Act of Uniformity 1549: Wikis


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The Act of Uniformity 1549 (citation 2 & 3 Edward VI (reigned 1547 - 1553), c. 1) established The Book of Common Prayer (The Book of the Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church after the use of the Church of England) as the sole legal form of worship in England. Before 1549, the churches of England continued to use a slightly altered version of the Latin-language Missal.


Nature of the Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer was far from just an English-language translation of the Latin liturgical books; it was largely a new creation which in its text and its ceremonial directions reflected various Lutheran doctrinal influences. The first Acts (2 and 3 Edward VI, c. 1) were called An Act for Uniformity of Service and Administration of the Sacraments throughout the Realm. It deemed as follows:

and that all and singular ministers in any cathedral or parish church or other place within this realm of England, Wales, Calais, and the marches of the same, or other the king's dominions, shall, from and after the feast of Pentecost next coming, be bound to say and use the Matins, Evensong, celebration of the Lord's Supper, commonly called the Mass, 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, and none other or otherwise[1]

This section covers the following three points. England claimed many territories as its own with the phrase “or other of the king’s dominions”. And that there was plenty of time for England’s territories to become accustomed to these new laws giving them approximately one year to use The Book of Common Prayer to unify the country behind a single common practice of Faith. Then follow penalties against those of the clergy that should substitute any other form of service, or shall not use The Book of Common Prayer, or who shall preach or speak against it:

yet lest any obstinate person who willingly would disturb so godly order and quiet in his realm should not go unpunished, that it may also be ordained and enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if any manner of parson, vicar, or other whatsoever minister, that ought or should sing or say common prayer mentioned in the said book, or minister the sacraments, shall after the said feast of Pentecost next coming refuse to use the said common prayers, or to minister the sacraments in such cathedral or parish church or other places as he should use or minister the same, in such order and form as they be mentioned and set forth in the said book or shall use, wilfully and obstinately standing in the same, any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of Mass openly or privily, or Matins, Evensong, administration of the sacraments, or other open prayer that is mentioned and set forth in the said book; or shall preach, declare, or speak anything in the derogation or depraving of the said book, or anything therein contained, or of any part thereof; and shall be thereof lawfully convicted according to the laws of this realm, by verdict of twelve men, or by his own confession, or by the notorious evidence of the fact[2]


A first offence forfeited all lands and status:

- shall lose and forfeit to the king's highness, his heirs and successors, for his first offence, the profit of such one of his spiritual benefices or promotions as it shall please the king's highness to assign or appoint, coming and arising in one whole year next after his conviction; and also that the same person so convicted shall for the same offence suffer punishment by the space of six months, without bail or mainprize:[3]

This provided loss of children and all income; the profits of whatever type of business would be the King’s to give away. It was definitely a harsh punishment, but it showed how much the Crown wanted to unify its people. Imprisonment “without bail or mainprize”; meant one could not pay one's way out of prison, nor be given freedom until your acquittal or the completion of the sentence.

A second offence was dealt with more harshly:

and if any such person once convicted of any offence concerning the premises, shall after his first conviction again offend and be thereof in form aforesaid lawfully convicted, that then the same person shall for his second offence suffer imprisonment by the space of one whole year, and also shall therefore be deprived ipso facto of all his promotions; and that it shall be lawful to all patrons, donors, and grantees of all and singular the same spiritual promotions, to present to the same any other able clerk, in like manner and form as though the party so offending were dead;[3]

A second offence added a year to the previous six months in prison, loss of livelihood, and any promotions and position would be given to another as if the miscreant had died. A third offence was the harshest, punished by life in prison:

and that if any such person or persons, after he shall be twice convicted in form aforesaid, shall offend against any of the premises the third time, and shall be thereof in form aforesaid lawfully convicted, that then the person so offending and convicted the third time shall suffer imprisonment during his life.[4]

Nothing in this Act enforced attendance at public worship, but the provisions of the Act apply to every kind of public worship or “open prayer”, as it was called, which might take place. The Act itself defines “open prayer” as “that prayer which is for others to come unto or near, either in common churches or private chapels or oratories, commonly called the service of the Church.”

Preparation of the Act

The Act of Uniformity 1549 had been prepared by a committee chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. When this Bill was debated in the House of Lords in January 1549 it was very controversial. Of the eighteen bishops present at the final vote, ten voted in favor and eight against. Hostility to this Act and to the new prayer book led to rioting in some areas of the country, and a major uprising in Cornwall and the South West of England. They were resisted by Catholics on one side and Nonconformists on the other. Yet, Edward VI stated in his Act:

that it may be ordained and enacted by his majesty, with the assent of the Lords and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that all and singular person and persons that have offended concerning the premises, other than such person and persons as now be and remain in ward in the Tower of London, or in the Fleet, may be pardoned thereof;[2]

These words assured that it was not an Ex post facto law. Only those already convicted would remain prosecuted.

Under the English Reformation the different branches of Christianity were pulling people in different directions, causing riots and crimes, particularly the Prayer Book Rebellion. This Act was confirmed by 5 and 6 Edward VI, with the Act of Uniformity 1552, c. 1, repealed by Mary I, sess. 2, c. 2, revived by Elizabeth I, c. 2, and James I, c. 25, with Act of Uniformity 1559, and made perpetual so far as it relates to the Established Church of England by Anne V, c. 5, with the Act of Uniformity 1662. The Act of Uniformity 1549 was the first Act of its kind and was used to make religious worship across England and its territories consistent (i.e. uniform). The Book of Common Prayer defined a middle ground for Christian faith within England; the Act of Uniformity 1549 mandated that all English subjects move to that middle ground, so that they could put aside their differences.


  1. ^ Gee, Henry and Hardy, William J. Documents Illustrative of English Church History P.360 London: Macmillan and Co LTD 1896.
  2. ^ a b Gee, Henry and Hardy, William J. Documents Illustrative of English Church History P.360 London: Macmillan and Co LTD 1896.
  3. ^ a b Gee, Henry and Hardy, William J. Documents Illustrative of English Church History P.361 London: Macmillan and Co LTD 1896.
  4. ^ Gee, Henry and Hardy, William J. Documents Illustrative of English Church History P.363 London: Macmillan and Co LTD 1896.

See also


  • Williams, Perry The Later Tudors: England, 1574-1603 P.44-45 Great Britain: Oxford University Press 1995

External links



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