The Establishment of the Elizbethan Church

Published: 2021-06-29 07:04:49
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Describe the challenges faced by the established church 1558-1604. Evaluate the influence of these challenges on the lives of people in early modern England.

In 1558 Queen Elizabeth 1 established England as a Protestant nation. She made herself Supreme Governor and set about creating religious uniformity and with it political stability. For most English people, Protestants and Catholics alike, the Elizabethan Settlement, as it was known, was acceptable and could be lived with. However, there were two groups which set about challenging the established English church during Elizabeth's reign. These two groups were firstly the Puritans, who challenged the church because they wanted to rid it of any remaining Catholic elements such as vestments, catholic rituals and episcopacy. This was a challenge from with the Anglican Church. The second group was the more extreme Catholics who sought to return England to the Catholic fold by either changing Elizabeth's decision or replacing her with a Catholic monarch. Throughout her reign the established church was challenged by these two groups and the impact of these challenges were very apparent on the people of England. For Catholics they were faced with ever increasing recusancy fines, anti-Catholic legislation and faced with the difficult decision of supporting there Queen or their faith. For Puritans they were faced with an absolute refusal on Elizabeth's part to bring about any change of the original settlement and for some there were serious punishment and the loss of their jobs and positions for suggesting reform. The challenges were slow to start. There was little immediate reaction from either side. The challenges peaked during the 1570's and 80's but after this they subsided as those in England accepted the religious situation.

The established church in England was during 1559-1603 a Protestant one. Royal headship was enforced throughout the church and the monarch Elizabeth I had control over ecclesiastical matters through the use of her bishops. It was essential to use episcopacy because Elizabeth as a woman could not carry out church matters on her own. The Queen chose to be styled Supreme Governor rather than Supreme Head of the Church (which her father and brother had been called) in order to appease those who questioned her right as a woman to the royal supremacy of the church. The established church was Calvinist in doctrine and the services were held in English. God was considered all-powerful and all-knowing and people were 'predestined' for salvation. However despite it's strictly Protestant beliefs the Elizabethan church was in many ways a compromise particularly in the look of the church. It included Catholic elements such as episcopacy, vestments, kneeling in prayer and Saint's days which all aided to keep alive the belief for those less interested in theology that if the church essentially looked the same perhaps it could be acceptable. In the 16th century with such low literacy levels many of the English population (both Protestant and moderate Catholic) could tolerate the Elizabethan Church. Another concession included the ambiguity added to the meaning of the Eucharist which meant the test of conscience was not forced on the English populace. During early modern England it was of vital importance to have unity in religion so that there could be stability in the state and despite Elizabeth's best efforts at a comprehensive church some could not even abide to the main principle of outward conformity.

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