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 – 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. I, too, admire Elizabeth for this “middle of the road” policy. She had an overwhelming problem to deal with when it came to religion. I think her mother would have been proud. 🙂

  2. I agree with HannahL and admire Elizabeth for being moderate after so much turmoil and unrest caused by Mary and Edward. By helping to give the country stability, I believe that Elizabeth proved herself as a great ruler.

  3. I agree that Elizabeth was influence by Catherine Parr but also by her teachers and other adults who influenced her growing up. Matthew Parker, her mother’s priest, was on and then, her teachers as well. She was extraordinarliy smart and understood the media ria. I’m quite thankful for her prayerbook and the service as an Episcopalian here in the States!

  4. I Believe that Elizabeth did try and create a religious poilicy that suited all religions and in some ways it worked. By 1603 it was said that only 2% of the population was still catholic, however these statistics come from the register of Recusents (people who didnt attend church) and this is not a true reflection of those who were catholic. Some catholics still went to church under Elizabeth even though they did not agree with her policies (Church Papists). However, yes it can be said that she did try to create a religious policy for everyone and unsurprisingly, not everyone was happy, it was an unrealistic goal really and yet she managed to pull it off to an extent. Many thought the acts were too harsh (catholics) whereas some people argued that it did not take it far enough (puritians).

  5. How can one say even with even the lest bit of objectivity that Elizabeth I was moderate, if by even the most cursory of readings of the Act of Uniformity one comes to the understanding, immediate, that the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass was fobidden, outlawed? That defies credulity. If that is moderation then the imposition of Sharia must surely be the “via media” and a defence of common law rights. The primary quetion for Elizabeth, a Tudor, as for her Father was “Could an Englishman be a good Roman Catholic amd still be a good Englishman? Her answer was a resounding “No” and as her Father before her, “reinstituted” the so called “Book of Common Prayer” not because she was authentically concerned about religion so much as she was interested in shaping popular opinion to insure her political goals. In the end Elizabeth I was about her power and nothing else and The Book of Common Prayer was nothing more than tool in the police state solution to that question. She would as soon have been a Catholic as a Protestant if it meant her preeminence in politics. She opted for the political advantages of being Proetstant because the ruling classes, which represented the totality of the administrative apparat of Tudor England had gone over to it to protect their privilege and position. There ws no “middle of the road” compromnise there as it is a political reality that no majority will willingly relinquish its hold on power and vote istelf out.

  6. Well it really depended wheather you where a Catholic or proddy at the time didn’t it ? I mean it you where a protestant you props thought that the Catholics where getting of lightly ,but if you where a Catholic you’d think old lizzie was a right old killjoy .But then again I think if the odds where on it I’d bet that Queen bloody Mary killed more prodders then Queen Bess did Catholics .Then again it’s pretty harsh not being able to follow your own relgion,i think you should be able to as long as it isn’t disruping others life .Like me being Forced to go to Re and attended church and mass +having a priest cough in his hand then serve the bread i mean its disgusting ! But all in all think of it this way .if your where Queen would you have done any better then Elizabeth at solving this problem?

  7. What we have to remember also is the Catholic military power that was held in Europe under the Pope. Elizabeth had to contend with numerable plots trying to make way for invasions of Catholic armies under the Pope from France, Italy and even Ireland and Scotland. The most dangerous being from Spain. It was hard to deal with the Catholics with this background going on. How the Spanish invasion came to nothing is a miracle in itself. I think she was being extremely moderate considering the circumstances.

  8. this is a total LIE queen Elisabeth was never interested in bringing peace, if anything she brought the exact opposite!!! She KILLED many Catholic priests JUST because they didn’t want to practice HER church, NOT Gods church, HER church!!!!

  9. To say she was a taking the middle of the road path would be a lie, but to say she was some evil witch of tyranny is also wrong. She did kill priests, but under pressure of ministers and parliament e.g Walsingham.

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