The Problem of Religion

The Problem of Religion

Religious Conflict in Elizabethan England

The Elizabethan Religious Settlement

  • In 1559, Elizabeth I implemented the Elizabethan Religious Settlement to calm religious tensions in England.
  • This compromise attempted to include elements of both Catholicism and Protestantism.
  • It established the Church of England with Elizabeth as its Supreme Governor and enforced Protestant doctrine.
  • The Act of Uniformity, part of the settlement, required all public worship to follow the Protestant Book of Common Prayer.

Catholic Dissent

  • Many Catholics refused to recognise Elizabeth as the religious leader, still viewing the Pope as the true leader of the Church.
  • The Papal Bull of Excommunication, issued by Pope Pius V in 1570, declared Elizabeth a heretic and called for her overthrow, encouraging Catholics to plot against her.
  • Dissenting Catholics caused worry for Elizabeth; they were seen as potential traitors, leading to persecution and, in some cases, execution.

The Role of Mary Queen of Scots

  • After being forced to abdicate the Scottish throne, Mary fled to England, where she became an emblem for Catholic dissidents.
  • Elizabeth perceived her cousin Mary to be a threat due to her strong claim to the throne and her Catholic faith, she therefore kept Mary under strict house arrest.
  • Mary Queen of Scots was implicated in numerous plots against Elizabeth, including the Babington Plot which led to her execution in 1587.


  • Puritans were radical Protestants who were dissatisfied with the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, believing it wasn’t sufficiently reformed and retained too many Catholic practices.
  • They sought to purify and simplify the Church, hence their name.
  • Elizabeth faced significant opposition from Puritans within her Parliament, creating tension between monarch and Parliament and adding to the religious pressures she faced.

Religious Anxiety and its Impact

  • Religious tension led to a state of heightened anxiety and paranoia during the Elizabethan period.
  • This unease was caused by concerns over religious allegiance, plots against the throne, and fears of foreign invasion, particularly by Catholic Spain.
  • Efforts to control religious dissent included repressive legislation, surveillance, and the execution of individuals deemed a threat to Elizabeth or Protestant England.