Actress portraying Elizabeth 1

The Protestant Reformation (part 3)

The Elizabethan settlement

Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn, reigned from 1558 to 1603. Her ideal was the restoration of the pope-less Catholicism of her father, but she was obliged to co-operate with men of strongly Protestant views. A modification of the 1553 Prayer Book was adopted in 1559 and the Church of England's 'middle way' between Roman Catholicism and advanced Protestantism was set out in the Thirty Nine Articles of 1563.

The Welsh warmed to the settlement, partly because of the dissemination of the myth that originally the Christianity of Wales had been Protestant and that its purity had been defiled by the 'Romish' practices imposed upon it.

Welsh Bible
The complete Bible was published in Welsh in 1588

The myth was promulgated in the introduction, written by Richard Davies, the Bishop of St.Davids, to the Welsh translation of the New Testament published in 1567 - a work, in the main, of William Salesbury. The translation was prepared in obedience to the parliamentary command of 1563 that the Bible in Welsh should be available in every parish church in Wales.

The demand was ironic, for it meant parliament was authorising the use of Welsh in spiritual matters barely a generation after it had banned its use in secular matters. Yet in the Elizabethan age, the authorities considered religious uniformity to be more important than linguistic uniformity.

The complete Bible was published in Welsh in 1588, the work of the Denbighshire rector William Morgan. Morgan's magnificent achievement made Welsh the only non-state language of Protestant Europe to be the medium of a published Bible within a century of the Reformation, a key factor in its subsequent fortunes.

Opposition to the Elizabethan Settlement

Elements within Welsh society remained faithful to Roman Catholicism. On Elizabeth's accession, about 15 Welsh priests fled to mainland Europe to plan the restoration of their country to Rome. Some Welshmen involved themselves in the plots to replace Elizabeth with her Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.

Yet despite these plots and martyrdoms, the huge majority of the people of Wales became adherents of the State Church, a marked contrast with Ireland where the government proved unable to prevent the campaigns of the Catholic orders.

Advanced Protestantism made little headway, although the Puritan John Penry of Breconshire, a bitter opponent of bishops, was hanged in 1593 and became for future generations the founding martyr of Welsh Nonconformity.


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