Elizabeth Tudor and Religion

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Elizabeth I and the Problem of Religion During her Reign

Elizabeth's Settlement

The young queen came to the throne in 1558 and inherited a kingdom that was deeply troubled. At war with France due to an unpopular Spanish Alliance and divided religiously, the country looked to the new queen with hope and fear. She was known to be a Protestant and her sister Mary had left the country largely Catholic along with a largely Catholic Privy Council. Some thought that Elizabeth would marry and take on the faith of her husband or would convert to Catholicism to appease the majority of the population. However, Elizabeth was caught in the middle. She did not want to alienate the people yet she wished to remain true to her faith. Instead, she created a settlement that was a mix of the two religions. Protestant in name, it was lenient towards Catholics, at least towards the start of the reign.. Both Calvinists and Catholics criticised her settlement, but Elizabeth knew the importance of stability and knew that this religious settlement would achieve it.

1559- Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy

On the 8th May 1559, Queen Elizabeth I gave her approval to the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy which had been passed by Parliament on the 29th April. The Act of Uniformity made Protestantism England’s official faith, established a form of worship which is still followed in English Parish churches today and showed the country that Elizabeth was bent on following a middle road where religion was concerned. It declared,

  • Mary I’s repeal of Edward VI’s Act for Uniformity and Administration of the Sacraments null and void – Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity reinstated the use of the English Book of Common Prayer from 1552. All services were to follow the order of service set out in this book and be in English. Royal Supremacy – Elizabeth was made Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
  • The Catholic mass was banned.
  • Everybody was to attend church on Sundays and holy days or be fined 12 pence.
  • Measures or punishments for clergymen who did not stick to the Act and the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Church ornaments – “that such ornaments of the church, and of the ministers thereof, shall be retained and be in use, as was in the Church of England, by authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI”.

Problems with the Acts... 

- The Quality of the clergy- All of the Catholic Bishops resigned. The lower clergy generally accepted the settlement but many lacked religious conviction or education

- Confusion over Doctrine- Protestants were disappointed and local variations of services were considerable. The services were, however, acceptable to most English Catholics.

- The Marian exiles mistakenly believed that the Ornaments Rubric would not be enforced- This led to the Vestments controversy, 

 - Some Catholics experienced growing unease over Elizabeth's claim to be Supreme Governor- Some Catholics organised the Northern Rising in 1569, calling for the


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