The Elizabethan settlement

Elizabeth's accession was hailed with pleasure; she was known to dislike her sister's ecclesiastical policy, and a change was expected. An Act of Supremacy restored to the crown the authority over the church held by Henry VIII, and provided for its exercise by commissioners, whence came the Court of High Commission nominated by the crown, as a high eaclesiastical court; but Elizabeth rejected the title of Supreme Head, and used that of Supreme Governor, as over all persons and in all cases within her dominions supreme. An Act of Uniformity prescribed the use of the prayer-book of 1552 in a revised form which raised the level of its doctrine, and injunctions enforced by a royal visitation re-established the reformed order. All the Marian bishops save two refused the oath of supremacy and were deprived, and eight were imprisoned. Of the clergy generally few refused it; for only some 200 were deprived for religion during the first six years of the reign. Bishops for the vacant sees were nominated by the crown and elected by their chapters as in Henry's reign; Matthew Parker was canonically consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. The orthodoxy of the church was vindicated by Bishop Jewel's Apologia ecclesiae Anglicanae.

Adherents to Rome vainly tried to obtain papal sanction for attending the church services, and were forced either to disobey the pope or become recusants; many were fined, and those who attended mass were imprisoned. Meanwhile a party, soon known as Puritans, rebelled against church order; the exiles who had come under Genevan influence objecting on their return to vestments and ceremonies enjoined by the prayer-book. There was much nonconformity in the church which the queen ordered the bishops to correct. Parker, though averse to violent measures, insisted on obedience to his Advertisements of 1566, which, though not formally authorized by the queen, expressed her will, and became held as authoritative, and some of the refractory were punished. A company engaged in irregular worship was discovered in London in 1567 and a few persons were imprisoned by the magistrate.

Active opposition to the government was stirred up by Pius V, and in 1569 a rebellion in the north, where the old religion was strong, was aided by papal money and encouraged by hopes of Spanish intervention. In 1570 Pius published a bull excommunicating and deposing the queen. Thenceforward recusants had to choose between loyalty to the queen and loyalty to the pope. They lay under suspicion, and severe penal laws were enacted against Romish practices. About 1579 many seminary priests and Jesuits came over to England as missionaries; some actively engaged in treason, all were legally traitors. The country was threatened with foreign invasion, plots against the government were detected; and the queen's life was held to be endangered. The council hunted down these priests and their abettors, and many were executed, martyrs to the doctrine of the pope's power of deposition. The number put to death in this reign under the penal laws was 187. The papal policy defeated itself; a large number of the old religion while retaining their faith chose to be loyal to the queen rather than lend themselves to the designs of her enemies. From 1571 recusants can no longer be reckoned as nonconforming members of the English Church: the law recognized them as separate from it. The church's doctrine was defined in the catechism of 1570, and in the revised articles of religion which appeared as the XXXIX Articles in 1571, and its law by a body of canons published with authority in 1576, the attempt at codification made in the Reformatio legum having been laid aside.

The Nonconformists

From 1574 the Protestant Nonconformists strove to introduce Presbyterianism. Cause for grievance existed in the state of the church which had suffered from the late violent changes. Elizabeth plundered it, and laymen who owned the rectories formerly held by monasteries followed her example; bishoprics were impoverished by the queen and parish cures by her subjects, and the reform of abuses was checked by self-interest. As bishops, along with some able men, Elizabeth chose others of an inferior stamp who consented to the plunder of their sees and whom she could use to report on recusants and harry nonconformists.

Separation, or Independency, began about 1578 with the followers of Robert Browne, who repudiated the queens ecclesiastical authority; two Brownists were executed in 1583. The nonconformists remained in the church and continued their efforts to subvert its episcopal system. Elizabeth, though personally little influenced by religion, understood the political value of the church, and would allow no slackness in enforcing conformity. Archbishop Grindal was sequestrated for defending prophesyings, or meetings of the Puritan clergy for religious exercises. The House of Commons, in which there was a Puritan element, repeatedly attempted to discuss church questions and was sharply silenced by the queen, who would not allow any interference in ecclesiastical matters. Whitgift, who succeeded Grindal in 1583, though kind-hearted, was strict in his administration of the law.

Violent attacks were made upon the bishops in the Martin Marprelate tracts printed by a secret press; their author is unknown, but some who were probably connected with them were executed for publishing seditious libels. Whitgift's firmness met with success. During the last years of the reign the movement towards Presbyterianism was checked and nonconformity was less prominent. The church regained a measure of orderliness and vigour; its claims on allegiance were advocated by eminent divines and expounded in the stately pages of Hooker. The queen, who had so vigorously ordered ecclesiastical affairs, died in 1603.

This text forms part of the History of the Church of England originally part of the entry ENGLAND, CHURCH OF from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the content of which lies within the public domain.

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