|When Elizabeth became
Queen in the November of 1558, it was widely believed that she would restore
the Protestant faith in England. Mary's persecution of Protestants had
done much damage to the standing of Catholicism in England, and the number
of Protestants in the country was steadily increasing. Although Elizabeth
had adhered to the Catholic faith during her sister's reign, she had been
raised a Protestant, and was committed to that faith. Elizabeth's religious
views were remarkably tolerant for the age in which she lived. She believed
sincerely in her own faith, but she also believed in religious toleration,
and that Catholics and Protestants were both part of the same faith. "There
is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith" she exclaimed later in her reign,
"all else is a dispute over trifles." She also declared that she had "no
desire to make windows into men's souls".
|Throughout her reign,
Elizabeth's main concern was the peace and stability of the realm, and
religious persecution was only adopted when certain religious groups threatened
this peace. It was unfortunate for Elizabeth that so many of her
contemporaries did not share her views on toleration, and she was forced
by circumstance to adopt a harsher line towards Catholics than she intended
or wanted. Elizabeth's toleration of Catholics, and her refusal to
make changes to the Church she established in 1559, has led some historians
to doubt her commitment to her faith - even to assert that she was an atheist,
but such statements are misleading. Elizabeth wanted a Church that would
appeal to both Catholics and Protestants, and did not want to move the
Church in a more Protestant direction, thus making it more difficult for
Catholics to accept the Church than it was already. The form of worship
also suited the Queen's conservative religion. She had little sympathy
with Protestant extremists who wanted to strip the Church of it's finery,
ban choral music, vestments and bell ringing, and liked her Church just
the way it was.
|Elizabethan hoped that
by retaining the Church as it was, people would become accustomed to it.
She wanted her Church to be popular with her people, and for Catholicism
to die out naturally as people turned to the religion she had established.
In this she was largely successful, for by 1603, the English nation as
a population were generally Protestant, and Catholics were in the minority.
Elizabeth had her own private chapel in most of her palaces, and reputedly
prayed there everyday. She saw herself as God's vessel on earth, and would
pray to determine God's will so that he would reveal it to her, and she
could implement it. Although Elizabeth's actual beliefs elude us, we are
able to get an indication of them from her attitudes and gestures. Her
chapels were conservative - the crucifix was displayed, and she also liked
candles and music. She disliked long Protestant sermons, but also expressed
displeasure at some Catholic rituals such as the elevation of the host,
which implied that she rejected the Catholic belief of transubstantiation.
She also did not really approve of the clergy marrying as she expressed
on several occasions, but as this was an integral aspect of Protestantism,
she had to accept it.
|A more personal indication
of her beliefs are the prayers she wrote for her people, and the letters
she wrote to her friends and relations. In these letters she often referred
to God and the need to accept his will. In her prayers she also acknowledged
her own faults and shortcomings. Elizabeth was by no means the perfect
Protestant by the standards of many of her clergy - she swore terribly,
using expressions that some thought were blasphemous, one of her favorite
being "God's Death", and her sumptuous appearance was criticized by the
more radical Protestants, known as "Puritans", who accused her of vanity
and idolatry - but there is no reason to doubt that the Queen was a committed
Protestant who took her faith seriously.
a prayer composed by Elizabeth I