Religion and the monarchy

A Protestant queen

Elizabeth I of England (b. 1533) reigned from 1558-1603. She was a convinced Protestant, unlike her older sister, Mary, who had tried to turn England back to Catholicism. She saw the need to keep a middle way or via media, as it was called:

  • She didn't care for the Puritans
  • She was afraid of the Catholics, because she saw them as plotting with England's great enemy, Spain, to overthrow her. She didn't like other smaller Protestant groups. They were allowed to exist but their members could not hold public office or to get a university degree.

James I

When Elizabeth died, James VI of Scotland became James I of England. He wished to unite the Church of England and the Reformed (or Presbyterian) Church of Scotland.

Charles I

Charles IJames' son, Charles, married a Catholic, so when he became king, he was prepared to allow Catholics some leeway. He also tried to encourage the Church of England to become more Catholic in its liturgy. His agent for doing this was Archbishop Laud. Unfortunately, the Puritans had had high hopes under James and they bitterly resented this move away from more Protestant models.

War and after

Eventually, the Civil War broke out, which resulted in the Commonwealth being established under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was an Independent, which meant:

  • He belonged to the small group of Protestants outside the Church of England
  • He didn't believe in a state church at all, which in those days was quite revolutionary
  • He didn't believe in bishops.

During the decade of the Commonwealth period, the 1650s, people were allowed to worship in greater freedom (except for the Catholics). A number of new, and sometimes quite unorthodox, churches were set up, including the Quakers, a group who were often harassed.

Under the later Stuart kings

Christian in Pilgrim's ProgressWhen the Stuarts were restored to the throne, the Church of England reasserted itself. The smaller Protestant groups were heavily controlled and their ministers or clergy often lost their jobs. One of these was a Baptist preacher called John Bunyan. When thrown into prison, he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, one of the most famous Christian works of fiction ever written.

Greater tolerance

When William III and Mary II came to the throne in 1689, toleration was extended to everyone to worship as they wanted. However, it was not until 150 years later that it became possible for non-Anglicans to hold public office or get a degree from an English university.

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