Why did Elizabeth I pursue a compromised religious settlement?
The Elizabethan Settlement was intended to put an end to the religious controversy that had developed in the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII, and had swung from one extreme under Edward VI to the other under Bloody Mary. So, in 1559, Elizabeth created a religious settlement which would finally unite her people. Elizabeth didn’t want England to be seen by other countries as a place with lots of religious conflict and trouble, and so worked hard to get the whole country to take on board this settlement. In deciding this Elizabeth was influenced by a number of causal factors… The choice of religion would have consequences both at home and abroad. For instance, choosing to remain Catholic would be surrendering power to Rome and would ally England with other Catholic states, such as France and Spain, but possibly alienate the Protestant Dutch, who were England’s main trading partner. Returning to Protestantism would annoy Catholic Spain, the most powerful nation in the world at the time, and who Elizabeth needed to keep her fragile friendship with.
It might also strike fear into the hearts of English Catholics, fearing retribution and persecution from Protestant reformers, particularly the most radical. But Elizabeth also had to think politically, with her parliament being divided religiously she couldn’t upset either, which greatly effected any laws she would want passing. With the House of Lords mainly protestant, and the House of Commons mainly catholic she couldn’t ignore either. She needed to establish a national church which would seek to secure the religious conformity and attendance of as many of her subjects as possible. No stable government could exist where subjects accepted the political rule of monarch but rejected her religion in large numbers, it is impossible to separate religion and politics.
Not only did Elizabeth have these factors to think about, but she also had great pressure on her from others, while the Catholics had to be more secretive with regards to their activities, the opposite was true for the radicalised Protestants; most of them had returned to England only on the death of Mary and all of them expected great things from Elizabeth. They wanted to get England back to how it use to be, and being very powerful people now, Elizabeth would need to be wise to keep their loyalty, and not disrespect this. But on the other hand, Elizabeth also had to stay true to herself, the compromise needed to make sure she was happy too, how could she rule a country she didn’t agree with? Being a sincere protestant herself, and even her imminent birth being the reasons for such religious conflict now, all meant that the country couldn’t ever go back to being just Catholic. Elizabeth’s main intention was to secure a lasting religious settlement for her people.
There was little doubt that this would be Protestant in line with her own preference; the issue was how Protestant it would be? Her people were already confused and divided by frequent changes to Religion, and they had already proved themselves resistant to change. Rebellions in the past such as The Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion during Henry’s reign about prices going up and wages going down. There was also the Ketts rebellion, largely in response to the enclosure of land. And finally the Wyatt rebellion during Mary’s reign, who were greatly angered by the proposed marriage between Mary and Philip of Spain. Elizabeth intended to avoid all risk of dissent or revolt.
In conclusion, Elizabeth’s goal was that of a stable, peaceful nation with a strong government free from the influence of foreign powers, whether in matters of church or state. She needed to create a stable united country, somewhere where her people would support her, unlike how the county has acted in the past. As Elizabeth said, she had no desire to ‘create windows in men’s souls’ she was just compromising the fact that if they almost ‘pretend’ to follow this one religion, the country will succeed, just as Elizabeth said “united we stand, divided we fall”.