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Elizabeth I: There is much debate amongst historians concerning the religious priorities of Elizabeth in formulating the momentous Church Settlement of 1559

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Introduction

Elizabeth I: The Religious Settlement of 1559 There is much debate amongst historians concerning the religious priorities of Elizabeth in formulating the momentous Church Settlement of 1559, which was to shape the Church of England for years to come. Many factors can lay claim to shaping the Settlement, but in order to judge which one influenced it most strongly; one must look at the Settlement itself, which contains a strong base of Protestantism but with conservative concessions. Taking into account Elizabeth's own personal beliefs, which were conveniently politically shrewd, Elizabeth seemed to have adopted the pragmatic policy of trying to please everyone and to keep internal peace, with a Settlement containing enough Catholic superficiality to keep her conservative subjects, if not bishops, contented. The traditional view of the Settlement, taken by historians such as J.E Neale, is that it was influenced by Protestant pressure applied by Puritans returning from abroad and that Elizabeth herself favoured the conservative methods. This view relied mainly on evidence about the 'Puritan Choir', a group of committed Puritan MPs led by Sir Francis Knollys and Sir Anthony Cooke, making up a quarter of the 404 members of Parliament. ...read more.

Middle

Cecil, Bacon, Knollys and she was publicly identified with Protestantism, a factor that led her to be crowned by the junior Bishop of Carlisle as the other Catholic bishops did not want to get involved. At the Christmas Mass of 1558, Elizabeth dramatically swept out of the royal chapel after the host was raised and in early 1559 at the State Opening of Parliament, she eschewed the monks carrying tapers, saying 'Away with these torches, we can see very well!' Elizabeth may not (in the words of Haigh) have been a 'card-carrying Calvinist' but she certainly wasn't a Catholic. Indeed the Catholic Church saw her as illegitimate and would not recognise her as a rightful claimant to the throne. Elizabeth also did not desire to be associated with the unpopularity of the Marian regime, especially as they were so easy to compare, considering they were both women. However, taking into account the level of Catholic opposition and the danger of upsetting the major Catholic powers, especially after the treaty of Cateau-Cambr�sis in April 1559, Elizabeth was forced to make compromises from her beliefs and to take the option that was the most politically shrewd and beneficial for her subjects, to have a 'via media' between Catholicism and Protestantism. ...read more.

Conclusion

Catholic pressure was certainly more influential as so many concessions were made to Catholicism, however it always remained rooted in Protestantism. Elizabeth's personal beliefs were certainly important but she did not let them cloud her judgement when forming the Settlement, as her main priority was to ensure that everyone in England could attend their parish church, conforming to a religion that suited them. In order to do this she leant more towards Protestantism, her religion of preference, with Catholic concessions to ensure that the Settlement got past Parliament and would not alienate her Catholic subjects, many of whom were used to the return to Catholicism of Mary's reign. Unlike Mary, she had no strong religious zeal to convert her subjects to her own religion but recognised that care and caution were necessary and so adjusted her Settlement accordingly, especially after the unexpectedly strong opposition of the Catholic Lords shocked her in February 1559. Therefore the verdict must be that Elizabeth's main priority when forming the settlement of 1559 was her subjects and the well-being of her country, perfectly summed up by Count Von Helffstein writing in 1559, 'A very prudent action, for the less she ruffles them at the beginning of her reign, the more easily she will enthral them at the end.' ...read more.

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The key strength of this essay is the sharp focus on the issue of weighing up the factors that shaped and influenced the settlement. It also has a confident style and used detail about the period to precisely support the points being made. There is good reasoning and this shows a grasp of the complex situation Elizabeth was in and does not over simplify the issue.
If this was for A Level course work there would need to be more use of the views of historians and more carefully selected quotes.

Marked by teacher Kate Forbes 29/08/2012

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