Creating Elizabeth’s Via Media
R. E. Foster reconsiders the origins of the Church Settlement of 1559.
According to the BBC’s millennium poll, Elizabeth I was our greatest monarch. Putting the case for Elizabeth, Michael Portillo made clear why her appeal endures: she sought unity and urged tolerance – in sharp contrast to her father and siblings. In no aspect of her rule was this seemingly more apparent than in her religious settlement, ‘Her Majesty’, in Francis Bacon’s phrase, ‘not liking to make windows into men’s hearts and secret thoughts’. In reality, however, the historical record is uncertain: the Queen’s thoughts are rarely revealed and the kaleidoscope of influences which contributed to the settlement are various and complex. Even the fundamental premise that her underlying objective was a compromise predicated upon tolerance can be questioned.