Archbishop of Canterbury
Elizabeth came to the throne November 17th 1558. Her sister, Mary I, had died that morning only to be followed later in the day by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Pole. Mary was buried with full Catholic Rites at Westminster Abbey on December 14. At Christmas the new Queen instructed the Bishop of Carlisle—who was celebrating Christmas Mass in the Chapel Royal at Saint James—to eliminate the elevation of the Host and Chalice at the consecration. This was the first public sign that Elizabeth was planning to discontinue the Catholic restoration begun by Mary. The Bishop, Owen Oglethorpe, refused her order and elevated the Sacrament, and the Queen stormed out. The following month Elizabeth was crowned with the traditional Catholic ceremonial except that she once again instructed Bishop Oglethorpe—the only one of the English Bishops who would agree to officiate at the Coronation—not to elevate the Host and Chalice. Once again he did. Once again she stormed out. In April Parliament restored the Protestant Rites—with slight revisions to the 1552 Prayer book—and passed an act of Uniformity. The Bishops of England and Wales, with only the exception of Anthony Kitchin of Llandaff, refused to return to the Protestant liturgy and were deposed of their sees. Eamon Duffy, the most distinguished living historian of the English Reformation, said of Kitchen that he was a “timeserver who would doubtless have become a Hindu if required, provided he was allowed to hold on to the See of Llandaff.” It is important to read Kitchin correctly, however; he may have been without much spine; but he was a man of principle. He opposed the election of Mathew Parker as Archbishop of Canterbury and refused to participate in his consecration precisely because of Parker’s convinced Protestantism.
Matthew Parker seems to have been a “shirt-tail relative” of Thomas Cranmer. Like Cranmer he was a Cambridge man. And like Cranmer he was given in his Cambridge years (the 1520’s) to the new religious ideas coming out of Germany. He was ordained priest according to Catholic rites in 1527 and appointed a chaplain to Anne Boleyn. Before her execution, Anne asked him to take particular care of the infant Elizabeth. Despite his ties to Anne, Parker remained in the royal favor; in 1537 he was appointed a chaplain to Henry VIII and rewarded with a series of ecclesiastical benefices that guaranteed him a comfortable living. In the ecclesiastical politics of the court, his ties to Cranmer and friendship with Hugh Latimer put him strongly in the Reformed court and at enmity with Stephen Gardiner and others of the Orthodox faction. Upon the accession of Edward VI but even before clerical marriage was legalized by Parliament and Convocation (the assembly of Bishops), Parker married Margaret Harlestone from a comfortable Norfolk family.
In many ways Parker typified the new Anglican clergy. He was educated, sophisticated, even somewhat worldly. He led a comfortable domestic life with wife and children—and servants to care for them. He was a scholar and an intellectual; there was nothing of the pious priest about him. This new-style divine was a consecrated layman, intellectual and refined, more at home in the company of gentlemen than of pious souls.
Under Mary, of course, Parker lost it all. Being married—and principled enough not to have his wife “put away” as did many Marian returnees to the Catholic faith, Parker lost all his benefices and was severely reduced financially. Nevertheless the situation was never so bad that unlike many of co-religionists he felt no need to flee England and was able to live peacefully—if obscurely—through Mary’s reign.
The accession of Elizabeth favored him politically but it did take away his tranquility.
When the Bishops of England and Wales—excepting, of course, Andrew Kitchin—refused the Act of Uniformity restoring the Protestant liturgy and were deposed for so doing, Elizabeth was given the opportunity to build a new Church to her liking. Fourteen sees—all but Kitchin’s Llandaff—were declared vacant. Elizabeth could pick the entire bench of bishops to her liking. But first the See of Canterbury had to be filled as it was the Primate’s prerogative to consecrate the new bishops. Elizabeth was determined to have Parker—her mother’s favorite chaplain—as the new Archbishop. Parker wanted no part of it. And why should he? He foresaw the difficulties—more clearly than Elizabeth—in restoring Protestantism. As a moderate himself he could see the two wings—the Catholic and the Puritan—that would be fighting for control of the future of the Church in England and he did not want to be in the middle. Moreover, while the Queen was very attached to him she was not pleased that he was married. Elizabeth, never herself to marry, was not in favor of married clergy and she showed it by taking out her displeasure on clergy wives and Margaret Parker in particular. After a royal visit to the Parker’s at Lambeth, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Queen said to Lady Parker: “How should I address you: for Madam I may not call you; mistress I should be ashamed to call you.” What a bitch!