The Catholic Threat to the Elizabethan Church Settlement

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The Catholic Threat to the Elizabethan Church Settlement

The Elizabethan Church Settlement


Act of Supremacy, 1559

To restore royal supremacy to the Church, which had been removed by Mary.

Restored the legal position of the crown in relation to the church, which had been established by Henry VIII. It gave legislative authority for the crown to act in matters relating to the church.


Act of Uniformity, 1559

To restore a single form on worship

Provided for the issue of a new Book of Common Prayer. Required church to use a communion table rather than an altar


Royal Injunctions, 1559

To make provisions for the implementation of the Act of Uniformity at the level of the individual parish church.

Required local officials to adopt a 'Protestant' view of forms of worship and practice in the church.


39 Articles of Religion, 1563

To define the faith of the Elizabethan Church.

Article 17 emphasised the importance of pre-destination, thereby linking the Church of England with the doctrines associated with John Calvin.

Catholic threat to the Elizabethan Settlement

  • At the start of Elizabeth’s reign, the intellectual Catholics, repeating the Protestant moves under Mary, had found a base in the Spanish Netherlands. William Allen founded a English College for the training to missionary priests in Douai.

  • However at the start of her reign, she tolerated Catholics in the country. But it was conditional on obedience, because Elizabeth faced some problems such as:

    • Catholicism had only been restored in 1553.

    • The ease of the restoration of Catholicism showed public opinion, that many people remained Catholic.

    • Catholic opinion remained in the House of Lord.

    • Some members of Elizabeth’s Privy Council e.g. Marquis of Winchester and the Earl of Sussex retained conservative beliefs.

    • It was still the case that the bulk of the clergy was instinctively conservative. Only 23% of senior clergy in York completely endorsed the royal supremacy.

    • Elizabeth in 1559 was concerned about the threat of the Catholic superpowers of Spain and France.

  • The ones who remained in England are called 'survivalist Catholics'. They lived in hope that Elizabeth’s religious policy would change. Such as Elizabeth marrying a Catholic, or being succeeded by a Catholic (Mary, Queen of Scots). They conformed to the country’s policy because of this.

  • The North of England contained many Catholic movement which is largely due to the more conservative nature of the North. However, this number only got smaller during the reign. External Catholic plots to overthrow her can be attributed to causing these smaller figures. The Excommunication of Elizabeth led to the authorities more keen to punish people for being Catholic.

  • Also the Northern Rebellion of 1569 was the catalyst for the more punitive attitudes towards Catholics.

The Emergence of the Catholic threat

By 1575, there were 11 secular priests in England from Douai and by 1580 there were about 100. Due to the lack of infrastructural framework, they were largely forced to operate country houses of the Catholic nobility and gentry. This provided


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