Elizabeth's religious settlement

Religious Context

When Elizabeth inherited the throne in 1558, England was in the midst of religious turmoil. Since the reformation that Henry VIII started in England when he divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, religion throughout the country was very unstable.

Before Henry VIII made the break with Rome to divorce his first wife, England was a Catholic country. This meant that England was loyal and obedient to the Pope in Rome. However, when Henry made the break with Rome, this allowed room for Protestant changes in the Church of England. Edward VII, Henry VIII’s son, increased Protestantism in the country. However, when Edward died and Henry’s eldest daughter Mary I became Queen, she decided to revert the religion of the country to Catholicism. This caused uproar throughout the country, especially as those who refused to return to the Catholic faith were publicly executed. When Mary died and Elizabeth succeeded the throne, the Protestants hoped that they would be able to get revenge on the Catholics…

Catholics vs. Protestants

It is crucial that you understand that the Catholic faith and the Protestant faith are different strands of Christianity. They believe in the same religion, yet they have very strong views on how their religion should be worshipped.

Catholics believed that…

  • The Pope is the head of the Church.

  • Underneath the Pope you have cardinals, archbishops, bishops and priests.

  • The Bible and Church services should be in Latin.

  • The Church is needed for a conversation between God and the people.

  • The Church alone can forgive sins.

  • During mass a miracle occurs when the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ.

  • Priests are special and should wear special clothing, known as vestments.

  • Churches should be highly decorated.

  • There are seven sacraments (special church ceremonies).

  • Priests are forbidden to marry.

Whereas Protestants believed that…

  • There should not be a Pope.

  • It is not necessary to have cardinals, or even archbishops or bishops.

  • The Bible and church services should be in your own language.

  • People have their own direct relationship with God through independent prayer and Bible study.

  • Sins can only be forgiven by God - not members of the Church.

  • The bread and wine simply represent the Last Supper in the Bible. No miracle occurs.

  • Priests are not special and should not wear special clothing.

  • Churches should be plain and simple so as not to distract from worshipping God.

  • There are only two sacraments (special ceremonies): Baptism and Holy Communion (a form of mass).

  • Priests are permitted to marry if they wish.

There were also the Puritans…

It is crucial that we do not forget about the Puritans in this unit. Puritanism is a strict from of Protestantism. They believed that…

  • There should not be a Head of the Church

  • There should be no bishops.

  • Committees should be elected by churchgoers to make the rules.

  • Churches should be even plainer than Protestant churches. They felt that any decoration was not approved by God.

  • Those leading services should only wear plain black gowns.

  • The Bible in English, which everyone could read.

  • Church services should be in English.

Who did Catholics believe should be the head of the Church?
What language did the Catholics want the Bible to be printed in?
What were priests' special items of clothing called?
How many sacraments did the Protestants believe in?
Your answer should include: 2 / Two
What colour clothes did the Puritans want Church leaders to wear?

Elizabeth’s Religious Settlement (1559)

Elizabeth’s religious settlement was designed to be accepted by as many of her subjects as possible, regardless of their religion. The religious settlement was established in 1559 and came in three parts:

1) The Act of Supremacy

This made Elizabeth supreme governor of the Church of England. Every important person who held office at Court had to swear an oath of allegiance to her. Under the Act of Supremacy, members of the clergy whose loyalty was in doubt could be punished. Eight thousand priests and important clergy signed the Act of Supremacy. This was viewed as a success when you consider that there were only 10,000 parishes in England at this time.

2) The Act of Uniformity

This established the appearance of churches and the form of services they held. It introduced a uniform church service in the Book of Common Prayer to be used in all churches. The clergy had to use the exact wording of the Prayer Book when performing services. Anyone who refused to use this Prayer book was punished. The wording of the service was deliberately unclear so that, Catholics could take it as meaning the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, while Protestants could take it simply a symbol. The act also made it clear that priests were to wear a special form of clothing, and ordered that everybody had to attend church on a Sunday. People were fined 1 shilling for every absence.

Elizabeth's religious settlement, figure 1

3) The Royal Injunctions

This was a set of instructions issued by Sir William Cecil on behalf of the queen to the members of the church on a wide range of issues to reinforce the acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. It included instructions on how people would worship God and the Structure of Services.

Below are just a few examples of some of the injunctions:

  • Anyone who refused to attend church was reported to the Privy Council

  • Each parish had to have a copy of the Bible in English

  • No one was allowed to preach without a licence from the government

  • Pilgrimages (journeys to an important religious place or shrine) and monuments to ‘fake miracles’ were banned.

  • The clergy were to wear special vestments.

Pilgrimages to places where saints were buried or where miracles were supposed to have happened were important to the Catholic religion. To Protestants, this was all superstition. The Royal Injunctions referred to the fake miracles to leave the possibility that some miracles might be real. This helped make the settlement more widely acceptable.

The Royal Injunctions also allowed images in churches. This would allow them to look as they had done in the past, helping introduce Elizabeth’s changes without changing too much. Puritans, however, disliked people praying before saints’ statues, as the Bible forbade worshipping idols.

* Extend your knowledge - Church Courts

The Church Courts had always existed with previous monarchs when the religion of the country was Catholic. Elizabeth decided to keep the Church Courts. Although they mainly focused on Church matters, they did act in a range of minor disputes on moral issues. Examples of moral issues dealt with the Church included marriage, sexual offences and slander (false insults). Church courts also dealt with wills and inheritance. For example, all wills had to be proved valid before anybody could inherit. Lawyers greatly resented the powers that the Church courts had. All other offences, such as civil cases (one person suing another) disputes over land, robbery, fraud, rape and murder were dealt with in the ordinary court system.

Enforcing the Religious Settlement

  • The Church was responsible for helping enforce the religious settlement. The bishops regularly carried out visits to ensure that everybody was following the oath of supremacy and the terms of the settlement.

  • Elizabeth always made it clear that she did not want people’s religious beliefs investigated too closely, but the Church took visitations very seriously.

  • In some places visitations caused a great deal of destruction of decorations and statues in churches. Elizabeth did not want this level of violence.

  • The first visitations were in 1559 and resulted in up to 400 clergy being dismissed.

  • After 1559 visitations took place every 3-4 years.

Describe two features of Elizabethan religious settlement.
Your answer should include: catholic / protestant

Catholic challenge

  • Although the Catholic Church was trying to tackle the spread of Protestantism by dealing with corruption and other problems throughout Europe, it was also leading an active fight back to strengthen Catholicism by supporting local communities, persecuting heretics and encouraging the waging of war against protestants. This campaign against Protestantism was known as the Counter Reformation.

  • The Counter Reformation supported by the papacy was mainly headed by the Jesuits or ‘Society of Jesus’. This was established in 1540 and they trained Catholic priests in hopes that they might spread Christianity. Their overall goal was to combat the spread of protestantism.

  • Although the papacy did not offer much leadership to English Catholics, in 1556 the Pope issued an instruction that they should not attend Church of England services.

  • In 1570, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull which condemned Elizabeth as a heretic and excommunicated her. Once excommunicated, Elizabeth was no longer under the protection of the Catholic Church. This meant that it was acceptable for other nations to openly challenge her authorities. It also gave legitimate reason for Catholic countries, such as Spain or France, to invade England and support the Catholic, Mary Queen of Scots.

Describe two features of the Catholic challenge to the religious settlement (4 marks).
Your answer should include: Excommunication / Jesuits / Pius / Pope

Puritan challenge

Despite Elizabeth’s best attempts to make a ‘middle-way’ policy, she failed to please everybody. Several groups of people rejected her religious settlement and actively tried to challenge it.

The Vestment Controversy

What priests wore was a key issue for Puritans. Some thought that they should not have special clothing at all. Others believed that it should be very plain and simple. Elaborate cloths suggests that priests were set apart from ordinary people. This suited the Catholics as they believed they were special as they had the power to turn the bread and wine into the body and blood of christ and were also powerful enough to forgive sins. However, this is not what the Protestants believed.

As set out in the Royal Injunctions, Elizabeth wanted the clergy to wear special vestments. By 1565, it was clear that not all clergy were wearing them. Some were also not following instructions on how to preach at services. In 1566, the archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew parker, issued guidelines for priests in his ‘Book of Advertisements’. He also held a special exhibition in London to show what vestments Priests should wear. Of the 110 invited, 37 refused to attend and Elizabeth removed them from their positions in the Church.

The Crucifix Controversy

To Elizabethan Puritans, crucifixes represented idols. They did not believe that you should worship idols. Elizabeth, however, liked them and wanted churches to keep their familiar look as they had done in the past. She didn’t want to anger her Catholic subjects by changing too much too fast. She therefore demanded that each church should display a crucifix. When some Puritan bishops threatened to resign, the queen backed down. She was unable to enforce her will in this instance, as she could not afford to ignore them as they were powerful. There weren’t yet enough able Protestant clergymen to take the place of any bishops who were dismissed. Nevertheless, she still insisted on keeping a crucifix in the Royal Chapel, despite agreeing to remove the others across the country. This angered the puritans greatly.

Elizabeth's religious settlement, figure 1

Describe two features of the Puritan challenge to the religious settlement (4 marks).
Your answer should include: Crucifix / Vestment / Vestments / Puritan
Explanation: Guided support: One feature of the puritan challenge to the religious settlement was the refusal to wear vestments. For example...