Saturday, July 29, 2017

How does the English Church change under Edward and Elizabeth?

The English Church became fully Protestant, not just politically, but theologically under Queen Elisabeth, who put many of the Protestant bureaucrats that Edward had used back into power. 
           The English Church had become recatholicized a great deal under Henry VIII during the 1840s. Edward however, was a staunch Protestant, as were both his lord protectors.[1] A political reformation was continued during the six years of Edward’s reign that Mary reversed. The significance of Elizabeth’s reign was the length of its duration. Henry turned on the most passionate of his Protestant reformers before Protestant doctrine had a chance to infiltrate the nooks and crannies of Catholic England, and Edward died before Protestant preachers and propagandists could successfully reform the Church and society. However, with time, as a new generation of English Christians was raised in the reformed Church of England, the majority of the population came to acquiesce to the new order while a large minority became convinced Protestants. The percentage of the population that remained true to Catholicism, however, dwindled into near insignificance. [2]
            Henry had given his son humanist tutors, but in this day and age, humanists and Protestants often overlapped. The nine-year-old king’s uncle, the Earl of Herford, Edward Seymour became Lord Protector and immediately implemented strong Protestant policies. There were new Protestant injuctions, iconoclasm, English prayers introduced into the Latin mass, a Protestant Book of Common Prayer introduced, priests were allowed to marry, and the repeal of the 1543 Act allowed unlimited Bible-reading.[3] The Uniformity bill of 1549 which substituted Latin services with the Book of Common Prayer carried significant constitutional significance in that it was “the first time an English parliament clearly and unequivocally assumed control of the doctrine and ceremonies of the Church.”[4] But, Hertford alienated many on the Privy Council with his disastrous foreign policy and highhanded policies. In 1551, he was accused of treason and thanks in part to the Earl of Warwick who had been made Duke of Northumberland, Hertford was executed on January 22, 1552 and Northumberland took his place.[5], [6]
                Northumberland largely continue the religious policies of his predecessor. In 1552, with the help of Archbishop Cranmer, he introduce a new Prayer Book which carried the reforms of the 1549 Prayer Book even further. This one abolished the name of the mass, which now became a communion service and altars were replaced with communion tables. Even the words to accompany the communion were changed so as to leave no doubt that it was a commemorative service. In June 1553, shortly before Edward’s death, Northumberland gave the royal assent to forty-two articles of doctrine which Calvinism strongly influenced. Elisabeth would later use these and the 1552 Prayer Book on which to build her Protestant policies.[7] Northumberland was later executed during the Marian regime, renouncing his Protestant faith[8], but it is believed by many that he had only acquiesced all along for the sake of power or because he believed as a servant of the Crown, it was his duty to ascribe to the belief system of his monarch.
            The six years of the Edwardian reign showed what was to come once Elizabeth restored Protestantism after the aberration of Mary’s reign. Protestant preachers, both English and non-English flooded the island from the Continent with the intent of changing hearts and minds to Protestant doctrine, both verbally and through literature. The writings and teachings of Calvin and Zwingli became especially popular during these six years.[9]
            Elizabeth, like Edward had been brought up under humanist tutors. She was certainly a devoted Protestant; although, she found it politically expedient to conform during the Mary’s years in the interest of self-preservation.[10] She replaced Mary’s advisors and bishops with Protestants who had served under Edward. Elizabeth showed she was more open to tolerating diversity of opinion by leaving all of judges that served under Mary on the bench. Once she made peace with France in 1559, she pursued a more vigorous Protestant policy, including the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity which reaffirmed the supremacy of the monarch over the Church of England and revised the Forty-two Articles under Edward down to thirty-nine with strong Calvinist elements.[11] The latter passed by a margin of only three votes in the House of Lords, showing the strong support conservatives still held in the upper chamber.[12]
            However, the majority of the English population was not fully committed to Protestantism and Elizabeth was no radical Protestant herself. On several occasions she made concessions to Catholic practices, if not necessarily Catholic beliefs, but usually caved to pressure from her advisors who like Henry VIII’s advisors tended to be much more fervent in their Protestantism than their sovereign.[13] A commission examined 152 churches in 1566 to see how many had complied with the Articles and Injunctions of 1559. Sixty had only recently begun to comply and twenty-five had so far only partially complied.[14] The commoners’ refusal to attend Protestant church services and their apathy when forced to did not help the Protestant cause from a belief standpoint. Protestantism is by and large a doctrine of the mind, while Catholicism had been practiced out of habit. With the visual images of Christianity removed, many of the commoners felt no affinity with the new ecclesiastical order.[15] To make matters worse, finding Protestant preachers was becoming increasingly difficult. Elizabeth as queen, thought first and foremost politically and ordered Archbishop Grindal to limit the number of licensed preachers because she was concerned it would provoke continued refusal of church attendance on the part of Catholics. This provoked a backlash on the part of Grindal and the Privy Council and the queen did not push the issue, another example of the more moderate, politically Protestant queen being overruled by the more zealous Council.[16]
            The infiltration of priests from the Continent provoked the anti-Catholic statute of 1581 which made it treasonous to be absolved from schism and reconciled to Rome and increased the fines for lack of church attendance, or recusancy. As war broke out between England and Spain, Elizabeth began persecuting Catholics like she had not done previously. Over a hundred fifty Catholics were executed for treason in the 1580s and 1590s, many of them missionary priests.[17]
            During the first half of Elizabeth’s reign, she pursued a middle-of-the-road policy to avoid alienating her Catholic subjects or bringing the wrath of Catholic Europe on her nation. She still had to contend with an unruly Scotland which at the time was still very much Catholic. Once war with France ended however, she pursued a much more hard-line Protestant approach that included the same repression that the regimes of Henry VIII and Edward had imposed on nonconformists.[18] It would take Protestant preachers until the end of the century however to convert the vast majority of the population to the belief system that had taken over the country politically. Legislative reformation proved much easier than actual reformation of hearts and minds.[19]
            The political apparatus that both Edward and Elizabeth put in place made it much easier for Protestant preachers and laymen to change those hearts and minds. Legislation made it illegal to preach Catholic doctrine and it eventually became illegal even to be a Catholic priest. When England went to war with Spain, European missionary priests were looked on all the more as traitors and many of them were executed. With no priests, Catholicism was doomed to a quick death. The missionary efforts of many of the priests trained in France did allow a remnant of Catholics to remain in England into the seventeenth century, but their dwindling numbers were no match for the massive conversions to Protestantism. Most English churchgoers though, were simply willfully ignorant. According to William Perkins, “they just wanted an easy life: not too much preaching, not too much moral discipline, not too much Sabbath observance, not too much learning of catechism, not too much religion!”[20]

Buck, Kaitlin. “Anti-papist Legislation and Recusancy in Elizabethan England (1558-1603).”      Honors Tesis., Ball State University. 2012.

Haigh, Christopher. English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society under the Tudors.         Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

“Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of England,” Luminarium

Smith, Alan. The Emergence of a Nation State: The Commonwealth of England 1529-1660, New             York: Longman, 1984.

[1] Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society under the Tudors, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 168.
[2] Ibid, 278.
[3] Haigh, 168.
[4] Alan G. R. Smith, The Emergence of a Nation State: The Commonwealth of England 1529-1660, (New York: Longman, 1984), 67.
[5] Ibid, 70.
[6] “Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of England,” Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project,
[7] Smith, 72-73.
[8] Ibid, 74.
[9] Smith, 75.
[10] Ibid, 107.
[11] Ibid, 111.
[12]Kaitlin, Buck, Thesis Advisor, Jennifer DeSilva, Anti-papist Legislation and Recusancy in Elizabethan England (1558-1603), An Honors Thesis (HONR499), Ball State University, 2012.
[13] Haigh, 244.
[14] Ibid, 246.
[15] Ibid, 286.
[16] Ibid, 275.
[17] Ibid, 263.
[18] Smith, 111.
[19] Haigh, 288.
[20] Haigh, 290.

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