The Catholic Community

Authored by: William J. Sheils

The Elizabethan World

Print publication date:  September  2010
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415409599
eBook ISBN: 9781315736044
Adobe ISBN: 9781317565796

10.4324/9781315736044.ch15

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Abstract

At her accession, Elizabeth I inherited a divided nation, but one in which those attached to traditional religious practice were almost certainly in the majority. The strength of that attachment, and the precise theological understanding of those who held to it remain matters for debate, but the reign of her sister Mary had witnessed a return to Rome and revival in the institutions and administration of the Church under the direction of Cardinal Pole. English Catholicism was not the insular, backward-looking religion of traditional historiography but one led by able bishops who commanded a scholarly following at the universities and the support of important sections of the political nation, at court and in the provinces. The legacy of the reign of Elizabeth’s brother, the young Edward VI, meant, however, that Protestants could also claim these characteristics, though many of them had been in exile under Mary, where they had been exposed to the reformed ecclesiology of the lower Rhineland. This was not the Protestantism of the young queen. As the daughter of Anne Boleyn and educated in the household of Katherine Parr, Elizabeth’s religion was undoubtedly Protestant but was essentially an evangelical, Christocentric religion that retained an attachment to Lutheran sacramental theology and a devotion to the symbol of the cross. She had conformed outwardly to the Marian Church and sought as advisers fellow evangelicals who did likewise. Uncertainty therefore characterised the hopes of both Catholics and Protestants in November 1558.

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