Explain the factors which shaped the Elizabethan Religious Settlement reached in 1559

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Jane Stiller U6ARD                                                                    01/10/01

Explain the factors which shaped the Elizabethan Religious Settlement reached in 1559

When Elizabeth I was proclaimed Queen in 1558 a new era of religious tolerance began. With her religious settlement, Elizabeth had to consider a number of different factors. Without doubt, the most important task following her accession was to resolve the ideological divisions in the country brought about by the religious changes in the past three monarch’s reigns. However, when deciding on her own religious settlement, Elizabeth had a number of influencing factors.  She had grown up as a ‘committed and conventionally pious Protestant’ and these views obviously effected the way she ran her household and country, and consequently influenced her decisions over the religious settlement. Another evident influence was the views of the Privy Council and of her chief councillor, William Cecil. It has been argued that their opinions forced Elizabeth into a more protestant settlement that she originally desired. There are also many debates over the role of parliament and how their personal views dictated the outcome of the settlement. In particular, historians argue about whether the Commons or the Lords shaped the religious settlement to a greater degree. It is also important to consider that Elizabeth had to take into account other factors, not just religion, when establishing the settlement. England’s political, financial and international situations all had to be considered.  As a new monarch, it was crucial that Elizabeth instigated a religious settlement which appealed to the majority of people, not just in England but in Europe as well.

Having grown up in an evangelical household with the renowned Protestant Queen Katherine Parr,  it is not surprising that Elizabeth had strong religious views.  Haigh claims that there “can be little doubt of Elizabeth’s personal Protestantism” and historians such as Pollard, who claimed that she was “indifferent” to religion have been largely disregarded. This is likely to be attributed to the strong influence of family, and the education she received from humanists William Grindal and Roger Ascham.  It has been argued that she wished to return England to the state in which her father left it – Catholicism without the Pope.  It is clear that her brother, Edward VI, also heavily influenced her, as the final religious settlement was in fact very similar to his doctrinal Reformation. However, her personal beliefs are more diverse, and cannot be attributed to so few influences. Her belief in ‘private devotion’ can be illustrated by the fact that she did not want to “make windows into men’s hearts.” It can therefore be argued that Elizabeth was not as radical as some Protestants of the time, for example the returning exiles. Even before exile had faced them some had become influenced by Calvinism, the most extreme of Protestant faiths. Although Elizabeth respected these views, she did not totally conform to them, but just believed in certain aspects. For example she did not practice transubstantiation. However, her more conservative ideas are evident in the final settlement as the extra sentence is added which leaves the right to practice transubstantiation deliberately ambiguous. In her own chapel, however, Elizabeth refused to offer the sacrificial elements as mass and forbade the celebrant to raise the Host. The strength of her views was illustrated at Christmas, when, after she had specifically asked him not to, the Priest elevated the Host. Consequently, Elizabeth walked out. This shows her personal devotion to the Protestant faith. However, many Protestants in England, who had seen Elizabeth as the English version of the Israeli Deborah, were dissatisfied with certain conservatism’s in her religious settlement.  Indeed, it is argued by Collinson that the Elizabethan compromise of Protestantism was “a concession not only to the conservative prejudices of Elizabeth’s subjects but to her own feelings.” It is clear, therefore, that Elizabeth had strong views on religion, despite them not being as extreme as other Protestants. There have been many debates whether the religious settlement was actually devised by Elizabeth, or whether it was mainly influenced by Cecils’ religious views. It is argued by Guy that Cecil was a “committed protestant” who had a mission to preserve a protestant England. However, he also considers that it cannot be concluded that Elizabeth “was this sort of protestant.” If the latter is true, and the religious settlement can be attributed more to Cecil than Elizabeth, then her religious convictions were obviously not as strong as is previously believed.

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The influence of Cecil is no doubt evident in the final religious settlement. However, it is important to consider to what extent and how the Privy Council and Cecil had an effect on Elizabeth. The Privy Council were mainly Protestant, and where undoubtedly dominated by Cecil with his Edwardian connections. The main members of the council, Cecil, Leicester and Walsingham were more Protestant than Elizabeth. Their views were close to those of very moderate Calvinism. This was illustrated by Cecil’s actions as privy councillor and parliamentary manager. He held that bills for the advancement of religion could be introduced ...

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