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Pole arrived in England as Papal Legate on 20 November, 1554. The Spanish Ambassador thought that he was slow to take advantage of the favourable turn of events, and "was sleep-walking through his task of restoring Catholicism to England". The evidence for this negative assessment, taken up by many historians, is that Pole declined an offer from Ignatius Loyola to send Jesuits to England and made no attempt to return the land of the dissolved monasteries to the Church. Duffy shows that there were good reasons for both decisions. Pole's policy for the restoration of the Catholic Church in England was to implement "pedestrian institutional reforms" called for by the Council of Trent to improve the quality of the clergy. He therefore founded a seminary — the English College in Rome — to educate priests; and, to improve the calibre of the 20 new bishops, Pole chose "university-trained theologians, with a proven pastoral track record and, in many cases, also a record of loyalty to and suffering for Catholic believers under Henry and Edward". His judgment proved sound: all 14 surviving Catholic bishops refused the Oath of Supremacy under Queen Elizabeth and were dismissed from their sees. "This astonishing conscientious exodus from the cushioned stalls of Barchester to gaol or the wilderness," writes Duffy, "was something new in Tudor England, indeed in Reformation Europe."

When it comes to the burning of heretics, it has been common for historians — even Foxe in his Book of Martyrs — to shift the blame from Pole on to Mary herself. Duffy considers this plausible in the case of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer but not with the policy as such. There can be no serious doubt, he writes, "that Pole did back the campaign of repression..." No 16th century European state "willingly accepted or could easily imagine the peaceful coexistence of different religious confessions". Both Cranmer and his fellow Protestant martyr Latimer urged the burning, under Edward VI, of the Kentish Anabaptist Joan Butcher.

If Pole did have a horror of killing heretics, it was not because of any squeamishness about the death penalty but because he believed that "the unrepentant heretic...went to hell for all eternity". The burning here on earth was an exemplary foretaste of what they were to suffer after their death — a dramatic tableau vivant that, even as it removed the cancerous cells in the body politic, taught and deterred and so saved other souls from damnation. Modern historians, Duffy acknowledges, "find it hard to credit such convictions as grounds for action but they weighed heavily in the 16th century". 

He contrasts Pole's desire for the salvation of his fellow-countrymen and women with the purely political terror of Mary's sister and successor, Elizabeth, who "burned no Catholics, but strangled, disembowelled and dismembered more than 200." Duffy declines to allocate marks for brutality between these different methods of slow killing. 

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