To what extent was Protestantism accepted by the English population during Elizabeth I's Reign?

Essay by mike2jonesCollege, UndergraduateB-, December 2006

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By 1558 Elizabeth was the queen of England, a country previously ruled as a Catholic state. There is agreement amongst historians that Protestantism was accepted by a majority of the population by the time of Elizabeth's death. But one of the key arguments that occurred between A.G Dickens for example and more recent historians involves the support for Catholicism that existed when Elizabeth ascended to the throne. Dickens believed that the threat from Catholicism was already limited due to its restricted numbers; he states that a base for protestant support already existed which "Elizabeth built her new church upon". Whereas MacCulloch for example believes that a significant base of Protestants was non-existent .He also believes that the Catholics were more of a threat than Dickens and that they possessed the power to "Overturn Protestantism as the religion of England".

All historians agree that there was at least some Protestantism at the start of Elizabeth's reign.

A key disagreement between new and old historians occurs over the issue of how much Protestantism there already was. Dickens states, "At the moment of her accession the domestic situation was favourable to her Protestant design". By this he is implying that by the time of her accession England had a population that was prepared to greet Protestantism with open arms. Dickens comments that this is because of the treatment of Protestants during Mary's reign.

Eamon Duffy for instance suggests that Protestantism did not find a welcome response in the hearts of the people. He suggests, "the Reformation was merely a few eccentrics and some hopeless converts who had become Calvinists that embraced the English Reformation, but that the people as a whole remained Catholic".

He states, "The Protestant Reformation was, for the most part, an elitist and violent imposition upon a solidly Catholic England".