An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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Elizabethan Settlement

Religious and political arrangements worked out during the reign of Elizabeth I in England. Elizabeth I (1533-1603), daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, became Queen of England in 1558. Religious differences threatened the stability of England at that time. England had been officially Protestant under the rule of Edward VI from 1547 to 1553 and Roman Catholic under the rule of Mary Tudor from 1553 to 1558. Elizabeth's subjects included both Catholics and Calvinists. Elizabeth faced the religious question squarely at the beginning of her reign. The year 1559 was crucial for the future of Anglicanism.

The Elizabethan settlement sought to be an inclusive middle course between divergent religious positions in English Christianity. Much of traditional Catholic faith and practice was retained, but without submission to papal authority. Much latitude for individual conscience was allowed, but uniformity of worship was required. Faithful Christians with differing theological convictions could find a home in a comprehensive English church.

The Act of Supremacy of 1559 proclaimed Elizabeth to be the "supreme governor of this realm" in all spiritual, ecclesiastical, and temporal matters. Elizabeth's assertion of power over the English church was not as sweeping as that of Henry VIII, who was proclaimed the only supreme head on earth of the English church. The Act of Supremacy of 1559 included an oath of obedience to the Crown that was imposed on all clergy and public officials. Elizabeth exercised royal power concerning the church within the provisions of religious legislation, and she protected the church from attempts by Parliament to meddle.

An amended version of the 1552 Prayer Book was reissued under the Act of Uniformity of 1559. The revised Prayer Book included the Ornaments Rubric, which was inserted before the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. It declared that the ornaments of churches and clergy should be those in use in the second year of the reign of Edward VI, a time when traditional vestments and church furnishings were used. The Ornaments Rubric reversed a rubric in the 1552 Prayer Book that prohibited clergy from wearing albs, vestments, or copes. 

The Elizabethan edition of 1559 deleted the "Black Rubric" from the 1552 BCP, which stated that no adoration of any real presence was intended by kneeling at communion. It retained the receptionistic formula of administration of communion from the 1552 BCP ("Take and eat this in remembrance . . . "), but this was preceded by the more traditional sentence of administration from the 1549 BCP ("The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee. . . ."). This combination of sentences of administration allowed considerable latitude of belief concerning the eucharist. The Elizabethan edition of 1559 also dropped from the litany a petition for deliverance from the tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities. This petition was understandably offensive to Elizabeth's Roman Catholic subjects.

The continuity of the Church of England in apostolic succession was strongly upheld under Elizabeth. The consecration of Matthew Parker (1504-1575) as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1559 was done with great care to make sure that the line of English bishops in apostolic succession was unbroken. Although Elizabeth would have preferred a celibate clergy, clerical marriage was permitted as an indulgence. The Elizabethan settlement was foundational for the via media that has become characteristic of Anglicanism. Through this settlement the English church was comprehensive and inclusive, catholic and protestant, but neither Roman Catholic nor Genevan Protestant. See Receptionism; see Via Media.


Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.