Reinvention or Reaffirmation? Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Restoration Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer has been continually revised since its promulgation in 1549. As Brian Cummings’s recent edition of the 1549, 1559, and 1662 revisions aims to show, the Book of Common Prayer is not “a single unchanging artifact” and, in fact, has “one of the most complicated textual histories of any printed book anywhere in the world.”[1] Even after it reached its final form in 1662, the official text has been quietly revised (in relatively small ways) many times–most recently, in light of the accession of King Charles III. This has sometimes been given as a justification for the idea that we ought to expect a wholesale revision every generation. Ruth Meyers, for example, said, “[t]imes change” and continual revision has allowed us to “catch up with all that has happened since the last revision of the prayer book and prepare ourselves to step into the future in new ways.”[2] Yet not all revisions are alike. A closer look at the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Restoration revisions reveals not a story of continual reinvention but of continual return to a paradigm set in 1552.

The 1552 and the Tudors

The first edition of THE booke of the common prayer and administracion of the Sacramentes, and other rites and ceremonies of the Churche: after the vse of the Churche of England was promulgated by Parliament in the 1549 Act of Uniformity under Edward VI. It was likely always intended as a transitional step, easing a population still largely attached to medieval Latin liturgies into English liturgy and Reformed doctrine more fully realized in the second edition of 1552.[3] However, whether this is the case does not matter here; what matters presently is that the 1552 model is the one to which the Church of England repeatedly returned at subsequent opportunities for reinvention.

In 1553 Edward VI died and his half-sister Mary, fiercely loyal to Rome, acceded to the throne, cutting short the Edwardine Reformation. Queen Mary, her consort, King Philip of Spain, and her Primate, Cardinal Pole, sought to undo Edward’s reforms and return the Church of England to Roman obedience.[4] When she also succumbed to an untimely death in 1558, another daughter of Henry VIII acceded to the throne. Elizabeth I, daughter of the evangelical Anne Boleyn, was sure to revive the Act of Supremacy, again severing England from Papal allegiance; but just what sort of evangelical Church the new queen would promote was not at first clear. This was a moment of potential reinvention for the Church of England. In the end it would prove a far more defining moment for the future of the Church of England (and the international family of churches arising from it) than the Edwardine settlement because of the length, stability, and success of Elizabeth’s reign.

A still popular view holds that Elizabeth wanted to restore the 1549 Prayer Book, rather than the 1552. J. E. Neale asserted that Elizabeth in fact hoped to restore Henrician Catholicism but was thwarted by a well-organized proto-Puritan party in the House of Commons. Although Geoffrey Elton, Norman Jones, W. S. Hudson, and Andrew Pettegree have dismantled the evidence on which the hypothesis rests, it is still repeated, as in, for example, Christopher Haigh in English Reformations (1993).[5] Nevertheless, as Pettegree observed, “the evidence that the 1549 Prayer Book was even raised as a possibility in 1559–still less discussed–is remarkably flimsy.”[6] Elizabeth’s personal religious views, as MacCulloch put it, are “exceedingly difficult to fathom.”[7] But, although Her Majesty’s personal character did leave a permanent mark on the church she governed, her private beliefs and preferences are not ultimately determinative. The church was established by law not by whim. The 1559 Act of Uniformity required the exclusive use of the book

authorized by Parliament in the said fifth and sixth years of the reign of King Edward VI, with one alteration or addition of certain lessons to be used on every Sunday in the year, and the form of the Litany altered and corrected, and two sentences only added in the delivery of the sacrament to the communicants, and none other or otherwise.[8]

The language of this legislation reiterates several times that the book to be enforced was not a new one, rather the Act restores the 1552. The extent of the (authorized) revisions made is minimized.

Calvin Lane describes these changes as “far reaching theologically,”[9] and these revisions seem to point in a direction that is at least modestly conciliatory towards Rome. There was the omission from the Litany of the phrase “from the tyranny of the Bysshop of Rome and al hys detestable enormities.” And there was the addition of the 1549 formulae for the administration of the sacramental signs of bread and wine (“the body of our Lorde Jesus Christe whiche was geven for thee, preserve thy bodye and soule unto everlasting lyfe” and “The bloud of our Lorde Jesus Christe which was shed for thee, preserve thy bodye and soule unto everlastyng lyfe”–) to the formula of 1552 (“Take and eate this, in remembraunce that Christ dyed for thee, and feede on him in thy hearte by faythe, with thankesgeving” and “Drinke this in remembraunce that Christ’s bloude was shed for thee, and be thankefull”). Despite explicit prohibition of any other changes, the book as printed included a small number of other differences, including the omission of the declaration on kneeling (the so-called “black rubric”), a last-minute addition to the 1552 which clarified that kneeling when receiving communion was not intended as adoration of the sacramental bread and wine, and disavowed belief in the local presence of “Christ’s naturall fleshe and bloude” and any change in the “naturall substaunces” of the bread and wine.[10]

But in their context, there is little evidence that these alterations were calculated to conciliate those who longed for a continuation of the Marian settlement. The 1559 Act of Uniformity lays at the preceding queen’s feet “the great decay of the due honour of God, and discomfort to the professors of the truth of Christ’s religion.”[11] Those are hardly irenic notes. Nor did the Marian bishops receive it as such; only one–Anthony Kitchin of Llandaff–was willing to conform (and even he had limits, unwilling as he was to participate in the consecration of Matthew Parker). Moreover, the revisions did not provoke howling from the feisty evangelical exiles who had just returned home. Pettegree noted a total lack of controversy over the 1559 modification to the words of administration and its alignment with the 1549 Consensus Tigurinus, articulating an agreement between Calvin and Bullinger on the Reformed doctrine of the eucharist. The omission of the declaration on kneeling was likewise uncontroversial (even Cranmer had resisted its inclusion despite agreeing with its doctrine).[12] Both in the legislation and in general reception the 1559 Prayer Book was seen as a return to the last year of the Edwardine settlement (particularly by those who saw that as unsatisfactory).

So similar was the 1559 to the 1552 Prayer Book that at least one surviving copy continued to be used into Elizabeth’s reign. Though Queen Mary sought to destroy them, some survived; one rare survivor, now in the Boston Public Library, contains hand-written corrections to bring it (mostly) in line with the 1559 Act of Uniformity, suggesting its continued use.[13] References to the King were corrected to the Queen, and the reference to the Bishop of Rome in the Litany was crossed out. While frugality undoubtedly influenced this decision, the near identity of the 1559 and 1552 books made this possible.

The 1552 and James VI & I

In 1603, when King James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin Elizabeth as James I of England, it was the first regnal transition since 1559, and the first since 1509 that did not portend a significant religious change. Nevertheless the ambitious new king did not miss his chance to “settle” the English Church, which had become something of a Tudor tradition (as Patrick Collinson wryly noted).[14] At Hampton Court, James ordered a few revisions to the Prayer Book, but (like those of his predecessor) these quite modest revisions signaled continuity. The most substantial was an addition to the catechism of a section on the sacraments. This was met without fanfare or alarm. The catechism had long been printed in ABCs (primers on reading and writing) with supplemental questions on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. References to the Queen were, of course, updated to the King. For the first time prayers for the royal family were added to follow the prayer for the monarch. An explanatory sub-title is added regarding Confirmation as the “laying on of hands vpon children baptized, and able to render an account of their Faith, according to the Catechisme following.” But, the book does not draw attention to these modest modifications.

In the front of this 1604 Book of Common Prayer was printed the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity, which played down any difference.[15] This message was reinforced by a Royal Proclamation added after the Act. It affirmed, “that there was no cause why any change should have been at all in that which was most impugned, the Book of Common prayer … neither in the doctrine, which appeared to bee sincere, nor in the Forms and Rites, which were justified out of the practice of the Primitive Church.” But, nevertheless, as a generous concession, it was determined that “some small things might rather be explained then changed.” Characterizing the few revisions as explications downplays their significance. So similar, in fact, is the 1604 Prayer Book to the 1559 that it is often left off of lists of versions of the Book of Common Prayer; for example, Charles Wohlers’s widely used site lists only 1549, 1552, 1559, and 1662 as “the major revisions.” Here again was a moment of potential reinvention–as was hoped for by those pushing for more radical reforms along Swiss lines–but, just like Elizabeth, James reaffirmed the legacy of 1552.

During his reign a new, more complicated stance vis-a-vis the Prayer Book emerged that Peter Lake termed “avant-garde conformity” (a curious label since the avant-garde is by definition non-conformist). It is often said that this group–of which Lancelot Andrews and William Laud are the most well-known figures–wished to restore the 1549 (though the extent to which this is generally true is exaggerated).[16] If any of those in the Jacobean Church were inclined to make much of the differences between the 1552 Prayer Book and its successors, we would expect the “avante-garde” to do so. Instead, by and large–although they wanted rites performed with more ceremonial embellishment in more sumptuous settings–they defended the Prayer Book’s script, emphasized its continuity, and honored the legacy of 1552 as much as the Reformed Conformists.[17]

The 1552 and the Restoration

In 1660, when Charles II was crowned, use of the Book of Common Prayer had been illegal since 1645 (being replaced by the Directory for Public Worship). To an extent unknown since 1558, this was a moment of potential reinvention. Yet the nation longed instead for restoration. With the restored monarchy came the restored Prayer Book. Even before his arrival, parishes eager for the return of the King dusted off their old Prayer Books. Four new editions of the Jacobean book were printed before Archbishop Sheldon called commissioners to his London residence, Savoy Hospital, to consider possible revisions. While more radical proposals were considered, from John Cosin and William Sancroft’s “Durham Book” (which looked rather like the ill-fated Scottish Prayer Book of 1637) to Richard Baxter’s “Reformed Liturgy,” the book that was produced signaled continuity. To be sure, there are more differences between the 1662 and 1604 revisions than between either the 1604 or 1559 and their predecessors. Nevertheless, the 1662 was substantially a conservative revision decidedly based on the 1552.

As before, the book’s apparatus emphasizes its continuity. The 1559 Act of Uniformity was still at the beginning of the book. In some printings the 1662 Act of Uniformity follows; it explains that, following a review, the Convocation of Bishops and Clergy “have made some Alterations which they think fit to be inserted to the same; and some Additional Prayers to the said Book of Common-Prayer, to be used upon proper and emergent occasions.” A new Preface was added narrating the previous revisions by emphasizing the substantial continuity of the book since the Reformation:

[I]n the Reigns of several Princes of blessed memory since the Reformation, the Church, upon just and weighty considerations her thereunto moving, hath yielded to make such alterations in some particulars, as in their respective times were thought convenient: Yet so, as that the main Body and Essentials of it (as well in the chiefest materials, as in the frame and order thereof) have still continued the same unto this day, and do yet stand firm and unshaken.

No direct mention of the Jacobean revision is made, despite it being the base text for the revision.[18] Of itself, the Preface to the 1662 book says, “we have endeavoured to observe the like moderation, as we find to have been used in the like case in former times.” Convocation rejected any proposal that seemed to be “secretly striking at some established Doctrine, or laudable Practice of the Church of England, or indeed of the whole Catholick Church of Christ.” The revised book is presented as essentially a continuation of “the Book, as it stood before established by Law” because “we are fully persuaded … that, [it] doth not contain in it any thing contrary to the Word of God, or to sound Doctrine.”

Historians are apt to see this as propaganda–intentionally eliding substantial differences to maximize acceptance. While it is clear that the Preface contributes to a larger “return to normalcy” policy, does it hide a real doctrinal difference? Three changes serve as the basis for that claim. First, in the rubric before the absolution, “minister” was changed to “priest.” Second, the presider at Communion was now required to touch the bread and wine during what the rubric now explicitly called a prayer of consecration. And, third, a requirement was added that, if there were any remaining consecrated bread and wine, these were to be reverently consumed immediately after the liturgy without carrying any of it out for other use. These are likely the changes Richard Baxter had in mind when he called “the Common Prayer Book more grievous than before.”[19] But, like Robert Bosher, I find little basis for this claim.[20]

Though space will not permit consideration of each change, I will make five brief, general observations that undermine the case for intentional doctrinal change in 1662. First, these changes do not require different doctrine, even if it were possible for those whose beliefs tended Lutheran or Roman to welcome them. Second, the 1662’s re-insertion of the 1552 declaration on kneeling is inconsistent with a change in eucharistic doctrine. Third, the Church of England reaffirmed the 1571 Articles of Religion without modification and required subscription to them. Fourth, no one in the 1660s claimed that the church had new doctrines. Fifth, and perhaps most significantly, texts defending antebellum liturgy and doctrine were approvingly reprinted and referenced by post-Restoration ecclesiastical authorities, including, John Jewell’s Apology of the Church of England, Thomas Rogers’s The English Creede, Richard Hooker’s Lawes, and Anthony Sparrow’s Rationale.

Regardless of whether a subtle, covert shift in doctrine was intended, this much is clear: the book presents itself as a restoration. Rather than use the return of the King as an opportunity for self-reinvention, the Church of England reaffirmed continuity with the Reformation-era settlement. This is not to say that there was unanimity in interpreting that legacy.[21] But, competing views and identities were advanced through exposition rather than revision of the Prayer Book (and Articles).


It should be clear then that, at the key moments where the Church of England may have felt compelled to pursue radical revision in its prayer book, it in fact did the opposite. It prized restoration, and returned repeatedly to the 1552.

With this history in mind, it is surprising when we come to the twentieth century to read in the Report of The Standing Liturgical Commission to the 1967 General Convention of the Episcopal Church that “[The Prayer Book] has never been allowed to become out-dated.” The Report then explains that after the 1928 Prayer Book was authorized, a Standing Liturgical Commission was created because “it was understood and recognized that another revision would be needed in a generation or two.” Plainly, these are different assumptions than those operative in the Prayer Book revisions of 1559, 1604, and 1662. Until the twentieth century, the revisions of the Prayer Book in England and even in the United States emphasized continuity and stability. These liturgical virtues were overlooked in the revisionism of the last hundred years, but an increasing interest in historic liturgy suggests that absence has made the heart grow fonder.

Drew N. Keane teaches in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University. From 2012 to 2018, he served on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for the Episcopal Church and currently serves on the Liturgical Commission of the Diocese of Georgia. He is one of the editors of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition (IVP, 2021).

  1. Brian Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), xii-xiii.

  2. Ruth Meyers, “Why the Episcopal Church is Changing the Book of Common Prayer,” by Dani Gabriel, Sojourners, Aug. 6 2018,

  3. Colin Buchanan, What Did Cranmer Think He Was Doing? Grover Liturgical Study 7 (Nottingham: Grove Books, 1976), pp. 8, 15. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1996), 483, 504.

  4. It is interesting to wonder what kind of religious culture might have emerged had Mary I lived longer. Hers was not a continental-style counter-reformation. Lands confiscated from monasteries under Henry VIII and Edward VI remained in secular hands. Cardinal Pole, firm believer in justification by faith alone and leader of the Spirituali movement within Rome, barred Jesuits from Mary’s England.

  5. Roger Bowers presented a new argument for this assertion based on evidence of music composed for the chapel royal. “The Chapel Royal, the First Edwardian Prayer Book, and Elizabeth’s Settlement of Religion, 1559,” The Historical Journal 43, no. 2 (2000), 317–44, doi:10.1017/S0018246X99001107. However, the evidence on which Bowers’s case is built has been decisively dismantled by Diarmaid MacCulloch. “Putting the English Reformation on the Map: The Prothero Lecture.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 15 (2005), 75–95 (p. 88n),

  6. Andrew Pettegree, Marian Exiles: Six Studies (Hampshire, UK: Scholar Press, 1996), 133. See also MacCulloch, The Later Reformation in England 1547-1603 (New York: Macmillan, 1990), 29.

  7. MacCulloch, The Later Reformation, 28.

  8. Gee, H., and William J. H., ed., Documents Illustrative of English Church History (New York: Macmillan, 1896), 459.

  9. Calvin Lane, “Before Hooker: The Material Context of Elizabethan Prayer Book Worship,” Anglican and Episcopal History 74, no. 3 (2005), 325.

  10. In 1561 some more substantial revisions were made to the daily office lectionary. At Elizabeth’s instigation, Archbishop Matthew Parker reviewed and proposed revisions to the lectionary, which were made on the Queen’s authority, without Parliamentary consent.

  11. Gee and William, Documents Illustrative of English Church History, 458-9.

  12. Pettegree, Marian Exiles, 135-6.

  13. Church of England. The booke of common prayer, and adminystracion of the sacramentes, and other rytes, and ceremonies in the Churche of Englande. (London: Whitchurch, 1552). Urn:oclc:record:606979886. STC 16280.5. Benton Collection 1.4 FOLIO. The hand-written corrections are to the daily office, not Communion, perhaps suggesting domestic use.

  14. Patrick Collinson, “The Jacobean Religious Settlement: The Hampton Court Conference,” in Howard Tomlinson (ed.) Before the English Civil War: Essay on Early Stuart Politics and Government (London: Palgrave, 1983), 27.

  15. This may also have lent support for the legal basis for the king’s authorization of a revision without the consent of Parliament, as Colin Buchannan argues. “Parliament and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.” Ecclesiastical Law Journal 18, no. 1 (2016), 56.doi:10.1017/S0956618X15000836.

  16. Those sympathetic to or supportive of Laud’s ceremonial project and “Arminian” reading of the Articles cannot be simply equated with “the small coterie of ‘advanced’ Laudians in the episcopacy who desired a revision of the liturgy as represented by the Durham Book.” “Laudians Against the Durham Book,” Laudable Practice, April 9, 2020,

  17. On the Reformed Conformists, see Stephen Hampton, Grace and Conformity: The Reformed Conformist Tradition and the Early Stuart Church of England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021).

  18. Convocation made hand-written alterations to a copy of the Jacobean revision printed in 1636, which can be seen here in a digital scan of a facsimile of the same. From that a “fair copy” manuscript was prepared and annexed to the 1662 Act of Uniformity presented to and approved by the Parliament, which can be seen here in a scanned facsimile. For a review of the relationship between the Convocation Copy, Annexed Book, and Sealed Books, and the copy provided by William Sancroft to the privileged printers see here.

  19. Robert S. Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians 1649-1662 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951), 249.

  20. While I agree with Laudable Practice in “Laudians Against the Durham Book” that Bosher likely defines “Laudian” too narrowly; still, I do think Bosher is rightly baffled by Baxter’s charge against the 1662.

  21. On these theological disagreements see Stephen Hampton, Anti-Arminians: The Anglican Reformed Tradition from Charles II to George I (Oxford University Press, 2008).

*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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