After Queen Mary's accession to the throne in 1553, numerous Protestant reformers went into exile in Switzerland. These so-called "Marian exiles" later exerted a great influence on English politics and cultural life.
The Old Swiss Confederation accommodated and accepted Protestant refugees from across Europe throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The “Marian Exiles” from England stand out, however, for their subsequent influence in English affairs despite their small numbers. The experiences of these English exiles in Switzerland during the 1550s undoubtedly strengthened and solidified the cause of Protestantism in England during the reign of Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603). Switzerland proved not only to be a safe haven for the English, but also a beacon of reformed rectitude replete with a model Protestant church and populace.
Ties between England and the old Swiss confederation
The early ties between Protestants in England and Switzerland were respectful and warm. Swiss reformers, unlike their Lutheran rivals in Germany, favored Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) in his efforts to divorce Catherine of Aragon in the 1520s, and texts authored by Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531) appeared in English as early as 1530. Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) purposefully cultivated close relationships with the English reformers Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) and John Hooper (c. 1495-1555) in order to further counteract Lutheran influence elsewhere in Europe. During the reign of the Protestant Edward VI (r. 1547-1553), Cranmer utilized Zwingli’s liturgical works in the creation of the Book of Common Prayer, while Protestant elites, like Lady Jane Grey (c. 1537-1554), corresponded with Bullinger and Rudolf Gwalther (1519-1586).The relationship between Protestants in England and their counterparts in Switzerland changed fundamentally in the summer of 1553, when the Catholic Mary I (r. 1553-1558) succeeded her half-brother King Edward to the English throne. Queen Mary’s deep devotion to Catholicism was no secret, and she intended to reintroduce Catholicism to England with vigor. Fearing that Queen Mary would bring the Holy Inquisition to England, some 800 Protestants fled England for the relative safety of cities and commercial centers in the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Poland-Lithuania, Germany, and Switzerland. Foreign Protestants residing in England, like the Scottish John Knox (c. 1514-1572) and the Italian Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), also chose voluntary exile abroad.
English Protestants in Swiss exile
English Protestants settled chiefly in Zürich, Basel, Bern, Lausanne, and Geneva. When doctrinal and political disagreements erupted between English Protestants and Lutheran authorities in Wesel, Germany, some 25 families resettled in Aarau as well. English students gravitated toward Zürich and Basel as they were bastions of Humanism and religious scholasticism. It was common for English exiles to join existing reformed churches or to form their own congregations with local permission. The Swiss got on well with the English refugees, and many Marian exiles later praised the Swiss for their hospitality, learning, and Protestant zeal in their epistolary works.Of the émigré communities, Geneva held the most important concentration of Marian exiles with 233 persons or some 140 households. (This accounted for only two-percent of Geneva's population.) With the support of John Calvin (1509-1564), two English exiles, Anthony Gilby (c. 1510–1585) and Christopher Goodman (1520–1603), founded the Anglican Holy Trinity Church in Geneva, which still offers Anglican services in English today. Gilby and Goodman additionally assisted in the compilation and translation of the Geneva Bible – a Bible predating the King James version – which English-speaking politicians and writers, including William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower (1620), and Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), favored well into the following century. Even Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), England's finest Renaissance painter, spent his childhood in Geneva. The young Hilliard lived with John Bodley (c. 1518-1591) who was yet another sponsor of the Geneva Bible. It was in Geneva that Hilliard was first exposed to the French language, French art, and a humanist education. Hilliard's constant companion in those days was John's son, Thomas Brodley (1545-1613), who would return to England to reestablish one of the world's greatest libraries: Oxford University's Bodleian Library.
An enduring legacy
Unlike the Protestant refugees who came to Switzerland from France, Spain, or Italy, those from England had no intention of remaining permanently in Switzerland. They awaited the succession of Queen Mary’s half-sister, the Protestant Princess Elizabeth. In 1558, Mary died and Elizabeth became queen. Queen Elizabeth’s accession stimulated great excitement and interest across Switzerland’s Protestant cantons, and the English exiles returned home en masse to attend her coronation and seek personal favors. The return of the Marian exiles thus marks the rise of Puritanism and Presbyterianism in the British Isles. These exiles carried back to England the works of Zwingli, Bullinger, and Calvin; Swiss conceptions of the roles of the Eucharist and church vestments; and firm stances on Lutherans, Anabaptists, and Antitrinitarians.Queen Elizabeth granted former Marian exiles immense powers and influence within the reestablished Anglican Church. Among the more notable were Edwin Sandys (1519-1588), Archbishop of York, Robert Horne (c. 1510-1579), Bishop of Winchester, John Parkhurst (c. 1512-1575), Bishop of Norwich, Thomas Bentham (c. 1514-1579), Bishop of Coventry, and John Jewel (1522-1571), Bishop of Salisbury. As Swiss religious texts became more widely accessible in the 1560s, interest in Switzerland and contact with Swiss churches remained strong. Bullinger’s Decades, a book of sermons, even became a bestseller during the 1570s and 1580s following its translation into English. The personal contacts forged between the English and the Swiss in the 1550s endured and facilitated a blossoming of cultural and academic exchanges between the two countries. Queen Elizabeth, herself, wrote frequently to Bullinger, who, in turn, offered advice to the young queen on matters concerning religious moderation and good statecraft.
In 1531, two years after the legendary Milchsuppe (milk soup) incident, a battle took place at Kappel after all. The Protestants suffered a crushing defeat, and were forced to abandon their dreams of an exclusively Protestant Switzerland.
A stained-glass work of exceptional artistic quality dating from 1588, on permanent loan from the Swiss National Museum, adds a touch of dramatic beauty to the Ittinger Museum in the Kartause Ittingen.