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Elizabethan Settlement

1559. The changes effected in English ecclesiastical affairs after the Protestant Elizabeth I* had succeeded the Roman Catholic Mary in 1558. Briefly, these involved: the abolition once more of papal power in England, and the restoration of Henry VIII's* ecclesiastical legislation, with penalties for recusants; an Act of Supremacy* that declared the queen to be “supreme of all persons and causes, ecclesiastical as well as civil”; an Act of Uniformity,* accepting (in the main) Edward VI's Second Prayer Book, making orders about vestments and ornaments, and reenacting Edward VI's “Articles of Religion,” reduced from forty-two to thirty-nine; and the dissolution of those monasteries that had been restored by Mary.

The Settlement only gained partial success; it was opposed by papists and Puritans. Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570, but the short shrift given to priests who infiltrated the country about 1579 showed where the majority opinion lay. Protestants for their part chafed at the moderate nature of the Settlement, and some left the national church to form separate congregations; hence the origin of Independency. The outcome of the queen's policies, nevertheless, was the emergence of an essentially Protestant religion identified in English minds with patriotism, and the rejection of Spain and other foreign elements. Elizabeth never asserted the Divine Right* theory that was to prove the downfall of the Stuart dynasty; she had a sure touch in stirring up and maintaining loyalty, and was generally discriminating in furthering the Protestant cause in her kingdom. While not notably possessed of strong personal beliefs, she showed great wisdom in choosing as archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker* who for sixteen years from 1559 firmly resolved ecclesiastical disorder.

C.S. Meyer, Elizabeth I and the Religious Settlement of 1559 (1960); see also bibliography for previous entry.