The Elizabethan Reformation: An Agenda

Question: what happens when the split between evangelicals and radicals reopens in the reign of Elizabeth? OR TO PUT IT DIFFERENTLY how the Protestant Reformation re-encounters the royal supremacy

1. Elizabeth’s attitude to the 1f559 religious settlement

  1. There are fascinating internal contradictions within the settlement in the matter of vestments and ornaments. Elizabeth at odds with some aspects of what the settlement and the appointment of the new bishops implied:

    Elizabeth disliked sermon-centred piety. She did not consider frequent attendance at preaching necessary either for herself or her subjects. She told Archbishop Grindal in 1576 that three or four preachers were sufficient for an entire county. Her views were considered shocking by the returning Marian exiles (= also the first generation bishops). Sermons, when preached before Elizabeth, were to be short. They was also a preferred style: ‘courtly delivery’ and ‘courtly wit’ — sophistication in eloquence and invention — were the required norms, not theological profoundness.

    Elizabeth allowed images and the crucifix and candles in the Chapels royal, and wanted choirs and music. The music in the Elizabethan Chapels royal was that which had previously accompanied the pre-Reformation mass. Composers like Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and John Bull were Catholics. This was possible because the Chapel Royal answered directly to the sovereign.
  2. Elizabeth re-asserted her royal supremacy over the Church of England. She ‘changed the name’ from ‘supreme head’ to ‘supreme governor of the Church of England’, but only for reasons of gender and public relations. She held that she was a theocratic ruler whose power was defined by God’s law:
  3. Geneva Bible agenda different (same as John Foxe): Geneva Bible was issued in multiple editions after 1560, although none was printed in England until 1576. The most read Elizabethan version of the Bible. In the second edition of the Geneva Bible (1561), marginal annotations posed a cluster of awkward questions. What ‘wisdom’ is requisite for the establishment of religion? What ‘policy’ must be used for the ‘planting’ of religion? What is requisite for them that must give counsel by God’s Word – i.e. privy councillors or members of Parliament? Discussion pivots around the regal prototypes of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah: the kings of Judah noted for their refusal to condone idolatry. SO FAR SO GOOD, BUT the Epistle to the Geneva Bible explains that when Jehoshaphat ‘took this order in the church’, he appointed Amariah ‘to be the chief concerning the Word of God, because he was most expert in the law of the Lord and could give counsel and govern according to the same’ (II Chron., 19:11). The Epistle skates on thin ice where Elizabeth is concerned, since the model of a ‘chief priest’ with ‘authority and privilege’ to determine ‘all matters’ of religion and ‘God’s Word’, was not one that she proposed to follow.

    Furthermore, the prototype of Josiah, which recurs in the Epistle and did not fade from the minds of those seeking the ‘further reformation’ of the Elizabethan Church, was subversive, since it imagined the queen not enthroned in ‘majesty’ like Constantine, but surrounded by her ‘godly councillors’ as in the reign of Edward VI, implementing with their assistance ‘the book of the law’. The innuendo was that female rule, if insufficiently ‘godly’, was not sacral monarchy, but was tantamount to minority or acephalous (headless) rule.
  4. This was closer to Cecil’s interpretation of the royal supremacy. He held (by his actions as a privy councillor and parliamentary manager) that bills for the advancement of religion could be introduced in the interests of the ‘preservation of the Protestant state’ without the queen’s permission, and took the view (like Richard Hooker) that the royal supremacy was properly exercised in Parliament. Cecil even denounced the Court of High Commission under Whitgift as a ‘Spanish Inquisition’.

2. After the settlement:

Unlike Cecil and Walsingham, Elizabeth acknowledged that Protestantism was not a majority faith in England as a whole. She strove to ensure that her régime did not appear partisan. If the Reformation had gained ground in the south-eastern counties, and in the leading towns, it had barely reached the north or the south-west. She knew that what mattered politically was not what people believed in their hearts but what they performed in their lives.

Test becomes obedience, or allegiance to the crown and of ‘conformity’, meaning ‘outward conformity’ to the Church of England.

The Prayer Book of 1559 was doctrinally Protestant (delicately balances phrasing of the Confession of Augsburg [1530] = Lutheran; Consensus Tigurinus [1549] = agreement between Swiss reformed, Zwinglians and Calvinists).

No English representation at the concluding session of the Council of Trent – decision leads John Jewel’s Apology for the Church of England. Jewel set to work in 1561 by Cecil to justify the Settlement and Church of England based on his CHALLENGE at Paul’s Cross sermon – 27 points of doctrine on which he challenged the Catholics to justify the mass. JUSTIFIES THE BELIEFS AND STRUCTURE OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH ON HISTORICAL GROUNDS AND DENIES IT IS SCHISMATIC OR BASED ON SECTS… cf HENRY VIII – BUT THE POPE IS ANTICHRIST… JEWEL SETS THE STANDARD AGAINST WHICH OTHERS WILL BE JUDGED

The way the Settlement could be represented in the parishes varied considerably. Cecil wanted a ‘fast’ Reformation ‘from above’, but lacked the resources. Elizabeth actively disliked ‘the hotter sort of Protestants’. She was tolerant of Catholic recusants until the pope excommunicated her. Overall, she sought compromise and reconciliation. She shrank from doctrinal disputes. Her subjects could be required to attend church every Sunday, but she would not examine their consciences or force anyone to take communion provided they took the oath of supremacy and swore allegiance to the crown.

  1. Protestant evangelism was Reformation from below: itinerant preachers, civic sermons, prophesyings, ‘combination lectures’, exercises and puritan ‘fasts’ etc. See Collinson’s Elizabethan Puritan Movement;
  2. the evangelical campaign was partly unofficial and even extra-legal;
  3. not until 1580s that sufficient Protestant graduates turned out by universities; some ex-Marian clergy in post until 1590s;
  4. Prayer Book had settled down by the 1580s, but xenophobia and the war with Spain and the French Catholic League inform this osmosis (linked to ‘national identity’) – see Judith Maltby.
  5. Catholicism (i.e. church papists) is tenacious but more so is inertia;
  6. Elizabeth’s emphasis is conformity NOT PURITANISM OR ANGLICANISM. Cf. Privy Council’s (Cecil’s) providential vision and concern to ensure ‘the preservation of the [Protestant] state of this realm’;

3. Puritanism (NB mainly, if not entirely, a clerical movement under Elizabeth)

  1. Disputes not initially about doctrine (Calvinist consensus). Even Whitgift was a Calvinist in theology; disputes were mainly about externals such as dress and ceremonies (‘mingle mangle’ – ‘popish’ ceremonies and vestments). KEY TO early puritanism is the VESTIARIAN CONTROVERSY….
  2. Turned into disputes over adiaphora or ‘things indifferent’: rival interpretations of ‘things indifferent’;
  3. The puritans wanted to extend the influence of the clergy/church over discipline as well as doctrine, contrary to Elizabeth’s understanding of the royal supremacy;
  4. Cartwright and the presbyterian campaign after 1572: origins in Vestiarian controversy
    • – leads to a view of church government (Béza) which VESTS ECCLESIASTICAL POWER in the individual congregations and then IN A HIERARCHY OF SYNODS – CONSISTORY OF EACH PARIS, THEN CONFERENCE, THEN COUNCIL – PROVINCIAL AND NATIONAL
    • – all officers (pastor to preach, doctor to teach, panel of lay elders or seniors, group of deacons to collect and distribute relief for the poor) TO BE ELECTED.
  5. Presbyterian campaign is politically unsuccessful. Presbyterians unimportant in social history but crucial in political thought, because Presbyterianism implies equality among ministers and the election by each congregation of the persons responsible for teaching and discipline;

    i.e. implies separation of church and state (queen or civil magistrate cannot be head of church); denies the model of the godly prince and royal supremacy; is elective: close to populism or conciliarism (resistance theory); role of interpretation of Scripture.

    • threat of social disorder and ‘democracy’;
    • threat (in England and Scotland) to bishops.
  6. Irony is that even if Cecil and Leicester support ‘puritanism’ and ‘conciliar’ government, they have to be careful, because the ‘people’ would elect Catholics! What the ‘people’ wanted was not sermons and Protestant doctrine, but the sense of community they had enjoyed in the later Middle Ages.

4. Catholics and Recusants

  1. Settlement of 1559 contains exceptions for private chapels (nobility), and a separate Latin version of the Prayer Book printed for use in Oxford and Cambridge colleges.
  2. Oath of supremacy required for public office.
  3. Regnans in Excelsis (1570) the turning point: Catholicism associated with treason.
  4. New treason act (1571) means confessional state based on Protestantism and oath of supremacy.
  5. Further extension of treason act in 1581 to cover missionary priests.
  6. Church attendance enforced after 1571. Recusancy fines enforced. But Elizabeth does not expect confessional allegiance (Communion) – only political conformity to 1559 Settlement.
  7. War against Spain alters culture as much as Protestant evangelism.
  8. Catholics forced to become Nicodemites (cf Protestants in Mary’s reign).

5. Anglicanism and ‘conformity’

  1. Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594-7 Books I-V; Books VI-VIII left in draft): this is the book that largely shapes the nature of Anglicanism in and after the 1590s.
  2. attack on puritan nonconformity – emphasis on sacraments, law, order and reason. Grace comes from the sacraments WHICH ARE NOT MERE SIGNS, and the sacraments from the church (misunderstandings with Catholicism and paves the way for Lancelot Andrews and proto-Laudianism); SCRIPTURE is NOT SELF-AUTHENTICATING; REASON is conceived as an instrument of God to regulate the things indifferent – i.e. attacks epistemological underpinnings of presbyterianism/Calvinism… CHURCH OF GOD IS THE VISIBLE CHURCH AND NOT THE SECRET ELECT…
  3. But Hooker is still in a Tudor mindset – although Book VIII was unfinished when Hooker died in 1600, the crux is the rejection of caesaropapalism. If Church and commonwealth were one, he argued, Parliament must ‘represent’ the church. All laws including ecclesiastical ones ‘do take originally their essence from the power of the whole realm and church of England’. The power of making laws belonged ‘to the whole, not to any certain part of a political body’. i.e. QUITE DIFFERENT TO RICHARD COSIN, PETER HEYLIN, LAUD


  1. there was an English Reformation;
  3. when you do that, the autonomous religious Reformation looks far less piecemeal;
  4. when you look at the royal supremacy, it is in a constant state of engagement with the monarchy and is, in essence, a reconstruction of monarchy in England and (potentially…) Britain
  5. the contradictions (Mary Tudor’s reign excepted) are as much the points of intersection and collision between the autonomous religious Reformation and the royal supremacy
  6. NEW MODEL NEEDED ON THESE LINES… Haigh’s piecemeal Reformation, or debate couched in terms of bottom-up and top-down starts to appear too simplistic.

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