The Convocation of 1563

J.C. Barry looks at how the Thirty-Nine Articles, defining the doctrine of the Church of England, were drawn up by a Convocation that met in London in the 16th century.

Foot hundred years ago, the Church of England held one of the most important synods in its history. During the early months of 1563—by the Old Style reckoning, in 1562—the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury met in London at the same time as the second Parliament of Elizabeth I. The Convocation of the Province of York also assembled, but “York would ever dance to the fife of Canterbury,” and it was in London that the outstanding issues were debated and the decisions were made.

In fact, three of the Northern Bishops—the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of Durham and Chester—joined the Southern Convocation and subscribed to the Thirty-Nine Articles. Thus this assembly, as far as the Upper House was concerned, had something of the character of a National Synod.

The Convocations had played no part in the religious settlement of 1559. The surviving Bishops had been Marian appointments and the Lower House, too, was overwhelmingly Catholic. Parliament had been the centre of the struggle to re-establish the Royal Supremacy and to re-introduce the Book of Common Prayer. The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity were the result of a compromise between Parliament and the Queen with her advisers. The Elizabethan Church, like the Henrician, was established by an alliance of the secular powers.

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