We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

The ‘holy days’ of Queen Elizabeth I.

Mears, N. and Williamson, P. (2020) 'The ‘holy days’ of Queen Elizabeth I.', History., 105 (365). pp. 201-228.


The annual celebrations of the accession day and birthday of Queen Elizabeth I are a familiar subject in studies of her reign, yet their beginnings, status and purpose have remained uncertain. By examining revisions of the calendar of the Church of England published in the Book of Common Prayer from early in the reign, this article establishes the dates of the first recognition of these public anniversaries. It questions the weight that has been attached to the evidence for these occasions provided in churchwardens’ accounts, and challenges the conventional interpretations that accession day began and spread as wholly spontaneous, local and popular festivities, and expressed a straightforward patriotic ‘cult’ of the queen. While agreeing that they were not holidays, and explaining that they were not strictly ‘holy days’, it is argued that the two anniversaries began as and continued to be religious occasions, and are best understood in terms of the religious politics of the Elizabethan state. As other scholars have shown by careful exegesis of sermons addressed to the queen, ‘godly’ clergy persistently urged her to undertake further protestant reformation and firmer anti-catholic measures. With the anniversaries and in the forms of prayer for accession day, archbishops and bishops provided opportunities and texts both to sustain loyalty to the actual queen and to stimulate hopes of a queen who would more completely fulfil their understanding of her providential role.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This is the accepted version of the following article: Mears, N. & Williamson, P. (2020). The ‘holy days’ of Queen Elizabeth I. History 105(365): 201-228 which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.
Date accepted:17 November 2019
Date deposited:20 January 2020
Date of first online publication:16 April 2020
Date first made open access:16 April 2022

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar