Act of Uniformity 1559

On the 8th May 1559, Queen Elizabeth I gave her approval to the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy which had been passed by Parliament on the 29th April. The Act of Uniformity made Protestantism England’s official faith, established a form of worship which is still followed in English Parish churches today and showed the country that Elizabeth was bent on following a middle road where religion was concerned.

The Middle Road of Faith

Elizabeth I was a keen Protestant, having been converted by her stepmother Catherine Parr, a zealous reformer, in her formative years in the 1540s, however, she was no Puritan or Calvinist and was against clerical marriage.

Elizabeth had seen the damage that religious divisions had done to the country in her half-sister Mary’s reign and was intent on bringing peace and tolerance to England once again. Although she herself had a Protestant faith, she wanted to create a religious settlement that Protestants and Catholics would be happy with, a halfway house, a middle of the road settlement that would allow her subjects to live in peace with each other but which would also allow her to restore Protestantism as the country’s faith and restore royal supremacy so she could be head of the Church. Elizabeth declared that she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls” and she believed that “there is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith, all else is a dispute over trifles”, and her religious settlement was her attempt to show this. Both Calvinists and Catholics criticised the Act, but Elizabeth knew the importance of stability and knew that this religious settlement would achieve it.

The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity 1559 – Elizabeth’s Religious Settlement

So, what did Elizabeth’s middle of the road settlement consist of?

  • It made Mary I’s repeal of Edward VI’s Act for Uniformity and Administration of the Sacraments null and void – Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity reinstated the use of the English Book of Common Prayer from 1552. All services were to follow the order of service set out in this book and be in English.
  • Royal Supremacy – Elizabeth was made Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
  • The Catholic mass was banned.
  • Everybody was to attend church on Sundays and holy days or be fined 12 pence.
  • Measures or punishments for clergymen who did not stick to the Act and the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Church ornaments – “that such ornaments of the church, and of the ministers thereof, shall be retained and be in use, as was in the Church of England, by authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI”.

You can read the full text of the Act of Uniformity 1559 at http://history.hanover.edu/texts/engref/er80.html – it’s very wordy!

Although many people see Elizabeth’s religious settlement as too middle of the road and a sign that Elizabeth’s faith was weak, I think that Elizabeth had to set her personal faith and feelings to one side and act in the best interests of her country. The Marian persecutions and the way that England had bounced from Protestantism to Catholicism had caused much unrest and instability, and Elizabeth had to deal with this. Obviously she did have to take certain measures against the Catholics later in her reign, when she was dealing with plots against her and imminent invasion from Spain, but the start of her reign was all about moderation and tolerance and I applaud her for that. I cannot and will not question her faith, that was personal to her, but she was a woman who had debated evangelical ideas with Catherine Parr, had translated Margaret of Navarre’s evangelical work, “Le miroir de l’ame pecheresse” (The Mirror of the Sinful Soul), at the age of 11 and had risked her life in Mary I’s reign by continually missing mass. She was a woman with a true and real faith.

17 thoughts on “Act of Uniformity 1559

  1. Elizabeth’s settlement was neither an unsatisfactory compromise nor a brilliant via media solution, but her church did survive the test of time. her successors James I and Charles I tried to enforce the episcopacy and prayer book on the Scots with the disastrous consequence of a British Civil War, however after the Interregnum (1649 to 1669) her church was restored, however it could no longer be called the church of all English, but it could be called the Church of England and its monarch head was the centre of national stability as it is today.

  2. I just think that she was following what she believed in and was not trying to make people proud and other stuff. I disapprove of her forcing others to follow her culture though because it had been changed so many times before her by her predecessors, and people don’t just change their beliefs like their shirts.

  3. Given that the bishop of Rome had excommunicated her parents and invalidated her parents marriage thus making her illegitimate and therefore unable to ascend the throne it’s easy to see her inclination to the Reformed faith. As for killing of catholics and priests the only catholic’s killed were those who were accused and found guilty of trying to unseat her from the throne. Priests were a problem. The English Seminary at Douay was educating terrorists and encouraging English Catholics to be disobedient to the Queens lawful majesty as well as trying to secure her murder. Rome has no clean hands in this story. Niether do Catholic monarchs eg the murder of the Hugenot’s by the French King. Elizabeth I was a great monarch who sought peace and prosperity for her subjects and history has established that.

  4. I agree that Elizabeth wasn’t really tolerant with Catholics,there also were many martyrs during her reign,but,what can I say?At that time,there was no division between religion and politics,and the Pope said that every catholic should defy her,so real tolerance was completely impossible and Catholics were a real danger for her.Honestly,I do not think I would have done it better than she did.That said,Mary also tried to be tolerant at first,she legalized catholicsm,but her first official announcement was to give their subjects free worship in this matter,she allowed the celebration of a protestant funeral for her late brother,and did not force anyone to return to the Catholic Church the goods which had been taken,although she returned her own.Moreover,she forgave,at first at least,the conspirors who took her crown,and it was only after rebellions as Wyatt’s(in which she forgave 400 people) that she approved that laws.So,I think it is unfair to call her bloody and,at least on my view,she deserves the same understanding and respect as her sister.
    After all,she was also the first English monarch who showed compassion for poor people in her will.Neither Mary or Elizabeth were bloody,and they were not driven by ,but their times…Oh,yes,how bloody and difficult times.

  5. Claire!Sorry for clicking twice,it was a mistake.
    I just wanted to tell you,that I love your blog.It is really interesting,very accurate and fascinating.You have fed my curiosity and knowledge about this period and I thank you for it.Moreover,I have improved my English a great deal just by reading you,thank you!And kisses from

  6. I have a question. When exactly did she say that “all else is a dispute over trifles,” and where could I find the primary resource for that? Trying to do a research paper on her.

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