In 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses. His Ninety Five Theses contained many complaints about the corruption of the Catholic Church. He had no way of knowing that his Ninety Five Theses would change the future of religion forever. The spread of Protestantism began to take over Europe, and eventually had a major impact on several European countries. One of these countries that Luther and his Protestantism impacted was England. Elizabeth I took control of England in 1558, after a time of major religious turmoil. She had to figure out how to solve this turmoil, and return England to a state of peace. With a great deal of controversy between her and Parliament, she passed two very influential religious acts during her rule. These were the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity, and these acts had a major impact on England’s religious future and on people who practiced other religions in England such as Catholicism.
Elizabeth I of England was a Tudor queen, and she was the last in line of the Tudor’s to rule England. She ruled from 1558 to 1603, and she has many important contributions to England. According to the “Official Website of the British Monarchy”, “Her 45-year reign is generally considered one of the most glorious in English history. During it, a secure Church of England was established. Its doctrines were laid down in the 39 Articles of 1563, a compromise between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.”1 One of her major impacts is on religion.
Elizabeth I was of the Tudor dynasty that ruled England from 1485 until 1603, and this dynasty ended with her because she had no heir. Elizabeth never married nor had children so she had no direct descendent to take over the crown. The first Tudor monarch was Henry VII who obtained the throne by “unifying the warring factions in the Wars of the Roses.”2 His son, Henry VIII, who was actually his second born son, became the next King of England. Henry VIII became King instead of his brother because his brother had passed away. Henry was married to his brother’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, and had one daughter Mary. However, he desperately wanted a son, and he also loved Anne Boleyn. So he wanted to divorce Catherine to marry Anne. Eventually after conflict with the Pope, there was “parliamentary legislation enacting Henry's decision to break with the Roman Catholic Church [that] soon followed.”3 However, Parliament not only broke away but also passed “an Act in restraint of appeals forbade appeals to Rome, stating that England was an empire, governed by one supreme head and king who possessed 'whole and entire' authority within the realm, and that no judgments or excommunications from Rome were valid.”4
He married Anne Boleyn who gave birth to Elizabeth, but Henry still was most concerned about having a male heir. So he had Anne Boleyn executed and married Jane Seymour, who gave birth to Edward VI, Henry’s male heir, but then Jane died because of the childbirth. Henry ensured that “his sole male heir, Edward, was educated by people who believed in Protestantism rather than Catholicism because he wanted the anti-papal nature of his reformation and his dynasty to become more firmly established.”5 Both Edward VI and Mary took over the throne but both passed away after controversial times as monarch, but then Elizabeth took over the throne in 1558. She became the final Tudor monarch but she ruled for nearly half a century.
Elizabeth, a Protestant, was an illegitimate choice to take on the role as Queen of England. However, when her sister Mary, a Catholic, began to fall ill she needed to declare an heir because she left no children to be heir. However, the only candidate who was Catholic was Mary Stuart but she was “disqualified as queen of Scots and wife of the French dauphin”, and she had “warred with England twice over.”6 So it was determine that Elizabeth would take over the throne even though she was illegitimate. She was not legitimate because “in Catholic canon law, Elizabeth was the bastard daughter of an adulterous king.”7 In order to become queen, she technically needed “dispensation from Rome.”8 However, since she was a ruling as a Protestant queen this did not matter.
Mary’s rule came between Edward and Elizabeth and was from 1553-1558. During her rule, she converted England back to Catholicism. She “restored papal supremacy in England, abandoned the title of Supreme Head of the Church, reintroduced Roman Catholic bishops and began the slow reintroduction of monastic orders.”9 However, her rule also had some examples of “persecution or Protestants.”10 This persecution left the Protestants unhappy with the Catholic Church even more than they already were. This probably led to some dislike when the Protestants came back into rule under Elizabeth, and may have even led to some retaliation on behalf of the Protestants.
Elizabeth chose to rule as a Protestant Queen because of support from her closest advisors. She appointed Protestants to government positions as “councilors” and they were “led by William Cecil.”11 She was running her government on “Protestant policy, and everyone…knew it.”12 She was restoring “Edwardian government” and “Edwardian religion.”13 To do this though, she would need to reinstate several things including: “the royal injunctions of 1547, the Book of Common Prayer of 1552, and the Articles of Religion of 1553.”14
In order to return England to an Edwardian system, there were many steps that the newly Protestant government had to take. The government had to return to a Protestant system. Elizabeth had to gain the support of the citizens of England. She had a very difficult job ahead of her because England suffered through severe religious turmoil at the hands of her predecessors. In the span of one century, England had already switched from Catholic to Protestantism and back, and now she changed the government once again. This had a major impact on the citizens of England, and also on the government because it has to please its citizens in order to avoid revolt.
Elizabeth’s first major act as queen that involved religious reform was trying to get Parliament to pass acts in support of it. She was not aware at the time that “anti papal legislation and the unexpected aggressive strength of the reformers in the Commons” would “dominate the session.”15 The Council tried to get the House of Commons to pass a bill that would “revive the royal supremacy and two bills to revive church services of Edward’s reign.”16 They combined this into one bill “in the hope that those who disliked the Pope would stomach Protestantism to get rid of him.”17 It passed in the House of Commons, but when it reached the House of Lords is when the trouble started. The House of Lords removed “the liturgical provisions from the bill”, and this would make it only a bill about supremacy.18 However, they changed the supremacy bill so that it said that Elizabeth could declare supremacy not that Parliament would grant it to her. This was very smart because it would make Elizabeth less favorable to the people. Her opponents obviously wanted to cause dissention between Elizabeth and the people of England, this was one way they could do this. Essentially, “the Elizabethan Reformation had been blocked almost before it got started.”19 The reason the House of Lords changed the bill was because of the power of the bishops. Elizabeth and her supporters had to find away to get supremacy, but they also need Protestant reform to be put into place. Otherwise, her supremacy did not extend as far as she wanted.
So after Parliament returned from their break, two new bills appeared before them. This time they had separated the bills into a Supremacy bill and a bill for liturgical reform. The main purpose of the Supremacy Bill was “to make the queen ‘supreme governor’ of the Church, leaving open the question of whether there might be some other ‘supreme head’, Christ or the pope.”20 The introduction to the Supremacy Bill of 1558, according to the Official Home of UK Legislation, was “An Acte restoring to the Crowne thauncyent Jurisdiction over the State Ecclesiasticall and Spirituall, and abolyshing all Forreine Power repugnaunt to the same.”21 The language of this act is representative of the time. This Act was very important in Elizabeth establishing control.
The main reason the wording of the Supremacy bill used the phrase “supreme governor” instead of “supreme head” was because it solved three problems that the first bill had.22 The first being that it was not connected to religious reform instead it just stated that she was governor of the church. This gave her the right to make appointments to the church. Next, it helped settle the fears many people had about a woman running the country. Finally, it left the option for people to believe that there was another head to the church. Whether people chose to believe that this head was Christ or the pope, they still had the opportunity to believe that Elizabeth was not the main power of England. By writing it this way, they left it up to a person’s individual interpretation.
The next piece of legislation that Elizabeth worked on was the Act of Uniformity. This law passed in the month of April in the year 1559.The Uniformity Bill was very difficult to pass particularly in comparison with the Act of Supremacy. This was because it directly related to religion which was a very controversial issue in England at the time. This bill “imposed the 1552 Prayer Book as the prescribed worship of the English Church, but with crucial modifications” including “remov[ing] abuse of the pope from its prayers” and “the words of administration at communion was changed to allow a Catholic understanding of the real presence of Christ. 23 This bill passed but just barely because it was only “twenty-one votes to eighteen”, and Elizabeth and her supporters only achieved this because of “the intimidation and imprisonment of bishops, and by buying off the nobles.”24
The actual text of the Act of Uniformity begins by saying “Where at the death of our late sovereign lord King Edward VI there remained one uniform order of common service and prayer, and of the administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies in the Church of England.”25 It goes on to explain that this “was set forth in one book, intituled: The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of Sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies in the Church of England.”26 Parliament approved this book during the rule of King Edward. Parliament overturned this law during the reign of Queen Mary.
This caused the Church of England establishment to come under very unique circumstances. The Church of England “was established by the merest whisker, a margin of three votes”, and this margin was “achieved by political chicanery, and by keeping the Church rather more Catholic than had been planned.”27 While Elizabeth and her supporters had wanted a full Reformation of the Church, they actually settled for a partial Reformation that left many Catholic tendencies remaining as part of the Church. They only left these so that the Bill would pass, but by accepting this, they were giving up with their plans for reforming the church which while difficult for them it was also very necessary in order for the bill to pass.
However, after the Act of Uniformity passed, Elizabeth was not finished passing laws. Instead, William Cecil, who was her Secretary of State, along with other advisors to Elizabeth, wrote a set of Injunctions. Edward wrote the Inunctions during his rule. Cecil based his Injunctions on Edward’s but they were updated and edited. These Injunctions begin by saying: “The queen's most royal majesty, by the advice of her most honourable council, intending the advancement of the true honour of Almighty God, the suppression of superstition throughout all her highness's realms and dominions, and to plant true religion to the extirpation of all hypocrisy, enormities, and abuses (as to her duty appertaineth).”28 It continues by saying that will “minister unto her loving subjects these godly Injunctions hereafter following. All which Injunctions her highness willeth and commandeth her loving subjects obediently to receive, and truly to observe and keep, every man in their offices, degrees, and states, as they will avoid her highness's displeasure, and pains of the same hereafter expressed.”29
These Injunctions added some connection to Catholicism. This meant the Church of England would have some Catholic tendencies. For example, the Injunctions say that for Communion they should use a special type of bread not just common bread, and this bread was the kind that Catholics used. The intention of the Injunctions was to appease the Catholics, but at this point, the Catholics had already lost so much that it did not matter much. They did not want the Church of England to include Catholic tendencies. They wanted to be able to practice their own religion, but sadly, this was not possible under Elizabeth’s rule.
One major effect on the Catholics of Elizabeth’s Reformation is the outlawing of icons. During her reign, there were “iconoclastic purge carried out under the direction of royal visitors” that “swept away much of what reformers objected to as idolatrous ‘popish peltry.’”30 During Mary’s rule she reinstated icons, but under Elizabeth’s rule “Londoners [to] again [witness] ceremonial public image-burnings.”31 Icons are an important part of the Catholic religion so the loss of them had a major impact on the Catholic Church and its people. The churches were described as looking “ bare, empty, denuded – ‘scoured of such gay gazing sights.”’32
The impact on the Catholics was not just the loss of icons, but also they were having a religion forced on them that they did not believe in. Not only had this but their government no longer had ties with the papacy which had been the tradition for centuries. Instead, the papacy and England had no real relationship leaving English Catholics with no tie to the Pope and the Vatican.
The change to Protestantism was a slow change. According to Christopher Haigh, often times Catholics held their services in private, or even Church of England ministers would preach two services. However the second, Catholic, service would be kept secret. He describes it as “for a decade or more, the Church of England was a Protestant Church with many Catholic Churches; for even longer, it was a Protestant Church with many Catholic, or at least conservative clergy.”33 So even though England was officially Protestant, by no means where its entire people Protestant.
However, the impact of Elizabeth’s Reformation appeared most clearly, after she died. She died in 1603, and the Stuarts followed her reign. However, the impact is that the controversy between all of the arguing religious parties in England led to the English Civil War. This was a major event that tore England apart for decades, and ravaged the citizens and the government. One cause of the Civil War was the split between religious parties in England which is why Elizabeth’s Reformation has a long living legacy.
Elizabeth’s Reformation followed decades of religious chaos in England. After Henry VIII converted England to Protestantism and his son Edward maintained this, then Mary took over and overturned the Protestants to make England Catholic again for a few years. Finally, Elizabeth took power and made England Protestant once again. She and her supporters passed several laws including the Act of Supremacy, Act of Uniformity, and the Injunctions of 1559 that gave Elizabeth power over the church and set out church rules and laws. These laws had a major impact on the citizens of England particularly on the Catholics. The Catholics had to either change or hide their religion. However not only did Elizabeth’s Reformation have an impact on England at the time it also impacted the future, and eventually would be a contributing cause to the Civil War in England. Elizabeth left a legacy in many different areas after her reign, but one of the most important impacts she had on England was her Reformation.
"1559 Injunctions." History Department, Hanover College.
http://history.hanover.edu/texts/engref/er78.html (accessed March 22, 2012).
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Christopher Haigh. Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1993., 1993. Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012).
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politics, civil life, and government, 1558-1580, from the fall of the old church to the advent of the Counter-Reformation. New York, B. Franklin , 1971. Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012).
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1 "Tudor History", The Official Website of the British Monarchy, http://www.royal.gov.uk/ (accessed March 20, 2012).
6 Christopher Haigh, English reformations : religion, politics, and society under the Tudors /
Christopher Haigh, Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1993., 1993, Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012), p. 237.
9 "Tudor History", The Official Website of the British Monarchy, http://www.royal.gov.uk/ (accessed March 20, 2012).
10 John Hungerford Pollen. The English Catholics in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; a study of their
politics, civil life, and government, 1558-1580, from the fall of the old church to the advent of the Counter-Reformation. New York, B. Franklin , 1971. Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012), p. 6.
11 Christopher Haigh, English reformations : religion, politics, and society under the Tudors /
Christopher Haigh, Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1993., 1993, Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012), p. 238.
12 Ibid., 239.
15 William P Haugaard. Elizabeth and the English Reformation: the struggle for a stable settlement
of religion, by William P. Haugaard. London, Cambridge University P., 1968., 1968. Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012), p. 83.
16 Christopher Haigh, English reformations : religion, politics, and society under the Tudors /
Christopher Haigh, Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1993., 1993, Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012), p. 239.
21 National Archives. "Act of Supremacy 1558." Legislation.gov.uk. http://www.legislation.gov.uk
(accessed March 22, 2012).
This is a primary source taken from Legislation page of the UK government
22 Christopher Haigh, English reformations : religion, politics, and society under the Tudors /
Christopher Haigh, Oxford : Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1993., 1993, Greenwood Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2012), p. 239.
24 Ibid., 241.
25 "Elizabeth's Act of Uniformity (1559)." History Department, Hanover College. http://history.hanover.edu/texts/engref/er80.html (accessed March 22, 2012).