Asses the main influences which determined the Elizabethan Church Settlement in 1559

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Assess the main influences which determined the Elizabethan Church Settlement in 1559

Following the radical reforms of her father, half-brother and half-sister, Elizabeth I was to ascend to her throne in 1558 as English Christians were experiencing their fourth religious upheaval in a generation. Having had tutors that were Protestant, it was believed that Elizabeth would introduce a religious settlement that would be similar to that of Edward VI. However, this was not the case as Elizabeth’s religious settlement was a moderate merging of Henry VIII’s (though still Catholic) break from Rome and Edward VI’s Protestant approach. Elizabeth’s goal through her ‘via-media’ approach to religion was to establish stability and peace in her nation, whilst trying to appease as many people as possible. To do so, she would have to side-step the extremely conservative Catholics and the Protestants that were craving radical reform. Inevitably, any change made to the Church would not be taken lightly by the public; after all, it affected the relationship between individuals and God. A doctrine of such importance would not be ignored by the core of her government – her Privy Council, nor would it be taken lightly by foreign powers. Factors both abroad and domestic would have to be taken into consideration when creating the Elizabethan Church Settlement of 1559.

 In a nation torn between two religions, Elizabeth would have to tread carefully if she were to maintain her position as Queen of England. Provoking the people would not have helped her cause, as many Catholics saw her to be the “pretended Queen of England.”. If she chose a Catholic settlement, she would have to surrender power to Rome, but she would also then become an ally of France and Spain. However, by alienating the protestant Dutch she could potentially lose England’s leading trading partner. On the other hand, if Elizabeth followed her upbringing and returned to Protestantism, she may antagonise the leading power in Europe; Spain. Elizabeth and her council addressed this moderately via her Act of Supremacy, which gave her, rather than the Pope, the title of ‘Supreme Governor’ of the Church of England. Of course, she retained all of the powers that the ‘Head of the Church of England’ would have done so, but this trivial change of wording would slightly ease the minds of the Catholic dominated House of Lords. This was because many Catholics deemed it inappropriate for a woman to be the ‘Head’ of the Church. Sir John Neale believed that it was in fact Elizabeth’s intentions to appease these Catholics, but her “Puritan choir” held her back and imposed a more Protestant reform. This view has been challenged by J. Foxe and W. Camden, who emphasised the conservative resistance to her ambition of a Protestant settlement. Much controversy surrounding such a question arises due to Elizabeth’s own ambiguity towards her religious sympathies. Yet, even if she was slightly more sympathetic towards the Protestants, it was clear that she intended to unite “the people of this realm into a uniform order of religion” To do so, it is undeniable that she would have to compromise her own religious beliefs to satisfy as many of the public and Parliament as possible.

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The religious settlement was as delicate as it was difficult to get through her divided Parliament. Neale’s view of Elizabeth’s House of Commons being led by Puritan Marian exiles is arguable, as a ‘Puritan’ dominated Commons may mean that the reforms made would have to be radical to appease the extremists. If Elizabeth’s Settlement was in fact a compromise, then why were the ‘Puritans’ in the Commons happy to agree to a via-media approach to religion? Wagner states that the exiles were “demanding a more radically Protestant Church”, yet all of their bills had been “emasculated”  by the Catholic dominated House ...

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