Elizabeth I's Church of England

In December 1559, Queen Elizabeth I consecrated Matthew Parker as the first Archbishop of Canterbury for the new Church of England.

Queen Elizabeth I and Matthew Parker were both opponents of religious extremism. While drawing on aspects of Catholicism and Protestantism for the new religious settlement, both had great respect for history and sought to ground the church in past traditions.

The doctrines of the Church of England

Parker was involved in formulating the doctrines of the new church in The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion Produced by Convocation (1563). The new hybrid Elizabethan church appeared Catholic but its beliefs were largely Protestant. One of the major tenets of Protestant belief is in the importance of the scriptures, the 'Word of God'. As a result, access to religious scriptures was not reserved solely for the clergy and written in Latin, but made available to all in their own language. Parker supervised the publication of the Bishops' Bible in English, for use in churches and homes.

The painted triptych of the Royal Arms provided a visual representation of the religious settlement of 1559 and its legacy. It simultaneously asserted the supremacy of the state over religion and the unity of church and state as a new independent entity.

The Church of England: a national institution

While the 1559 settlement did not satisfy either orthodox Catholics or hardcore Protestants, the majority accepted it. The framework for the Church of England had been laid and the longevity of Elizabeth's reign allowed it to take root and become a national institution. Despite changes in the intervening years, the 1559 settlement still informs the Church of England of today.


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