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Religious Policies of Elizabeth I and Isabella I

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While the Elizabeth I of England based her policies about religion on tolerance and Isabella I of Spain based her’s on harshly enforcing uniformity with Catholic doctrines, both still used religion to resolve political issues and stop religious disputes from their splitting their countries.

Elizabeth I of England largely was tolerant of other religions. Elizabeth grew up with conflicting religions in her own family because her father Henry VIII had founded the Anglican Church in England while her older sister “Bloody Mary” had attempted to re-establish Catholicism as the state church in England. In contrast to her father and older sister, Elizabeth, while nominally an Anglican, was more interested in successfully ruling England than she was in religion. To ensure that England was not split by religious differences and war, Elizabeth tolerated religious minorities. Her institution of the Act of Toleration allowed non-Anglicans, such as Protestants, the right to worship as they wished in private, making most of them loyal to her. Similarly, Elizabeth’s reinstallation of the Act of Supremacy which made Elizabeth the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, shows that Elizabeth cared more about the stability of England rather than religion. She also instituted the Oath of Supremacy which made the people that wanted a high position swear their allegiance. This ensured that no one would rebel against her. In addition to these two Acts, Elizabeth also showed her tolerance and support of the rights of religious minorities by filling many key military and government positions with non-Anglicans. Garnering talents from diverse groups strengthened England militarily and commercially. The religious toleration of Elizabeth I helped contributed to help England become a world power.

In contrast, Isabella I of Spain showed little toleration of other religions besides her Catholicism. Isabella instituted the Reconquista, to acquire land in a battle against the Moors to rid Spain of Jews and Muslims. She later added to this by forcing all conversos and moriscos (converts from Judaism and Islam) who were rumored to still keep their original religions to flee Spain. This forced exile had extremely negative consequences for Spain as these groups had made up an immense percentage of the middle class. Even though Spain later brought in silver from the New World, the Spanish economy never really recovered from the middle class decreasing in size. When this expulsion failed to establish the religious conformity Isabella wanted, she allowed Torquemada to initiate the Inquisition to purge heretics and other non-believers. Isabella’s efforts to establish one religion were so harsh that they contributed to leading Spain down a path from which it would never recover.

For both Elizabeth I and Isabella religious policies were political tools. In England, Elizabeth responded to prior divisions by using tolerance to end religiously



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