How Successful was the Middle Way Church? (Summary)

Background Information

As it is like that your ‘Write an Account’ could be on how Elizabeth dealt with the challenge of religious challenges (likely focussing on either Catholics or Protestants), it is worth a short lesson to summarise Elizabeth’s response to religion, and the overall success of the Middle Way Church.

How did Elizabeth Respond to her Religious Challenges?

  1. In a question about response to religion, you could not really write about the Middle Way. This is for two reasons:
  2. 1: The course officially starts in 1568 (9 years after the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity). Whilst the contextual knowledge of these is important, they could not be the _focus__ _of an answer.
  3. 2: The Middle Way was actually one of the main causes of religious opposition from both Catholics and Protestants. If Elizabeth had been strictly on one side or the other, she would have only had resistance from one side. Because Elizabeth attempted a compromise, the Middle Way gathered much public support, but drew opposition from extremists on both sides.
  4. Therefore, the Middle Way is best talked about in terms of a catalyst for religious opposition, rather than a response to it.
  5. Elizabeth became stricter, and happier to use violence and force, as her reign progressed.
  6. Making examples of religious dissidents became a increasingly common tactic, as cajoling, compromise, and putting up with people failed to really work.
  7. This is also because Elizabeth was slowly establishing her political authority as well – by the 1570s, Elizabeth had more support and could therefore deal more decisively with threats.
  8. Elizabeth was also not afraid to fall back on Royal Prerogative – when possible she worked through Parliament, but as seen with how she dealt with Puritans, Elizabeth would happily shut down Parliament if she felt it necessary. This stopped debates in their tracks, and shows that in may ways Elizabeth’s authority was indeed unshakable.

How was Elizabeth so Successful?

  1. Elizabeth’s spy system was pivotal in her success against the Catholics – Catholic Plots could have done much more damage, and even been successful, had Walsingham’s network not rooted them out in plenty of time.
  2. Similarly, Elizabeth’s triumph over Spain went a long way to quashing Catholic resistance – Elizabeth had shown she could defeat the greatest and most Catholic power in Europe. After this, Catholics started to get the message.
  3. Elizabeth was also sure to maintain her political power throughout all of this, and maneuvered and played political opponents off against each other, to keep political authority. That was helped by the unwavering support of Cecil, her chief advisor, who was staunchly committed to the Middle Way.

Was Elizabeth’s ‘Middle Way’ a Success?

Elizabeth’s settlement was very intelligent as it satisfied most people. Her Anglican church was Protestant Church that looked Catholic. This was clever as Elizabeth believed people would be willing to follow Protestant ways of worship if the church looked like one they were familiar with. It is arguable that Elizabeth chose the elements of each religion that suited her personal taste but also her political needs. By still making the break with the Pope it also secured her power as leader.

Elizabeth believed that the middle way was the only way of bringing political stability and religious harmony to England.

However, not everyone was happy. In spite of the Catholics and the Puritans trying to overthrow it, the Act of Uniformity (1559) outlining that everyone had to follow the same beliefs and the same way of worship, remained in place.

Elizabeth started to be more intolerant about religious beliefs after the 1570’s and the government became much more strict on people who would not accept the ‘Middle Way’. They began to torture, kill and imprison anyone who was not following Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity. Most groups that went against Elizabeth did so underground whilst keeping up the pretence of following her ‘Middle Way’.

Elizabeth’s government propaganda made a big attempt to make the puritans and Catholics look bad, which helped win popularity for Elizabeth’s Anglican Church. By 1603, much of the religious opposition was no longer there.

Religious Matters Summary

  1. Elizabeth’s ‘Middle Way’ brought both Catholic and Protestant elements into the Anglican Church.
  2. Some Catholics were involved in rebellions and plots against Elizabeth.
  3. About 300 missionaries and Jesuits tried to revive Catholicism in England.
  4. Puritans spoke out in Parliament, preached and published pamphlets.
  5. The government took a harsher line from the 1570’s.
  6. A new Treason Act and various laws were passed by the government. This dealt with those who disagreed with the ‘Middle Way’
  7. Nearly 200 Catholics were executed during Elizabeth’s reign.
  8. Religious Civil wars did not take place in England as they did in Europe.