Building God’s ‘true church’: exile and the Church of England c. 1553–1566

Vetter, Yasmin (2023). Building God’s ‘true church’: exile and the Church of England c. 1553–1566. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis tells the story of the formation of early Elizabethan conformism during the years 1553 to 1566 and in so doing contributes significantly to the argument that the establishment of the early Elizabethan Church and its conformism started not with the Religious Settlement of 1559, but during the period of Marian exile. The thesis argues that, motivated primarily by their zeal for preventing the repetition of former sins (and punishments), foremost amongst which was their failure to reform the English Church sufficiently under previous monarchs, the returning exiles who accepted bishoprics in Elizabethan England did not blindly or uncritically ‘conform’ to Elizabethan church politics, as the historiographical term ‘conformist’ suggests. Rather, they took a difficult decision to compromise on some of their principles for the sake of serving and shaping the true church and maintaining their liberty to preach the gospel. By adopting this argument, this thesis proposes that we describe these individuals as ‘compromists’ rather than ‘conformists’.

The thesis proceeds by following a representative selection of the men who would become the first generation of Elizabethan bishops to move into and out of exile. As such it moves away from a disproportionate historiographical focus on the influence of Calvin’s Geneva to pay closer attention to those individuals who spent the majority of their exile in places such as Zurich and Strasbourg: the most important figures include Richard Cox of Ely, Edwin Sandys of Worcester, London and York, James Pilkington of Durham, Edmund Grindal of London, York and Canterbury, John Jewel of Salisbury, Robert Horn of Winchester and John Parkhurst of Norwich.

The thesis examines their connections to continental theologians, as well as their correspondence, commentaries and sermons. Through analysing their individual and connected stories it will show that the evolution of early Elizabethan ‘conformism’ was a long and complex process that required many compromises to be made. It will explore in detail the question of what motivated and influenced this group and hence will capture the multiplicity of factors that went into the decision-making process of becoming compromists. These included social, political and, especially, theological circumstances. The compromists’ decision-making process regarding things that would be considered indifferent and were acceptable to conform to was highly impacted by their zeal for building and edifying the true Church, their experience of exile and the religious persecution of Mary I, as well as by the long-lasting relationships they built with continental theologians such as Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli. The former exiles’/early bishops’ fear of God’s providence clearly dominated their willingness to compromise, because the consequences of non-conformity would have required disobeying a godly magistrate and the forfeiture of preaching and pastoral rights. All of these would have been considered grievous sins and could have led to further divine punishment on England; a repetition of their former Catholic-related nightmare in form of Mary Stuart and the destruction of their church.

In focusing on this first-generation and ‘non-radical’ group of the early Elizabethan bishops this thesis builds on and refines existing scholarship by figures such as Shagan, Oates and Lake who have focused more on the second generation of ‘moderate’ Elizabethan Protestants. This thesis will help us to better understand the origins and nature of early Elizabethan ‘conformism’/compromism and will show that compromise in matters of religion was a much more difficult and fraught process that developed over a longer period of time and a more complex series of events than has previously been appreciated.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of History
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Leibniz Institut für Europäische Geschichte
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BT Doctrinal Theology
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D901 Europe (General)
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain


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