeth herself was a Protestant, and upheld the Church of England that her father had established, her religious policy was much more moderate than either of her siblings, and England saw itself filled with both faiths again. Elizabeth’s own advisors were a mix of Catholic and Protestant, with some even leaning toward Puritanism, which Elizabeth herself was wary of. 

     From the 1560’s onward, England accepted Protestant refugee’s of the religious wars that were tearing apart Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 1553, the French Ambassador supposed that there were 15,000 French, Dutch and German Protestants in the City of London alone. King Philip of Spain’s ambassador would report in 1560 that the Flemish Protestants in England came to a grand total of 10,000. By 1568, between 7 and 8 percent of the people dwelling in London and its surrounding borough’s were refugee’s and tradesmen from France and the Netherlands.

     One of the many tasks of the Privy Council was to find towns where these immigrant families could be settled peacefully. For instance, in 1565, the Privy Council sent 30 immigrant families to Nowich, and by 1579, they had grown to represent 1/3 of the city’s population.

     While there were periods in Elizabeth’s reign where native born citizens took issue with prosperous immigrant tradesmen, (For instance, the Flemish wool merchants mentioned in the first paragraph were extremely affluent by the 16th century, and many of their competitors petitioned against them) for the most part, these immigrants were a vital component to the diverse, robust and steadily growing economy in England, an economy that would enable England to catch up and compete with the other Continental superpowers; England’s economy in the latter half of the 16th century is undoubtedly one of Elizabeth’s greatest achievements.


Statistics taken from D.M.Palliser's The Age of Elizabeth: England Under the Later Tudor's. Print.