DOI: 10.1093/ehr/cead215 ISSN: 0013-8266

‘A Wall of Defence unto this Realm’: William Cecil, Conformity and the Protestant State in Early Elizabethan England

Alexandra Gajda
  • History


This article reassesses conceptions of the religious conformity required of public magistrates in the 1560s through the prism of William Cecil’s schemes for reformation of the state. Scholars have argued that ‘the Crown’s’ aims in defining the conformity of subjects were ‘political’ rather than ‘evangelical’ and primarily focused on securing obedience. This article argues instead that leading Protestants, clerical and lay, viewed the creation of the Christian commonwealth as a joint enterprise of minister and magistrate. In private memoranda, Cecil insisted that the security of the polity was dependent on magistrates who possessed ‘inward’ Protestantism ‘of the hart’. Cecil’s earliest scheme for an ‘Instrument of Association’ binding the Protestant elite, was devised in this period, fuelled by his vision of the Protestant polity not as ‘monarchical republic’ of virtuous citizens, but a ‘confessional state’ governed by a network of officials bound by loyalty to Crown and church. The article concludes by analysing the Privy Council’s attempts to secure the closer conformity of the magistracy to the religious settlement by subscription. In November 1569, local officials across the realm were compelled to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity and to promise to take the eucharist on a regular basis, a sacramental requirement not required of officials by statute law until the Restoration. The aspiration of the Protestant regime to require stricter religious conformity of its public officials indicates that ‘conformity’ itself was a nebulous concept, which could be imposed on targeted groups at different times and places and through variant means.