A secure Protestant identity
Despairing at the Queen's obstinacy and at the apparent indifference of broad sections of the population to the call to a godlier lifestyle, evangelicals took refuge in brotherhoods and congregations that became increasingly detached from the mainstream church. The frustration of reform measures in the Parliaments of 1571 and 1572 led some into formal separation. In the latter years of Elizabeth's reign Puritanism gave way to sectarian non-conformity, and eventually into outright confrontation with the established church.
But the numbers involved in such open dissidence were small, the vast majority of the godly preferring to remain in communion and to seek consolation in voluntary associations which provided an appropriate context for the puritan lifestyle. And in the main, their choice was justified, for whatever their disappointment at Elizabeth's lack of godly zeal, England's general allegiance to the Protestant cause was not in doubt. Even from the beginning of the reign there were evident proofs of this in an ambitious foreign policy which led swiftly to confrontation with the leading Catholic powers. By the last quarter of the century England was destined to play a pivotal role in the survival of Calvinist powers on the Continent, as they faced the most profound threat to their survival from a resurgent Catholicism.
By the time Elizabeth's long reign came to an end in 1603, English people had come to esteem their Church. The trials of the last three decades had in a very real sense secured England's Protestant identity. Through a generation of conflict in which the enemy had been foreign, Catholic and dangerous, English people had come to identify their Church and Protestantism, as a cornerstone of their identity.
This was not manifested, necessarily, in any very profound grasp of the theological tenets of faith. While English readers seem to have been avid consumers of catechisms and other cheap volumes of religious instruction, their clergy, as elsewhere in Europe, continued to lament how shallow was their grasp of doctrine. Yet the identification could be more subtle and oblique, but still very real. The Catholic festival year, for instance, had been gradually superseded by a calendar of new, largely unofficial and profoundly Protestant patriotic festivals: the defeat of the Armada, Crownation day, the date of Elizabeth's accession. In 1605 they would be joined by 5 November, the date of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, proof, if proof were needed that Catholicism was still considered perfidious, deadly and deeply un-English. The celebration of Guy Fawkes' day with bonfires and fireworks is a reminder of how fresh these Reformation controversies remained in the consciousness of the people for many centuries.