'A religious settlement of her own choosing.' How far is this an accurate view of the settlement of the Church of England under Elizabeth I?

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John Rigby

‘A religious settlement of her own choosing.’ How far is this an accurate view of the settlement of the Church of England under Elizabeth I?



        The religious settlement imposed by Elizabeth to the Church of England was mainly of her own choosing, however compromises were made throughout her reign. The religious settlement was based upon Elizabeth’s need for religious uniformity for the stability of her crown, therefore these compromises were made to keep the nation content with the religious climate to prevent uprisings against Elizabeth that might threaten her stability on her throne. The opposition Elizabeth did face was more of a struggle between the House of Lords, the Queen, and the Bishops over matters that Elizabeth found middle ground on that appeased both religious factions. In principle Elizabeth chose the religious settlement that most suited her political needs.

         Organisation of the Church was crucial if Elizabeth was to impose her wishes on the Church of England. Elizabeth chose a Catholic style hierarchy, where the Bishops instructed the clergy on religious matters according to Elizabeth. In theory this meant that Elizabeth could control the Church through the Bishops, leading her religion into the direction she wanted. However this depended on the loyalty of her Bishops, and since all but one of the Bishops refused the Oath of Supremacy, then Elizabeth had to use the Marian exiles living in Europe, who had not proved their loyalty to the crown unlike the previous Bishops. Elizabeth wanted subservient, uniform civil servants not reformers, this is why she chose the Catholic priests first. However because they did not declare loyalty to Elizabeth, she was forced into using the Protestant priests, who were less obliged to the crown. Therefore although the hierarchy of the Church of England was of her own choosing, Elizabeth had to compromise on the Bishops used for the stability of her crown. This institution of episcopacy is key in Elizabeth’s settlement, because it now allows her to dictate what doctrine and religious practices the clergy should teach, in principle it allows her to control the Church.

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        The Injunctions of 1559 show us that Elizabeth can choose which religious practices to remain and which religious practices to be banned. These injunctions were important because they needed to appease both Catholics and Protestants, they therefore consisted of a compromise between both Catholic and Protestant practices. This confirms the view that the religious settlement was primarily introduce for the stability of Elizabeth’s crown by introducing a National Church that was acceptable to everyone. The injunctions showed examples of Elizabeth able to pick what practices she thought would be acceptable to both Catholics and Protestants and therefore able to choose ...

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