Religion in Elizabethan England- by Ariel Wetzel

The people who lived in Elizabethan England, 1550-1650 during the Renaissance, were religiously confused. Each new reigning monarch brought a different Christian religion, and any person found not practicing the official religion risked their personal wealth, freedom, and life. Religion in Elizabethan England, which played a big role in the people's daily lives, has had a long history and includes the perennial struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism.
Religion in Daily Life
To be a Christian, or not to be, wasn't really a question in Elizabethan English society. In fact, it was required (Singman 22). Being an Elizabethan English citizen was interchangeable with being an active member of the Church and with that, you recieved basic Church instruction (Singman 22). Children, for example, we expected to memorize the 10 Commandments, Articles of Belief (Creed), and the Lord's Prayer (Singman 22). If that wasn't different enough from today, there wasn't even a separation of Church and State (Singman 22). Schools taught the official religion, and that was it. In Elizabethan England, religion was ever-present in the society.
Religious History
Back in 1517, the Protestant Reformation began in Europe with Martin Luther's 95 Theses (Andrews 7), and was soon making its way to England. At the beginning of the 16th century, Protestantism was a minority (Olsen 574) and England was under the Catholic Church, but because King Henry VIII could not legally divorce Catherine of Argon under Catholicism, he withdrew England from the Catholic Church, placing England under the authority of the King (Singman 22-23). After Henry died, Mary, his daughter by Catherine of Argon, succeeded him and reestablished Catholicism in England (24). Though she only reigned for five years, she ended up prosecuting some 300 Protestants, thus giving her the nickname of "Bloody Mary" (24). Elizabethan England's next monarch was none other than its namesake, Elizabeth I, who was already of Protestant leanings. When the Pope, who never recognized King Henry's secession from the Catholic Church, saw her as an illegitimate child who could not be Queen, Elizabeth left the Catholic Church, just as her father had done (24). After England's secession from the Catholic Church, it remained Anglican Protestant for the rest of the Elizabethan Era. In the end, each monarch contributed to the whirlwind of religious history in Elizabethan England.

King Henry VIII
King Henry VIII
Queen Mary I
Queen Mary I

Catholicism vs. Protestantism

In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of the Catholic Church, and the Protestant movement began to change the world (Andrews 7). Now Elizabethan England faced the choice of which branch of Christianity to choose, but what were the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism at that time? The differences were mainly complex, but one could view Catholicism as having concrete, and Protestantism as having an intellectual approach to religion (Singman 23). Being concrete, Catholics believed that religious ceremonies in Latin, veneration of saints, and charitable deeds had the power to bring someone closer to god. Protestants, however, rejected that and stressed a more abstract form of thinking- that good deeds didn't get you to heaven, but faith and word and services in any language (Singman 23). Catholics also accredited that priests and the pope could forgive sins, if the sinner gave them gifts, whereas Protestants believed that only God could (Alchin). Later, under Mary's reign, some Protestant exiles settled in Switzerland, and, under the influence of John Calvin, became Puritans (Lace 54). After Mary, Elizabeth's Church of England's members were called Anglicans (Emerson 153). The Church of England under Elizabeth was Protestant in teaching, but still retained Catholic features like garments, saints' days, and bishops/archbishops (Singman 24). These differences between beliefs is what caused the Christian religion in England to be split, drawing the line between Protestant and Catholic.
Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I



In Conclusion
In conclusion, Elizabethan religion was all Christian, and all about change. Church was a normal part of daily life, religious history was forever changing, and there was strife between Catholicism and Protestantism. What England's official religion was was decided by the monarch, which meant that the people of Elizabethan England faced a lot of adjustment. All in all, religion was an immense component of the culture of Elizabethan England.


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