Gloriana Day: thanksgiving for the mellow light of the 1559 Prayer Book

It is Gloriana Day.

In 1604 the Prayer Book Kalendar was revised to include the little-known St. Evurtius, commemorated on 7th September.  It marked the day on which Gloriana, Elizabeth I, had been born.  7th September, therefore, is Gloriana Day, a day to rejoice in the Elizabethan Settlement.

On this Gloriana Day, laudable Practice gives thanks for the Book of Common Prayer 1559.  

Our thanksgiving begins with recognition that it was Elizabeth who restored the Book of Common Prayer. The opening words of the 1559 Act of Uniformity remind us what would have been lost if Mary had remained on the throne and established a succession:

 Where at the death of our late sovereign lord King Edward VI there remained one uniform order of common service and prayer, and of the administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies in the Church of England, which was set forth in one book, intituled: The Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of Sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies in the Church of England; authorized by Act of Parliament holden in the fifth and sixth years of our said late sovereign lord King Edward VI, intituled: An Act for the uniformity of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments; the which was repealed and taken away by Act of Parliament in the first year of the reign of our late sovereign lady Queen Mary, to the great decay of the due honour of God, and discomfort to the professors of the truth of Christ's religion.

Elizabeth and her Settlement of religion secured the Book of Common Prayer, ensuring that this godly order shaped the prayer and piety of her realm:

... all and singular ministers in any cathedral or parish church, or other place within this realm of England, Wales, and the marches of the same, or other the queen's dominions, shall from and after the feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist next coming be bounden to say and use the Matins, Evensong, celebration of the Lord's Supper and administration of each of the sacraments, and all their common and open prayer, in such order and form as is mentioned in the said book, so authorized by Parliament in the said fifth and sixth years of the reign of King Edward VI.

While the tumultuous reign of Edward witnessed the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, it was Elizabeth's reign, and her Settlement, which established and secured the Prayer Book.  Without Gloriana and her Settlement, the Book of Common Prayer would be a mere historical curiosity rather than an "order of common service and prayer" which sustained and shaped the ecclesia Anglicana over centuries. 

This became evident in the decades following 1559. Eamon Duffy points to the example of a parish priest who championed Mary's restoration of the papal allegiance but who, conforming under Elizabeth, would come to describe the Book of Common Prayer as the "decent Rits of the Church of Christ". Judith Maltby notes "a generation past the Settlement of 1559" laity had clearly formed a significant "attachment" to the Prayer Book, with the records of church courts showing that "parishioners also demanded that their ministers not tamper with the set order of the Prayer Book".  And so, less than a century after Elizabeth's Settlement was introduced, the dark years of the Interregnum demonstrated how the Settlement in general and the Prayer Book in particular had - in the words of John Morrill - "earthed itself ... and sunk deep roots in popular culture". When Morrill describes the "spontaneity" which characterised the "restoration of the old Church" at Easter 1660, it is testimony to the success of Gloriana's Settlement and her Prayer Book.

Similarly today, in this third decade of the twenty-first century, when we hear and are moved by the words of the Prayer Book - 'we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep', 'that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life', 'Lighten our darkness', 'to whom all hearts be open, all desires known', 'We do not presume', 'We receive this Child into the Congregation of Christ's flock', 'mutual society, help, and comfort', 'in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life' - it is Gloriana's restoration of the Prayer Book, and the place given to it in her Settlement, which ensured that we might be amongst those nourished and nurtured by these words.

It was, as the 1559 Act of Uniformity made clear, the second Prayer Book of Edward that was restored, "with the alterations and additions therein added and appointed".  The "alterations and additions" were minor, the shape of the 1552 Prayer Book retained in both 1559 and in 1662.  Elizabeth's "alterations and additions", however, were not without significance.  

The Act of Uniformity tactfully mentioned "the form of the Litany altered and corrected". This primarily referred to the removal of the petition against the Bishop of Rome in the Litany of 1549 and 1552.  The removal reflected the concern evinced in Elizabeth's Injunctions at the outset of her reign:

because in all alterations, and specially in rites and ceremonies, there happen discords amongst the people, and thereupon slanderous words and railings, whereby charity, the knot of all Christian society, is loosed; the queen's majesty being most desirous of all other earthly things, that her people should live in charity both towards God and man, and therein abound in good works, wills and straitly commands all manner her subjects to forbear all vain and contentious disputations in matters of religion, and not to use in despite or rebuke of any person these convicious words, papist or papistical heretic, schismatic or sacramentary, or any suchlike words of reproach. 

Mindful that the ecclesia Anglicana, the realm, those who gathered in the parish church Sunday by Sunday, and Elizabeth herself and her chief advisors had until very recently accepted the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome (as MacCulloch notes of the Elizabethan Settlement, "It was planned and executed entirely by former Nicodemites") harsh, divisive language regarding the Pope in a petition in the Litany, "used upon Sondaies, Wednesdaies, and Fridayes", would not serve the cause of charity, "the knot of all Christian society".

As Hooker would later say of a gracious, generous approach which allowed Recusants to conform and receive the holy Sacrament in the ecclesia Anglicana, without imposing burdensome acts of discipline which "enter farther into mens hartes and to make a deeper search of theire consciences then any Law of God or reason of man enforceth", there should be "lenitie and all meekness" in encouraging the "feeble smoke of conformitie" (LEP V.68.9).

The Act of Uniformity also referred to another change: "two sentences only added in the delivery of the sacrament to the communicants". This, of course, was the addition of the 1549 words of administration in the holy Communion to those in 1552:

The bodie of our lord Jesu Christ, which was geven for the, preserve thy body and soule into everlastinge life: and take and eate this in remembraunce that Christ died for thee, feede on him in thine heart by faith, with thankesgevynge.

The 1549 words, a translation of the pre-Reformation formula, witnessed to the Reformation's reception of historic catholic truth that the faithful truly partake of Christ in the Supper.  Placed alongside the evocative 1552 words (and, yes, we should robustly defend and appreciate the 1552 words), they assured communicants of the rich eucharistic belief of the Catholic and Reformed ecclesia Anglicana. As Jewel would declare in his Apology:

We affirm that bread and wine are holy and heavenly mysteries of the body and blood of Christ, and that by them Christ Himself, being the true bread of eternal life, is so presently given unto us as that by faith we verily receive his body and his blood ... And in speaking thus, we mean not to abase the Lord's Supper, that it is but a cold ceremony only, and nothing to be wrought therein (as many falsely slander us we teach). For we affirm, that Christ doth truly and presently give His own self in His Sacraments ... in His Supper, that we may eat Him by faith and spirit, and may have everlasting life by His Cross and blood. And we say not, this is done slightly and coldly, but effectually and truly.

The addition to the words of administration in the holy Communion - what the Injunctions had termed "these holy mysteries, being the sacraments of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ" - also contributed to the peace of Church and realm by demonstrating that the rites and ceremonies of the Prayer Book did not deny the faithful the "great and endles comfort" (the Second Exhortation in the 1559 Holy Communion) of partaking of Christ's Body and Blood, "and dost assure us therby of thy favour and goodnes towarde us" (the post-Communion Prayer of Thanksgiving, 1559).

Two further alterations to 1552, not mentioned in the Act of Uniformity, similarly point to how the wounds of previous reigns were bound up in Elizabeth's Prayer Book.  The Black Rubric at the conclusion of the 1552 Communion Office was deleted. Its denial of "anye reall and essencial presence there beeyng of Christ's naturall fleshe and bloude" was too easily interpreted as undermining, if not rejecting, a true, sacramental partaking of Christ in the Supper (and thus significantly revised in 1662). It completely failed to convey the richness of Reformed eucharistic teaching, as seen in Cranmer's affirmation:

I have written in more than an hundred places, that we receive the selfsame body of Christ that was born of the Virgin Mary, that was crucified and buried, that rose again, ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

As with the addition of the 1549 sentence at the administration, the deletion of the Black Rubric offered assurance that Elizabeth's Church and Prayer Book maintained "these holy mysteries, being the sacraments of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ", the Sacrament which nurtured and sustained "charity, the knot of all Christian society".

The Ornaments Rubric similarly signalled the intention to avoid unnecessary, divisive confrontation.  Later 19th century disputes over the meaning of the Ornaments Rubric obscured the fact that its general affirmation of vested clergy at divine service was the fundamental point. As Parker's Advertisements of 1566 demonstrated, the retention of the surplice - and, in cathedral and collegiate churches - of the cope ensured that a seemly, decent order was maintained, holding together - as Cranmer had stated - "a reverence unto them for their antiquity" with a pruning of an "excessive multitude of Ceremonies". This was the outworking of the Ornaments Rubric, a determination that the aggressive and divisive demand for the abolition of 'popish' vestments - a sign of continuity and conformity for the peace of the ecclesia Anglicana - would be robustly rejected by the Elizabethan Settlement.  

The alterations and amendments made by Elizabeth to 1552 may seem minor.  The bulk of the text remained unchanged.  This itself, however, is suggestive of how the Settlement rejected the path of radical disruption.  1552 represented the settled will of those, in Church and State, who identified with the Reformed cause.  In such a context, a reversion to 1549 would have been disruptive, prone to misinterpretation, and likely to be a cause of further division, within the realm and beyond.  But the hard edges of 1552, the lack of modesty, reserve, and nuance at key points, needed revision and moderation to enable it to serve as a liturgy that would embody "the spiryte of truthe, unitye, and concorde ... that all they that do confesse thy holy name, may agree in the truthe of thy holy woorde, and lyve in unytye and godlye love". Such was Elizabeth's Prayer Book.

Eamon Duffy concludes The Voices of Morebath by suggesting that Elizabeth's Settlement offered "some preliminary gleams of the mellow light that plays over the church of George Herbert". Enchanting though it is as a description, it fails to convey the extent to which Herbert was a parson of the Elizabethan Settlement.  The church of George Herbert - the decent rites and ceremonies of the 1559 Prayer Book, the Royal Supremacy defending the ecclesia Anglicana against both puritan and papist, the parson in surplice, kneeling to receive the holy Communion, crossing the child at Christening, the moderate Reformed Catholic emphasis of the Articles of Religion, even the Rogationtide procession (restored by Elizabeth in her Injunctions) - was the church of Elizabeth. It is not merely preliminary gleams we see in Elizabeth's Church but, rather, that mellow light settling upon the ecclesia Anglicana, a mellow, peaceable light borne by the 1559 Prayer Book.


  1. Thank you so much for a wonderful article.

    1. Susannah, many thanks for your very kind comment. Brian.


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