Abstract The subject of this thesis is the religious conflicts during the reign of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth’s own religious beliefs.
The thesis statement is:
What were Elizabeth I’s religious beliefs and how did they affect her church- and domestic policies?
The thesis contains an account for the research within the topic as well as a description of the Reformation and Counterreformation, religious groups and participants, and the religious legislation. The study includes both research by historians as well as primary sources.
Elizabeth I is a known historical character and her gender, politics, and her resentment of marriage have often been brought into focus in popular representations of her. She was Queen of England in a time of great change. Religious reformation spread throughout Europe and in England the Reformation had been unsettled for almost 30 years when Elizabeth came to the throne.
Elizabeth’s own religious beliefs remain an enigma. Many historians agree that her parents’ marriage was the symbol of the English break with Rome. The Pope and the Catholic Church saw Henry VIII’s and Anne Boleyn’s marriage as invalid and therefore, Elizabeth was a bastard. Consequently, her reconciliation with the Catholic Church seemed impossible. As a result the church legislation had to be changed immediately after her coronation. Even though one of the field’s respected historians John Neale claims that Elizabeth hoped for a slow, but protestant reformation, it seems that the path for a protestant reformation had been laid down even before the beginning of her first Parliament in 1559. Elizabeth had shortly after her accession allowed protestant priests, recently returned from exile, to preach and English liturgy was ordered in the English churches. Elizabeth and her Privy Council worked together in the drawing up of the bills of legislation, but the Catholic bishops in the House of Lords in Parliament worked against their propositions and therefore they had to be rendered harmless? The legislative result of the first Parliament was the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity – the latter a piece of protestant, but moderate legislation that should secure uniformity in the English church.
Elizabeth was not fond of the idea that others – beside her – interfered in matters of religion. So when the clergy of Canterbury Convocation drew up the 39 Articles of Religion in 1563, Elizabeth did not let them pass in Parliament until 1571, when she felt the time was right. Furthermore, she opposed almost every suggestion or bill for further reformation for the rest of her reign.
Elizabeth’s own works show that she was deeply opposed to the Pope and his Roman-Catholic priests, but they also show that she believed in an Episcopal Church structure.
She had an understanding of the meaning of religion and she often referred to the Bible. Elizabeth also believed that she was Queen by the grace of God. For all these reasons she could not have been indifferent to religion as the historian A.F. Pollard suggests. Neither was she secular as Sir G.R. Elton claims – to approve of that statement would be to apply a present-day view to the religious beliefs of the 16th century.
Elizabeth I was a product of her childhood and upbringing where the Pope was the Anti-Christ and Royal Supremacy was the most important thing to a ruler like her father, Henry VIII. She believed that religion was a matter of conscience and, as Patrick Collinson states: ”…her conduct of church affairs was above all an act of statemanship.”