Religious problems in 1559

At the start of the 16th century everyone in Wales and England was Catholic. However, some scholars abroad were beginning to argue that the Catholic Church had become too wealthy, corrupt and had moved away from the Bible.

Martin Luther's protest in Germany against these issues started the Protestant Reformation which soon spread across Europe.

Wales and England did not begin to embrace Protestant ideas until the reign of Edward VI. His father, Henry VIII, had made himself Head of the Church in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon, but his Church had remained an English Catholic Church.

During Edward VI’s reign, England and Wales became more Protestant, with the Prayer Book and services in English. However, upon his death, Mary I returned the country completely to the Catholic faith, burning over 280 Protestants during her short reign.

Therefore when Elizabeth became Queen, both Protestants and Catholics were eager to see what religion she would follow and whether religious persecution would take place.

The Religious standpoint of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.Changes in religion 1509-1559

Today, many countries have religious tolerance, meaning that people can worship in whichever way they wish. However, things were very different in the 16th century. It was believed that if a country was to be united and free from civil war then all its people must believe in the same religion and belong to the same Church. Religious tolerance was therefore unthinkable.

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The greatest problem for a Protestant monarch, such as Elizabeth, would be if a Catholic’s loyalty to the Pope came above that to the Crown, especially when the Pope and Queen disagreed on an issue.

As such religion was one of the problems that Elizabeth had to deal with straight away. If Elizabeth, who had been raised a Protestant, forced the Protestant faith on Catholics, her chances of remaining Queen for a long time would be threatened, as well as the stability of the country.

She therefore aimed to create her own form of religion, known as the Religious Settlement, in which she hoped to satisfy the demands of both elements. The Settlement became known as the Via Media or 'middle way'.