The Church Settlement Essay
The Church Settlement
Elizabeth was brought up as a Protestant, and her birth was a major cause in the initial break with Rome. However as she lived through the Protestant reform of Edward and Catholic restoration of Mary, she was careful never to be seen as too committed to either form of religion. When she came to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth was determined to settle the religion of the country which had been through a rollercoaster of reforms in the previous three decades.
She wanted to impose a settle accepted by the masses and avoid the persecutions of Mary’s reign. This meant the settlement must be compromised and Elizabeth never let her own religious beliefs get in the way of achieving a stale, uniform country. Elizabeth was a Protestant and the settlement is generally seen as mostly Protestant. However she could not be too extreme for fear of foreign Catholic powers like Philip II, but she realized the financial benefits of a Protestant regime.
Therefore the settlement consisted of mostly Protestant characteristics but not radical Protestantism as reflected by her refusal to give in to Puritan demands, and also with religious toleration so Catholics were not persecuted unless they presented a real threat. Elizabeth was made Supreme Governor of the Church rather than Head to pacify radicals who did not like a woman in such a position. She demanded obedience as she believed in the monarchy having divine right, so the clergy were required to take an oath supporting her role, with those who refused being replaced.
The Act of Uniformity then made church attendance compulsory with fines of 12d for those who refused. The Book of Common Prayers was deliberately ambiguous, for example Communion could be interpreted both as presence of Christ or a memorial, to ensure the settlement would be accepted by most. To increase her control preachers had to be licensed and preach once a month and books were to be licensed by the High Commission. These measures highlight Elizabeth’s desire to keep control.
This is reflected in the wording of the Act of Supremacy in source 2 where it states that she and not a foreign power would have control in ‘all things religious and spiritual’ in the country. Source 3 suggests that the church was ‘greatly influenced by practical political considerations’ and this certainly seemed to be the case. This can be supported by source 1 where when praying Elizabeth asks for ‘faithful and obedient hearts’ for her subjects, reminding them of the importance of being loyal.
These can show that the main aim for her religious settlement was to achieve political stability and influenced by her belief in divine rights. Elizabeth’s political views can also be seen in the structure of the church. She kept the Catholic hierarchy with the monarch on top, followed by Archbishops, bishops, lower clergy and then the people. This meant she could keep control from the top down and the fact that she opted for this rather than the Protestant structure with congregation and clergy being more equal suggest having control was more important than having a completely Protestant church.
Elizabeth did show some of her personal beliefs in the church’s presentation. She liked the look of the Catholic Church, and hence the candles, relics and altars were protected in the Royal Injunctions. The priests were required to wear vestments as Elizabeth wanted them to look different from the congregation. This upset Puritans and led to the Vestiarian Controversy of 1566, but Elizabeth did not back down over the matter. This can show that the church settlement did have elements which were influenced by Elizabeth’s religious views.
However Elizabeth learnt from Mary’s reign and did compromise when necessary. The Queen disliked clerical marriage, but to pacify the Protestants she allowed priests to marry, on the grounds that the potential wife must be presented to the bishop to ensure her moral standards. This can show that in some cases Elizabeth but her personal convictions second, but still had her mark put on the final outcome so that part of her will was obeyed. The Reformation Bill had been passed through Parliament, and contemporaries ad believed that the Church was governed by the Queen and Parliament.
However others see Elizabeth and a monarch who made the decisions and used Parliament simply as a way to pass her changes. This seems more correct as once the Acts had been passed, Elizabeth refused to let Parliament debate further religious matters. This further reflects the Queen’s belief in the Divine Rights. The Royal Injunctions in 1559 dealt with day to day running of the church. This can be viewed as Elizabeth’s ‘official’ belief in how the church should operate.
It was similar to previous injunctions and required and English Bible to be displayed in every Church. It contained Protestant elements such as the closure of shrines and ban on pilgrimages. However it contained Catholic aspects such as the use of a wafer at Communion and allowing kneeling. It’s hard to assess whether this is what Elizabeth believed, but certainly fits into the suggestion that Elizabeth believed in Protestant practices but liked the look of the Catholic Church.
Overall the Church Settlement seemed more influenced by Elizabeth’s political rather than religious views. Her determination to achieve uniformity was the main factor the creating the settlement which was mostly ‘middle way’. She never let her personal convictions get fore her need to produce a settlement which will be accepted by the majority. Elizabeth was careful no to show too much preference for either religion for fear of alienating groups of people in her country, and so it’s hard to decide what her true religious beliefs were.
Therefore although certain aspects such as vestments were definitely influenced by her beliefs, it’s difficult to decide just how much of the settlement were as a result of her own views. On the other hand her political views are clearly reflected in the settlement in aspects such as the church structure and the use of licensing to exert control. Hence it ca be said the settlement was influenced to some extent by her religious views but even more by her political views.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 3 September 2017
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