Problems with religion

A visualisation of the Act of Supremacy, on the left, and the Act of Uniformity, on the right

When Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558 her people were divided by religion. Her sister, Mary, had made Roman Catholicism the official religion of the country, but many of the people were Protestant. There was also a growing number of Puritans. Elizabeth had to find a compromise.

To try to bring together these different groups and ease religious tensions, Elizabeth came up with what became known as the Religious Settlement. In 1559 she passed two laws:

The Act of Supremacy

This made Elizabeth the Supreme Governor of the Church, taking power away from the Catholic Pope in Rome. Her father, Henry VIII, had done the same in his reign, but called himself the Head of the Church, so Elizabeth’s title as Governor implied she would not be so dictatorial and would be more tolerant. This appeased Catholics and Puritans who were uncomfortable with the monarch as head of religion as well as head of state.

To remember this Act think of the word 'supreme' – which can mean the top or superior. That is the position Elizabeth is to the church.

The Act of Uniformity

This made Protestantism England’s official faith and also set out rules of religious practice and worship in a revised prayer book. This retained some Catholic traditions which Elizabeth hoped would make a good compromise and keep her people happy.

Think ‘uniform’ – you will remember what this Act did if you remember that it is about unifying religious practice.

There was broad support for the new Settlement and very few refused to take the oath of loyalty to the queen. Elizabeth’s tolerant approach seemed to have worked on the whole, but it did not keep everyone happy and she faced numerous threats.