The Religion of the Shakespeare Family

Picture of Queen Elizabeth I

The Biography of William Shakespeare
  • Protestant or Catholic? What were the differences?
  • Influence of the monarch Queen Elizabeth I?
  • Why did the religions of people change?
  • Danger? Torture? Execution?
  • Interesting information about the family, life and times of William Shakespeare

The Religion of the Shakespeare Family


  • The 1500's! The Great Reformation! New Ideas! New Beliefs! New Religions!
  • Reigning Monarchs dictated the 'favoured' religion!
  • Failure to adhere to the 'favoured' religion could lead to great danger - Imprisonment! Torture! Execution!
  • Adhering to the 'wrong' religion brought risks to personal wealth, freedom and life
  • The Shakespeare and Arden family traditionally adhered to the 'old' Catholic religion
  • When the parents of William Shakespeare were married the Catholic Queen Mary ( Bloody Mary) ruled England (r.1553-1558). Mary believed passionately in the Catholic religion and persecuted Protestants who were burned alive for their beliefs ( hence Bloody Mary )
  • Queen Elizabeth I (r.1558-1603) succeeded her sister Mary and adhered to the Protestant religion and restored Protestantism as the official religion
  • There were many Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth I - many Catholics wanted to replace Elizabeth with her cousin Mary Queen of Scots
  • In 1583 Edward Arden, the head of the Catholic Arden Family was executed for his Catholic beliefs and for plotting against the life of the Queen. Edward Arden's son-in-law, John Somerville, was also arrested, tortured on the rack and died in the Tower of London for being supporters of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots
  • John Shakespeare, the Bard's father, was fined for not attending Protestant Church services
  • A document was found in 1750 in the rafters of the family home in Stratford-Upon-Avon and this “spiritual testament” believed to be written by John Shakespeare is a fervent declaration of the Catholic faith


  • Schools taught the official religion - but the teachers of William Shakespeare were Catholic. One of his teachers, Robert Dibdale was ordained a priest, and was martyred in 1586
  • It was dangerous to adhere to the old Catholic religion and the daughters of William Shakespeare attended the Protestant Church
  • The career of Shakespeare would have been seriously affected if he was believed to be a Catholic
  • Strict laws regulating the theater prohibited any explicitly religious or current political events from being represented on stage - but William Shakespeare makes repeated, sympathetic, references to Catholicism in his plays


In the early 1500's the people of England all practised the Roman Catholic religion. The practises of the Catholic religion were questioned during the Reformation and the beliefs of men such as the German Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) prompted a new religion called Protestantism...

  • The term 'Protestant' was adopted when supporters of Martin Luther formally protested against efforts to limit the spread of Luther's new ideas
  • So what were the differences between the Catholic and Protestant beliefs?


  • Catholics believed that Church Services and the Bible should be in Latin, as it had been for 1000 years
  • Protestants believed that Church Services and the Bible should be in the language of the people so that the ordinary people could understand them
  • Catholics believed that Priests were the link between God and the people and that the Pope was ordained by God. Priests were special and expected to devote their lives to God and remain unmarried and wear elaborate robes
  • Protestants believed that people could find God without a priest or a Pope and that Ministers were ordinary people who should lead normal lives and wear ordinary robes


  • Catholics believed that Priests and the Pope were able to forgive sins - at a price. Gifts, or indulgences, were given to the church
  • Protestants believed that only God could forgive sins


  • Catholics believed that Churches celebrate God and elaborately decorated with statues and shrines
  • Protestants believed that Churches should be plain allowing the congregation to concentrate on the sermons

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