Moorpark College Elizabeth I’s Religion: The Evidence of Her Letters by Susan Doran Susan Doran is one of the leading historians of Tudor England. This essay looks at the hundred or so letters (out of 3000) that deal with religion. But Doran is under no illusions that she is really glimpsing the real soul of the monarch: “No personal letters in which the queen laid bare her soul have survived, or probably were ever written.” (700). 500-WORD ESSAY PROMPT: What picture emerges of Elizabeth’s religiosity? Are you convinced by Doran’s argument? Why or why not?EVERYTHING must be CITED, at least 6 direct quotes and cited like the following “Any baby that is Kell negative will not be attacked by the mother’s antibodies and will carry to term if otherwise healthy” (834).Two page double spaced, 1in margins, size 12 New Romans, attached is the article that must be used, no outside sources. Also, attached is the rubric ignore the last one. Make sure that the thesis and intro are strong. A good thesis kind of “gives away” the point of the essay. A clear thesis gives a plan for the body paragraphs so that your reader knows what is coming. Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. , No. , October .
# Cambridge University Press
Printed in the United Kingdom
Elizabeth I ’s Religion : The
Evidence of Her Letters
by SUSAN DORAN
cholars have tended to ignore Elizabeth’s letters as a potential
source for evidence of her religious beliefs, and have turned
elsewhere to find a ‘ window into her soul ’.” A few fixed on her
personal Book of devotions as the most valuable route into her inner life,
since it was generally assumed that she had composed the prayers within
it herself.# From this kind of evidence, the queen emerged as a deeply
pious princess, far different from the politique figure who dominated the
writings of A. J. Pollard, J. E. Neale and J. B. Black.$ J. P. Hodges, for
example, thought these private prayers revealed both ‘ a spiritual
perception ’ and ‘ a deep personal faith which has every token of sincerity ’,
while William P. Haugaard, likewise, detected a ‘ spiritual depth and
unity to her character ’. As the prayers also manifested a belief in
solifidianism, Haugaard identified Elizabeth’s piety as unmistakably
Protestant, a view which Christopher Haigh endorsed.% More recently,
CSPF l Calendar of state papers foreign ; HMC l Historical Manuscripts Commission ; PRO
l Public Record Office ; SCJ l Sixteenth-Century Journal.
A shorter version of this article was read as a paper to the conference at the
University of Reading on ‘ Women and Letter Writing ’.
” This phrase was used in this context by J. P. Hodges, The nature of the lion, London
, , and P. Collinson, ‘ Windows in a woman’s soul : questions about the religion of
Queen Elizabeth ’, in his Elizabethan essays, London , –.
# The collection contains two prayers in English and one each in Latin, French, Italian
and Greek. The text and translations can be found in A book of devotions composed by her
majesty Elizabeth R, ed. Adam Fox, Gerrards Cross . Elizabeth is presumed the author
of other prayers. See, for example, Michael G. Brennan, ‘ Two private prayers of
Elizabeth ’, Notes and Queries xxxii (), –.
$ A. F. Pollard, The history of England from the accession of Edward VI to the death of Elizabeth,
London . ; J. E. Neale, ‘ The via media in politics : an historical parallel ’, in his
The age of Catherine de Medici and essays in Elizabethan history, London , ; J. B. Black,
The reign of Elizabeth, London .
% Hodges, Nature of the lion, ; William P. Haugaard, ‘ Elizabeth Tudor’s book of
however, Patrick Collinson has questioned the historical value of the Book
of devotions. He first speculated that the prayers within it might well have
been written for Elizabeth by others, and in a clever piece of
deconstruction, went on to suggest that, in any event, the book itself
(together with one or two other small devotional books) was probably a
fashion accessory rather than an object encouraging personal piety. To
find clues to her religion, Collinson preferred to rely on the queen’s actions
and private behaviour. There he saw so many illustrations of religious
conservatism, including her dislike of married clergy, hostility to the
destruction of crosses and church monuments, her use of Catholic oaths
and her ‘ unusually negative prejudice against the preaching ministry ’
that he dismissed the queen as ‘ an odd sort of Protestant ’, arguing that
her conservative policies probably reflected her religious preferences
rather than simply political expediency.& Collinson has not been alone in
playing down Elizabeth’s Protestantism, although only a small minority
of historians today describe the queen as a Henrician Catholic, who would
have been content in ‘ to return to the Church of her father ’.’
In none of these scholarly works was there any attempt to analyse
systematically religious sentiments and opinions that appear in the letters
written by Elizabeth. This omission is easy to understand. No personal
letters in which the queen laid bare her soul have survived, or probably
were even written. Indeed there exist today very few personal letters at all.
As for official letters, questions can legitimately be raised about their
validity as expressions of Elizabeth’s beliefs. In the first place, it could be
argued that these letters articulated the views of royal servants rather than
those of the queen herself, since they were either drafted or amended by
her secretaries, ministers or diplomats. This objection, however, cannot be
sustained. Elizabeth put her own individual imprint on her letters : drafts
by others were frequently amended by her ; amendments by others were
sometimes countermanded by her ; and postscripts in her own hand were
often added to letters written out by her clerk or secretary. That the queen
paid the closest attention to the detailed wording of her letters can be seen
from notes occasionally added to drafts of letters by her clerk : for
example, at the bottom of one was scribbled : ‘ this was mislykid by her
Majesty by reason of one word ’, a word which seemed to give the wrong
impression about her precise meaning ; in the margin of another, it was
recorded that ‘ Mr Henry Killegrew thought good that these lynes shuld
devotions : a neglected clue to the queen’s life and character ’, SCJ xii (), ;
Christopher Haigh, Elizabeth I, London . . See also R. H. Bainton, Women of the
Reformation in France and England, Minneapolis , –.
& Collinson, ‘ Windows in a woman’s soul ’, –.
‘ This position was recently maintained by John L. Larocca, ‘ Popery and pounds : the
effect of the Jesuit mission on penal legislation ’, in Thomas McCoog (ed.), The reckoned
expense : Edmund Campion and the early English Jesuits, Woodbridge , .
be stroken out, but her Majesty lyketh them and wold them in.’( It is
inconceivable, therefore, that Elizabeth signed (or allowed to go out in
her name) any letter which expressed any attitude or opinion with which
she did not wish to be associated. In the second place, it could be
contended that, as deliberate ‘ constructs of personas ’, letters tell the
historian little or nothing about an individual’s personal convictions.)
Official letters, like Elizabeth’s missives to foreign princes, are particularly
vulnerable to this charge, since she had obviously strong political
incentives for either masking her true religious feelings or presenting a
particular self-image. Thus, in her letters to the Catholic rulers of France,
Spain and Austria, she would naturally tone down whatever Protestant
views or sympathies she might have. On the other hand, in her
correspondence with European Protestant princes or leaders she might
well stress her credentials as their coreligionist in order to appeal for their
help against the perceived Catholic threat, though in reality her actions
belied or at least did not match her words. For this reason, E. I. Kouri
doubted the genuineness of the religious protestations in her letters to the
German Lutherans and Calvinists. In his opinion : ‘ Even when the
queen’s religious words appear most sincere, they often had as background
the hard politics of national survival.’* Such a cut-and-dried approach to
letters, however, is now rather passeT and historians have learnt from their
colleagues in the field of literary criticism that much can be revealed in the
rhetoric of self-representation.
Altogether Elizabeth wrote well over , letters, with perhaps a
hundred or so of them touching or expatiating on the subject of religion.”!
These written communications to one or more individuals (my working
definition of ‘ letter ’) includes instructions to ambassadors, orders to
divines, as well as courtesy letters to foreign princes and personal notes to
courtiers and royal servants. In addition, there exist a small number of
letters of condolence to friends or the widows of esteemed royal servants,
whose formulae of consolation express some statement of faith. Many of
Elizabeth’s letters have only survived in draft or are copies (either
contemporary or later) of the original, and can be found in the state
papers, the British Library, private collections and university libraries,
including a neglected letter book containing over of Elizabeth’s letters
to foreign princes deposited with the Baker Manuscripts in Cambridge
( PRO, SP , fos v, .
) For discussion of this point see The letters of Lady Arabella Stuart, ed. Sara Jayne Steen,
Oxford , introduction.
* E. I. Kouri, ‘ For true faith or national interest ? Queen Elizabeth and the Protestant
powers ’, in E. I. Kouri and Tom Scott (eds), Politics and society in Reformation Europe,
Basingstoke–London , .
“! G. B. Harrison, who put together a collection of letters, claimed to have read –, :
The letters of Queen Elizabeth I, London . I have failed to keep my own account.
University Library.”” There are also many more manuscripts abroad, a
number of which have been printed though not usually translated.”#
In this article I aim to demonstrate that the letters which express
religious opinions and beliefs display sufficient consistency and coherence
for their content to be taken as seriously as their tone. In addition, I shall
seek to reconcile the pious, Protestant Elizabeth of the private prayers
(whoever wrote them) with the conservative queen who demanded strict
conformity to the Prayer Book and Royal Injunctions.
One dominant theme in Elizabeth’s letters is her assertion of the royal
supremacy. In them, she frequently insisted upon her right to demand
total compliance from all her subjects, lay and clerical, on almost any
religious and ecclesiastical issue. Her letter to Bishop Cox, in which she
called him a ‘ proud prelate ’ and threatened to unfrock him unless he
immediately obeyed her wish, though no longer extant, is of course well
known. Equally familiar are her various letters to the bishops demanding
conformity to her laws and the suppression of prophesyings ; her words to
Grindal, ‘ we do will and command you forthwith ’, were uncompromisingly authoritarian and indicate that she viewed the episcopate
as little more than a body of civil servants.”$ Less frequently quoted but
equally significant are a number of her letters to James of Scotland in
which she lashed out against Presbyterians and Jesuits alike for their
separate attacks on royal authority and power. These communications
convey the strength of her belief in the divine right of kings to rule the
State and govern the Church. They also explain and provide a justification
for her attempts to suppress the Presbyterians and put to death the Jesuits.
The former she roundly criticised not only for their reform programme
but also for their effrontery in demanding it. They were, Elizabeth
declared, ‘ a sect of perilous consequence such as would have no kings but
a presbytery ’ ; by their preaching, they dared to ‘ have made in our
peoples hartz a doubt of our religion, and that we err if the[y] say so, what
perilous issue this may make I rather thinke than mynde to write ’.
Seditious opinions of this nature had to be silenced : ‘ Since God hath
made kinges, let them not unmake their authorite, and let brokes and
smal rivers acknowledge ther springes, and flowe no furder than the
bankes.’ Jesuits, she thought, were even worse than the Presbyterians ;
they were ‘ vipars ’ who claimed that ‘ a kinge not of ther profession shuld
“” Cambridge University Library, Mm I..
“# E. I. Kouri, ‘ Six unprinted letters from Elizabeth of England to German and
Scandinavian princes ’, Archiv fuW r Reformationsgeschichte lxxiii (), –, and
‘ Elizabethan England and Europe : forty unprinted letters from Elizabeth to Protestant
powers ’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, special supplement no. ().
“$ Elizabeth to Bishop Cox of Ely, , in Harrison, Elizabeth’s letters. . On the
relationship between monarchy and prelacy see P. Collinson, The religion of Protestants : the
Church in English society – , Oxford , –.
be murthered ’. ‘ What religion is this ’, she asked rhetorically, ‘ that the[y]
say the way to salvation is to kil the prince for a merit meritorious ? ’ Such
a religion, she believed, was beyond the pale of royal protection ; James
should therefore expel the Jesuits from Scotland, while she herself was
right to approve the draconian laws against the members of that order
who illegally crept into England.”%
While Elizabeth picked out Presbyterians and Jesuits as the groups
most dangerous to her Church and State, she was also hard on Protestants
who accepted the principle of the royal supremacy, but who ignored or
disobeyed her laws in practice. Certainly, as most historians have pointed
out, it was the challenge to her authority that most angered and alarmed
the queen : ‘ none ’ she warned Archbishop Parker by letter, ‘ shall be
suffered to decline either on the left or on the right hand from the direct
line limited by authority of our said laws and injunctions ’.”& None the less,
her letters demanding conformity reveal, in addition, an underlying
anxiety that has received less attention : they repeatedly expressed a
horror of ‘ novelty ’ and ‘ diversity ’, which Elizabeth feared were entering
her Church through the actions of nonconformists and lack of vigilance by
the bishops. Elizabeth’s denunciation of diversity and disorder had its
intellectual roots in Christian neo-Platonism, which thought that a
harmonious and hierarchically ordered universe was a reflection of the
divine and that consequently ‘ diversity, variety, contention, and vain love
of singularity, either in our ministers or in the people, must needs provoke
the displeasure of Almighty God ’. If unchecked, there was a danger, she
believed, that diversity would spread like ‘ an infection ’ and ‘ impair,
deface, and disturb Christian charity, unity and concord ’.”‘ It was this
dread of innovation and diversity that prompted Elizabeth to require the
end to prophesyings in : according to her letters ordering their
suppression, she would allow ‘ preaching by persons learned, discreet,
conformable and sound in religion ’ but not these public exercises by
preachers who ‘ dayly devise, imagine, propound and putt in execution
sundrie new rites and formes in the church ’.”( It was this dread that also
explained her general suspicion of preaching ; ‘ edification ’ of the
unlearned sort, she informed Parker, could be better served by their
hearing biblical passages read aloud in churches on Sundays and holy
“% Elizabeth to James , July ; Jan. ; , Oct. , in Letters of Queen
Elizabeth and King James VI of Scotland, ed. John Bruce (Camden Society xlvi, ), , ,
“& Elizabeth to Archbishop Parker, Aug. , in Edward Cardwell, Documentary
annals of the reformed Church of England, Oxford , i. .
“‘ Elizabeth to Parker, Jan. in Parker correspondence, ed. J. Bruce and T. T.
Perowne (Parker Society, ), –. See also pp. – and The remains of Edmund
Grindal, ed. W. Nicholson (Parker Society, ), –.
“( Elizabeth to the bishops, May , and Elizabeth to John Whitgift, , in
Cardwell, Documentary annals, i. , –.
days than by listening to lengthy sermons.”) Elizabeth’s negative attitude
to sermons has been well-documented ; she often heard services without a
sermon on ferial Sundays, insisted that court sermons were kept short and
even curtailed those which went on too long or displeased her.”*
Elizabeth’s demand for uniformity imposed from above left no room for
the toleration of any unauthorised religious practice : ‘ Our lawes do not
make searche of man’s conscience ’, she claimed in a letter to the earl of
Sussex but added the proviso : ‘ withowt occasion manifestly gyven by
outward deeds committed against the lawes ’.#! In other words, her
subjects could believe what they wanted but had to obey the Act of
Uniformity. With this as her outlook, the way was open for ‘ church
papistry ’ to flourish in Elizabethan England. It also meant that the queen
would initiate no witch hunt for adherents of the Family of Love within
her court, since Familists taught obedience to monarchs and outward
conformity to the Established Church even though they held unorthodox
mystical beliefs.#” The queen would allow no deviation from the law of the
realm not only for political reasons but also because disobedience opened
up the prospect of disorder and, as we will see later, offended her
conscience. For this reason, her readiness to allow Catholics or Familists
to hold their own beliefs in secret was not extended to Anabaptists whose
defiance of secular authority was virtually an integral part of their
religion ; when prosecuted, these radicals were forced to recant their
‘ heretical opinions ’ or else face excommunication and execution as
‘ corrupt members ’ of the Christian community.##
While determination to uphold the royal supremacy underpinned
Elizabeth’s religious policy, it was by no means the only or main element
in her written statements about religion, and a number of her letters
disclose Protestant opinion on the key religious issues of the early
Reformation. She would have no truck with the pope, affirmed the
supremacy of Scripture and believed the Catholic mass to be superstitious
and unscriptural. As far as the pope was concerned, she not only
pronounced that he had usurped imperial power in England and
elsewhere, but also treated him as the source of superstition and wrong
teaching in the Christian Church. In she referred to him as a ‘ wolf ’
rather than a ‘ careful shepherd ’ of the Church ; nearly twenty years later,
she described Protestants as those who ‘ had come out of the darkness and
“) Elizabeth to Parker, ibid. , i. –.
“* Peter E. McCullough, Sermons at court : politics and religion in Elizabethan and Jacobean
preaching, Cambridge , –.
#! Elizabeth to the earl of Sussex, June , PRO, SP , fo. .
#” There were five Familists in the ranks of the yeomen of the guard by as well as
other members of the group within the royal household. In a parliamentary bill
designed to suppress the sect was stopped on the initiative of the queen or council :
Christopher Marsh, The Family of Love in English society –, Cambridge ,
## Cardwell, Documentary annals, i. –.
filth of Popery ’ ; and in the mid-eighties, she wrote to Count Edward of
Emden of ‘ the tyranny of the Pope, a common enemy to … all good
Christians ’.#$ Nevertheless, unlike so many other Protestants at her court,
she made no mention of t…
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