The religious scene

Changes in outlook

The sixteenth century had been a time of very considerable change, not least in the area of religion. At the beginning of the century, everyone had been a Roman Catholic, from king to humblest peasant. It was the only church. By the end of the century, the state religion was Protestant, and the state church was the Church of England. But there were small groups of other christians, particularly those who had simply stayed Catholic and refused to change their religion.

Different groups

Even within the Church of England, there were different groups. At one extreme were those who stressed the role of liturgy, priesthood and conformity.

At the other extreme were the Puritans, who wanted to make the Church as reformed as possible, particularly looking towards the Swiss Reformer, John Calvin and his Reformed Church, as the model. That meant

  • making worship services as plain and simple as possible
  • getting the Bible translated and read every Sunday in church
  • having clergy who were as trained and committed as possible.


The Bishop's BibleUnder Queen Elizabeth a new form of church emerged which combined elements of Catholicism and Protestantism. Many intelligent and pious men agreed with Elizabeth's strategy. An Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, wrote Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, which defined what Anglicanism was. And there were some fine preachers, including Lancelot Andrewes and John Donne, one of the Metaphysical poets. There was a Book of Common Prayer, a slightly revised version of the prayer book composed by Thomas Cranmer for King Edward VI (1547-53). There was also the English Bishops' Bible, to be read at every service.

The Authorised Version of the Bible

When Elizabeth died, James VI of Scotland came to the English throne as James I of England. He asked scholars to produce a new translation of the Bible, which became known as the Authorised Version or King James Bible. Published in 1611, became the standard translation, although it took a little time for everyone to accept it. The influence of the language of this Bible on English Literature has been profound, and it is difficult to study English at an advanced level without some knowledge of it. (See Impact of the Bible > English Bible Translations.)

The Book of Common Prayer

The language of the Prayer Book or Book of Common Prayer has had a lesser, but still very significant, influence. (See Impact of the Bible > Influence of the Book of Common Prayer on the English language.)

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