In 1583 John Whitgift, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced a document known as the Three Articles. This was an attempt to bring into line nonconformists who were unwilling to follow the Elizabethan Church. Whitgift had gained a reputation as a man who had no love of the Puritans even before his appointment by Elizabeth. He used his Three Articles in an attack on the Puritans – essentially trapping them by their answers. If they agreed to all three, they would be tied to the Church. If they disagreed with just one of the Three Articles, they were deprived of their living. To give an added clout to his work, the Court of High Commission adjudicated on any answers given. The Three Articles read as follows:


“That none be permitted to preach, read, catechise, minister the sacraments, or to execute any other ecclesiastical function unless he consent and subscribes to the Articles following:


  1. That her Majesty, under God, hath, and ought to have, the sovereignty and rule over all manner of persons born within her realms….either ecclesiastical or temporal, soever they be.
  2.  That the Book of Common Prayer, and of ordering bishops, priests and deacons, containeth in it nothing contrary to the word of God….and that he himself will use the form of the said book prescribed in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, and none other.
  3.  That he alloweth the book of Articles, agreed upon by the archbishops and bishops of both provinces, and the whole clergy in Convocation holden at London in the year of our Lord God 1562….and that he believeth all the Articles therein contained to be agreeable to the word of God.”


Lord Burghley saw the Three Articles as tantamount to entrapment and he wrote to Whitgift in an effort to get the Archbishop to tone them down. Burghley was also critical of the work of the Court of High Commission comparing it to the way that the Spanish Inquisition worked.


“I think the inquisitors of Spain use not so many questions to comprehends and trap their preys………….this kind of proceeding is too much savouring of the Roman inquisition.”


Burghley wanted Whitgift to hunt out the “most notorious offenders” but saw little value in questioning everyone thought to be a nonconformist. Whitgift made some changes to the wording of the Three Articles but it was only minimal and he continued his successful campaign against the Puritans armed with the articles and the full support of Elizabeth I.