top of page

Regnans in excelsis

In 1570, Pope Pius V issued a document entitled “Regnans in excelsis” which described Queen Elizabeth I as “the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime”. He declared her to be a heretic and released all her subjects from any allegiance to her, even when they had "sworn oaths to her” and excommunicating any that obeyed her orders. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She had ascended the throne in 1558. She considered herself a Protestant. “Regnans in excelsis” was a pointless exercise: it is difficult to see how you can put someone out of your club when they don’t think they are in it in the first place. More than that, “Regnans in excelsis” was highly dangerous. It was the nearest thing to a declaration of war. Things had been bad enough for English Catholics under Elizabeth before this but, not surprisingly “Regnans in excelsis” led to an increased level of hostility and activity against them.

In the passing, I remember when Prince Charles visited the Vatican with Princess Diana he wanted to attend Pope John Paul’s early morning Mass as a sign of his open-mindedness and his desire to be a defender of all faiths. British officials prevented him from doing so. Somebody in the backroom staff must have been on the ball, because the day in question was the feast of the very same pope, now Saint Pius V, who had excommunicated his mother’s predecessor and namesake Elizabeth I. Clearly, this was considered an open-minded step too far.

bottom of page