The Strange Story of the Ornaments Rubric

Perhaps the strangest element of the strange story of the ornaments rubric is that the interpretation of this ambiguous rubric continues to excite such fierce debate among Anglicans today. The reason for this is that since the 1850s this rubric has become a frequent site for battles over Anglican identity.[1] So much ink (literal and digital) has already been spilled over the matter, that I hesitate to write anything about it. Nevertheless, the appearance of two recent pieces prompted me to enter the discussion. Paul Owen discussed the ornaments rubric briefly in his May 1 piece in Mere Orthodoxy and a subsequent very useful overview appeared at The Porcine. I aim to recount the strange story again in greater detail to clarify some points of confusion that seem to impede current conversations on the ornaments rubric and the early vestiarian controversy more broadly, which I hope will not only be interesting to the curious but helpful to the continuing dialogue concerning Anglican identity.

Vesture in the 1549 Prayer Book

The first Edwardine Prayer Book contains two rubrics on vesture. The first appears before the Order for the Lord’s Supper:

Upon the date and at the time appointed for the ministration of the holy Communion, the priest that shall execute the holy ministry, shall put upon him the vesture appointed for that ministration, that is to say: a white albe plain, with a vestment or cope. And where there be many priests, or deacons, there so many shall be ready to help the priest, in the ministracion, as shall be requisite: and shall have upon them likewise the vestures appointed for their ministry, that is to say, albes with tunicles.[2]

This rubric only tells us about vesture during Communion. The other rubric comes at the end of the book, “Certain notes for the more plain explication and decent ministration of things, contained in this book”:

In the saying or singing of Matins and Evensong, Baptising, and Burying, the minister, in parish churches and chapels annexed to the same, shall use a surplice. And in all cathedral churches and colleges, the archdeacons, deans, provosts, masters, prebendaries, and fellows, being graduates, may use in the choir, beside their surplices, such hoods as pertaineth to their several degrees, which they have taken in any university within this realm. But in all other places, every minister shall be at liberty to use any surplice or no. It is also seemly that graduates, when they do preach, should use such hoods as pertaineth to their several degrees.

And whensoever the bishop shall celebrate the holy Communion in the church, or execute any other public ministration, he shall have upon him, beside his rochet, a surplice or albe, and a cope or vestment, and also his pastoral staff in his hand, or else born or holden by his chaplain.

The “vestment” means (principally) the chasuble and (probably) also the amice, stole, and maniple, which were customarily worn with it. There are two distinctions between this instruction and the conventions of ecclessiastical vesture the year before: the alb is worn without apparels (or “plain”) and the cope is given as an alternative to the chasuble. It was not uncommon for apparels to include embroidered images that could become the objects of idolatry. The chasuble was the vestem sacerdotalem, the sacrificial garment received by priests in their ordinations (in the pre-Reformation rite). It represented the role of the priest in the mass, offering a sacrifice for the quick and the dead. The words of the reformed Communion liturgy of 1549, however, do not align with that understanding; indeed, they exclude it. Offering the cope as an alternative is a significant alteration, as the cope was not a uniquely sacerdotal garment, was not used for “offering the holy sacrifice of the mass,” and was not exclusive to priests. The cope was worn by deacons, those in minor orders, the boys of the choir, as well as laity, both men and women. This alternative signals a doctrinal shift, more clearly expressed in the words of the liturgy.

Vesture in the 1552 Prayer Book

Those attuned to the significance of allowing the cope as an alternative to the chasuble would not find the next steps taken surprising. The second Edwardine Prayer Book presses further down the same road of reform. The new rubric governing vesture (relocated to the second rubric before Morning Prayer) says,

And here is to be noted, that the minister at the time of the Communion and all other times in his ministration, shall use neither alb, vestment, nor cope: but being archbishop or bishop, he shall have and wear a rochet; and being a priest or deacon, he shall have and wear a surplice only.

This rubric eliminates not only the sacerdotal (that is, sacrificial, mediatorial) vestment, it eliminates a distinction between different services. In other words, it expresses the idea that the minister is not doing a categorically different kind of thing when presiding at the Communion than when baptizing or preaching or reading Morning and Evening Prayer, but in every case leading the common prayers and exhibiting the Word of God. Eliminating the chasuble signals the difference between the role of the presbyter as conceived in the Prayer Book and the role of the sacerdos in the old mass. He is a minister not a mediator. It is of a piece with the elimination of the word “altar” from the 1552.[3] The 1549 liturgy introduced the now familiar description of the passion as the “one oblation once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”; through changes to the structure, words, and appearance of the service, the 1552 Communion liturgy expressed this belief even more clearly.

How could such particular meaning be attached to a mere piece of clothing? It is perhaps difficult for contemporary readers to appreciate the meaning that early modern people attached to clothes. Not simply a matter of individual choice and aesthetics, dress indicated rank and role, it was a function of social order, and it was legally regulated. Only royalty, for instance, could wear purple silk. So interested in the regulation of apparel that Edward VI drafted a bill in his own hand, which reiterated the laws passed in his father’s time.[4] One of the principal worries about stage-plays, was that players (whose social status was already ambiguous) wore garments to which they had no right. While we still use clothes as a form of expression, for early modern people clothes communicated meaning to an extent that was much more particular and socially-regulated.

Despite the elimination of the chasuble, controversy soon emerged. Bishop-elect John Hooper (who had fled to Zurich during Henry’s reign, where he became friends with Heinrich Bullinger and Martin Bucer) refused to wear the surplice and cope required for his consecration. It is at this point the key concept of adiaphora (indifferent to salvation) entered into the English vestiarian controversy. The strong association between mass vestments and sacrifice was precisely why it was not regarded as adiaphora. The surplice and cope had no such association.

At first Hooper accepted the proposition that the surplice and cope were indifferent, reasoning that if they were so, they could safely be omitted. Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, countered that in matters indifferent the divinely-anointed sovereign, not the individual, has authority to decide for the sake of civil order.[5] Hooper ought, therefore, to surrender his private judgement to lawful authority for the public good. Cranmer agreed. Hooper shifted ground: the surplice and cope were not indifferent, he replied, if they mislead people into believing that the minister is a mediator who offers propitiatory sacrifices for their salvation, then they were repugnant to the gospel and imperiled souls.[6] The reason for the rejection of the chasuble now became an argument against the surplice and cope, which had hitherto had no association with the mass. Hooper was arrested for his recalcitrance. In his confinement, Bullinger, Bucer, and John Calvin all wrote to urge him to submit; Vermigli and Cranmer visited him to the same end.[7] Ultimately Hooper relented, but the terms were set for a continuing conflict.

The Marian Period

When Edward VI died on 6 July 1553, the crown passed to his Catholic half-sister, Mary.

With Mary I returned the Latin liturgy, crosses, saints’ shrines, altars, and mass vestments. Her husband, the Habsburg prince, Philip of Spain, negotiated with Parliament for the repeal of all the religious laws passed during Edward’s reign. Copies of the Edwardine Prayer Books were ordered to be burned and most were. Heresy laws were revived. In 1555 Edwardine bishops Thomas Cranmer, John Hooper, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer were all burnt at the stake. Some committed Protestants outwardly conformed to the new regime; some continued to use the Prayer Book in secret; some fled to Protestant countries on the continent. Among this latter group, the Marian exiles, some retained the use of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer — for example, the communities in Strasbourg and Zurich — while others, particularly those influenced by John Knox, abandoned the Prayer Book as insufficiently reformed.

A controversy erupted in the English congregation at Frankfurt between the Knoxians and the pro-Prayer Book Coxians (after Richard Cox, who led the defense of the Prayer Book), with the Prayer Book party eventually ousting Knox.[8] Interestingly, a letter from Cox, Sandys, Jewel, Grindal, and Horne (leaders of the Frankfurt community all elevated to bishoprics under Elizabeth) to Calvin reveals that, despite their devotion to the Prayer Book, they had abandoned some adiaphora that had become a stumbling block to many, including the surplice. The letter explains, “not as being impure and papistical” but “in their own nature indifferent, and either ordained or allowed by godly fathers for the edification of our people” nevertheless, they “chose rather to lay them aside than to offend the minds or alienate the affections of the brethren.”[9] In exile, Cox, Sandys, Jewel, Grindal, and Horne all set aside the surplice as indifferent; later, as prelates under Elizabeth, they enforced the surplice on the same grounds.

The Elizabethan Settlement

When Mary I died on 7 November 1588 her half-sister Elizabeth became Queen. There are three passages in the 1559 Act of Uniformity relevant to ecclessiastical vesture. It restores the Prayer Book “authorized by Parliament in the said fifth and sixth years of the reign of King Edward VI” (that is, the 1552),

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.

Three specific revisions of the book are identified; the 1552 rubric about vesture (quoted above) is not among them. The Act then stipulates that any minister who

refuse[s] to use the said common prayers… in such order and form as they be mentioned and set forth in the said book, or shall wilfully…use any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of celebrating of the Lord’s Supper, openly or privily, or Matins, Evensong, administration of the sacraments, or other open prayers, than is mentioned and set forth in the said book…shall be thereof lawfully convicted, according to the laws of this realm… shall lose and forfeit to the queen’s highness… for his first offence, the profit of all his spiritual benefices or promotions coming or arising in one whole year next after his conviction; and also that the person so convicted shall for the same offence suffer imprisonment by the space of six months, without bail or mainprize.

These passages seem to make wearing the mass vestments that are explicitly proscribed by the 1552 Prayer Book illegal. Finally, there is a proviso concerning ornaments, “located clumsily at [the end of the Act]” Roger Bowers notes, “and looking strongly like a late insertion”[10]

Provided always, and be it enacted, that such ornaments of the church, and of the ministers thereof, shall be retained and be in use, as was in the Church of England, by authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI, until other order shall be therein taken by the authority of the queen’s majesty, with the advice of her commissioners appointed and authorized, under the great seal of England, for causes ecclesiastical, or of the metropolitan of this realm.

What does this mean? Bowers says “this duly required the use by the priest of the dress of 1549”[11] Calvin Lane, however, says it “implied a return to the ornaments of the medieval church, specifically, Henrican Catholic vestments.”[12] The second year of his reign ended and the third began on 27 January 1549. But, the 1549 Act of Uniformity, which authorized the first Book of Common Prayer, was passed on 21 January 1549, within the second year. But, the Book was not required to be used until June, in the third year. So, it is unclear precisely what was meant by the second year. Nevertheless, it seems to require (or at least allow) ministers to wear (some or all of) the old mass vestments for the Lord’s Supper.

However, if the proviso does mean that the old mass vestments were to be used (or, at least, were permitted) for the Communion service, the proviso at the end of the Act contradicts the earlier part (quoted above). Perhaps it was a last-minute change. Perhaps it was added in an attempt to win over the Marian bishops in the House of Lords, as Norman Jones argued.[13] Perhaps it expressed Elizabeth’s preference and aimed to sneak back in the mass vestments. It is a popular theory among many Anglicans that Elizabeth I intended to restore the first Edwardine Prayer Book of 1549, rather than the 1552.[14] Nevertheless, as Andrew Pettegree has pointed out, “the evidence that the 1549 Prayer Book was even raised as a possibility in 1559 — still less discussed — is remarkably flimsy.”[15] The Queen’s personal religious views, as Diarmaid MacCulloch notes, are “exceedingly difficult to fathom,” but there is no concrete evidence of a wish to restore the 1549 Prayer Book.[16]

Tomlinson argued that this is a misinterpretation. Pointing out that the proviso does not mention either “the minister” or “the times of ministration,” he maintained that it

had the much more prosaic object of reserving for the Queen the goods which, being no longer required by law, would have been wasted or embezzled, as former experience in the days of King Edward had amply demonstrated.[17]

He further notes the peculiarity of the phrase “be in use,” observing that it need not mean that these items were to be used in the services, but simply kept rather than sold off. He provides a number of examples of how such ornaments were recycled by parishes; for example, in 1590, Archbishop Piers instructed the churchwardens of St. Denis’ in York that the old copes and vestments belonging to the parish “be converted to the use of the Church,” after which the fabrics were used to make “surplices, table-covers, font-covers… table-carpets and pulpit-cloths.”[18] This seems at least a possible reading. It also aligns well with what Bishop Edwin Sandys (one of the Marian exiles who signed the letter that Calvin quoted above) wrote in a letter to Archbishop Parker concerning this proviso a couple of days after the Act was passed. Sandys wrote,

The Parliament draweth towards an end. The last book of service is gone through with a proviso to retain the ornaments which were used in the first and second year of King Edward, until it please the Queen to take other order for them. Our gloss upon this text is that we shall not be forced to use them, but that others in the meantime shall not convey them away, but that they may remain for the Queen.[19]

Of course, there is another way to read this statement. Wenig interprets it to mean that Sandys sought to reassure Parker that the Queen would not force them to use the sacerdotal vestment despite what the proviso says. If that’s the case, Sandys’ gloss was not an explanation of the original intent of the proviso, but a creative re-interpretation intended to calm the fears of committed Protestants.

After the Act of Uniformity was passed, a last-minute change was made to the printed copies of the 1559 Prayer Book. The rubric on ministerial vesture from the 1552 Prayer Book was deleted and the following was put in its place:

And here is to be noted, that the Minister at the time of the communion, and at all other times in his ministration, shall use such ornaments in the church, as were in use by authority of parliament in the second year of the reign of king Edward the VI according to the Act of parliament set in the beginning of this book.

This change, the 1559 ornaments rubric, presents a puzzle. Who added it? Wenig says it appears to have been added by “Elizabeth and some of her closest advisors on the Privy Council.”[20] Buchanan says, “the printers (or some authority with direct access to them)” inserted the new rubric in order to make the rubric consistent with the language of the Act of Uniformity.[21]

Lane says that this rubric simply repeats the proviso from the end of the Act, though, in fact, the language of the two do not entirely match.[22] They differ significantly: the proviso does not mention ministers nor times of ministration, while the rubric does. The proviso includes a qualification — until further order be taken — but the rubric does not.

Just as we do not have any concrete evidence regarding who (or by whose authority) the rubric was inserted, so too we lack evidence concerning who drafted the language. Both of these facts complicate the task of interpretation. Nevertheless, the rubric does point to the Act of Uniformity, indicating that it intends to do no more than reiterate the proviso at the end of the Act of Uniformity (which was required to be printed within the Prayer Book). Given that, perhaps the difference in the language of the rubric simply indicates hasty drafting. On the other hand, perhaps it was drafted by someone who knew what the ambiguous proviso really meant. To add to the confusion, because the Act specifies the ways in which Elizabeth’s Prayer Book is to differ from the second Prayer Book of King Edward and a change to the latter’s rubric about ministerial vesture is not among the changes listed, the rubric was, strictly speaking, illicit.[23]

It appears that the 1559 ornaments rubric is a poor summary of the ornaments proviso in the Act of Uniformity added just before printing. But, since the meaning of the proviso to which the rubric points is itself difficult to determine with certainty, the best means of interpretation is to look at how it was enforced.

The Royal Injunctions of 1559 are the first such instrument of enforcement, providing clarification on questions not elaborated on in either the Act of Uniformity nor the newly-printed Prayer Book. The Injunctions provide a much fuller directive specifically on clerical vesture (rather than ecclessiastical ornaments more generally):

XXX. Item, her majesty being desirous to have the prelacy and clergy of this realm to be had as well in outward reverence, as otherwise regarded for the worthiness of their ministries, and thinking it necessary to have them known to the people in all places and assemblies, both in the church and without, and thereby to receive the honour and estimation due to the special messengers and ministers of Almighty God, wills and commands that all archbishops and bishops, and all other that be called or admitted to preaching or ministry of the sacraments, or that be admitted into any vocation ecclesiastical, or into any society of learning in either of the universities, or elsewhere, shall use and wear such seemly habits, garments, and such square caps, as were most commonly and orderly received in the latter year of the reign of King Edward VI; not thereby meaning to attribute any holiness or special worthiness to the said garments, but as St. Paul writeth: Omnia decenter et secundum ordinem fiant.[24]

If the proviso means ministers ought to wear the sacerdotal vestments of the second year of Edward VI, then the Injunctions flatly contradict the Act of Uniformity.[25] It also orders

XLVII. Item, that the churchwardens of every parish shall deliver unto our visitors the inventories of vestments, copes, and other ornaments, plate, books, and specially of grails, couchers, legends, processionals, manuals, hymnals, portasses, and such like appertaining to their church.

If the gloss of the proviso offered by Sandys is a fair reading of it, then this injunction (rather than XXX) corresponds to it. Royal Commissioners inventoried the ornaments the Queen ordered parishes to keep. It is certain that the old “legends, processionals, [and] manuals” were not used for services, but where the old vestments?

In Archbishop Parker’s 1563 Visitation, he asks whether “ministers do use in the time of the celebration of divine service to wear a surplice… and do use all rites and orders prescribed in the book of Common prayer, &c., and none other.”[26] Other Visitation Articles inquire about the surplice as well, but none about the chasuble. If the chasuble was legally required, where is the evidence of any attempt to enforce it?

In a 1560 letter Bishop Sandys wrote to Vermigli that only the cope remains of the “popish vestments” and he hoped that it would soon be done away with.[27] In 1562, Bishop Jewel (another of the Marian exiles) wrote to Vermigli complaining that the surplice was still required.[28] It is difficult to imagine that either of these prelates — eager for further reform — would have failed to list among their woes a law requiring (or at least permitting) use of the sacerdotal vesture, the chasuble, for the administration of the Lord’s Supper if there was one?

Patrick Collinson thought that the ornaments rubric required mass vestments, but that it was “virtually a dead letter”[29] and that “the bishops made an informal and authorized decision” to set a different standard — the surplice and the cope.[30] From 1559 to at least 1565, some of the bishops in fact did not enforce the surplice at all (much less the cope). Grindal was particularly noted for his laxity in enforcing the surplice in London. Bentham of Coventry and Lichfield urged only that it be worn “sometimes.”[31] In the Convocation of 1562-63 liturgical reform eliminating the surplice and cope, and requiring only the preaching gown was defeated by one vote.[32]

In 1565 the Queen brought the reluctant bishops to heel. She wrote to Parker of her serious concerns regarding the “diversity of opinions and specially in the external, decent, and lawful rites and ceremonies to be used in the churches” and her impatience with the bishops for their negligence in enforcing “order and uniformity in all the external rites and ceremonies.”[33] Bishops who would not enforce uniformity would be reported to the Queen. Regardless of the original intent of the Act of Uniformity concerning mass vestments this letter tells us one of two things. Either the Queen thought the Act required the surplice for all services and not the chasuble for Communion or that by 1565 she had given up on attempting to enforce the chasuble for Communion because enforcing the surplice was difficult enough. No bishop was reported for not enforcing the chasuble — either the Queen never intended to require it or had given up on it.

In 1566 Parker published the oddly-named Advertisements, which provide even clearer instructions concerning ecclessiastical vesture:

Item, in the ministration of the Holy Communion in cathedral and collegiate churches, the principal minister shall use a cope with gospeller and epistoler agreeably; and at all other prayers to be said at that Communion Table, to use no copes but surplices.

Item, that the dean and prebendaries wear a surplice with a silk hood in the choir; and when they preach in the cathedral or collegiate church, to wear their hood.

Item, that every minister saying any public prayers, or ministering the sacraments or other rites of the Church, shall wear a comely surplice with sleeves, to be provided at the charges of the parish; and that the parish provide a decent table standing on a frame for the Communion Table.

As Lane puts it, Parker’s Advertisements “sealed” the “standard philosophy regarding the use of ornaments.”[34] By requiring presider, gospeller, and epistler to wear surplice and cope for Communion in cathedrals and colleges, the standard articulated in the Injunctions was slightly raised, supplying a grandeur to cathedrals and college vesture suited to their grand edifices.

Far from quenching the controversy, this stoked the flames. Old bishop Miles Coverdale, who had participated in Parker’s consecration wearing his black gown, resigned his living at St. Magnus (against the urging of his old friend Bullinger) rather than conform.[35] In 1572 the Admonition to Parliament was published, marking the beginning of an organized grass-roots opposition. In 1574 Thomas Cartwright attacked John Whitgift’s Answer to the Admonition, saying “we do worthily reject that massing Levitical apparel.” Whitgift responded, “Neither do we retain the ‘massing Levitical apparel,’ but that apparel only which Bullinger himself alloweth of in divers epistles written of purpose touching these matters.”[36] Bullinger wrote several letters to England explaining that, while the mass vestment ought to be rejected, there should be no trouble about the surplice. Whitgift reiterated the case: “these vestures have a decent and comley use, and be referred to order.”[37]

The 1566 Advertisements (though lacking statutory or royal authority) established a definitive standard, which, following the Hampton Court Conference, was incorporated into the 1604 Canons promulgated by King James, which also adds the tippet for clergy who are not university graduates. The 1604 Canons continued as the official standard in the Church of England until 1964 (for Canterbury) and 1969 (for York) when they were replaced with a revised system of canon law.

The Restoration Book

In 1660, when Charles II assumed the throne, the ante bellum religious settlement was immediately reinstituted on the grounds that it had not been legally abolished. The King ordered the 1604 Canons republished. Ordinaries expected every church to not only own a copy of the Canons but to read them publicly once each year.[38]

The ornaments rubric was briefly discussed at the Savoy Conference. Presbyterian representatives recommended deleting it, noting it seemed to bring back the vestments forbidden by the 1552 Prayer Book.[39] The objection was brushed aside. There are two possible reasons for this: either, the bishops did wish to bring back the sacrificial vestments, or — the much more likely explanation — they believed that by leaving the rubric alone they were restoring the status quo ante bellum.

Lord Chancellor Hyde unsuccessfully sought to introduce into the Act of Uniformity, a proviso that would allow clergy to forgo the surplice and sign of the cross in baptism in order to increase the number of clergy willing to embrace the settlement.[40] If members of parliament thought the restored settlement required ministers to wear mass vestments at the Lord’s Supper, that would most certainly have been included within this proposed exception, as it would have excited far more opposition than the surplice.

In the revised Prayer Book of 1662, the language of the ornaments rubric was tightened and the reference to the Act of Uniformity deleted:

And here is to be noted, that such Ornaments of the Church, and of the Ministers thereof, at all Times of their Ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the Authority of Parliament, in the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth.

There are several reasons the bishops and parliament could not have thought the ornaments to be “retained” included alb, amice, stole, chasuble, and maniple. First, these items had long since been destroyed (or dismantled and repurposed); they would have needed to be newly obtained, not retained. Second, that interpretation contradicts the 1604 Canons (the authority of which was recognized in the newly revised Prayer Book of 1662). Third, and most conclusively, episcopal visitation articles tell us precisely what those bishops who prepared the 1662 thought regarding ministerial dress.

The aged William Juxon, who became Archbishop of Canterbury at the Restoration, inquired in his 1663 Visitation Articles,

Doth your Parson, Vicar, or Curate, saying the public prayers, ministering Sacraments, and other Rites of the Church, wear a decent Surplice with a hood (if he be a graduate) agreeable to his degree in the University?”[41]

Accepted Frewen, Archbishop of York and chairman of the Savoy Conference, in his 1662 visitation, asked

Have you… a decent Surplice, one or more, for your Parson, Vicar, Curate, or Lecturer, to wear in the time of public ministration?[42]

Matthew Wren, Bishop of Ely, a vigorous enforcer of conformity, used this same query in his visitation both before the civil war and after the Restoration,

Doth your minister and curate, at all times… in administering the Holy Sacraments… and all other offices of the Church, duly observe the orders and rites prescribed, without omission, alteration, or addition of anything? And doth he, in performing all and every of these, wear the surplice duly, and never omit the wearing of the same, nor of his hood, if he be a graduate?[43]

John Cosin, who had a great interest in the history of the Prayer Book, when visiting the churches of Durham, inquired,

Have you a large and decent surplice (one or more) for the minister to wear at all times of his public ministration in the Church? Have you… a hood or tippet for the minister to wear over his surplice, if he be a graduate? Doth he always at the reading or celebrating any divine office in your church or chapel, constantly wear the surplice, and other of his ecclesiastical habit according to his degree? And doth he never omit it?[44]

John Hacket, Bishop of Lichfield, who, during the interregnum had refused to stop using the Prayer Book at gun-point, asks in his 1662 Visitation,

Hath he read the Book of Common Prayer as it is enjoined by the late Act of Uniformity… and did, and doth he, wear the surplice while he performed that office [i.e., Communion] and other offices mentioned in that Common Prayer Book?[45]

While we do not now have the visitation articles from all the Restoration bishops, we do have most of them, and all those we have indicate that the surplice is to be used for all services. Archbishop Sheldon, who succeeded Juxon in 1663, in his 1670 “Letter concerning the King’s Directions to the Clergy” wrote

In their churches they [i.e., the clergy] do decently and solemnly perform the Divine Service by reading the prayers of the Church as they are appointed and ordered in and by the Book of Common Prayer, without addition to or diminishing from the same or varying either in substance or ceremony from the order and method, which by the said book is set down… and that in the time of such their officiating, they ever make use of, and wear their priestly habit, the surplice and hood.[46]

The unanimous clarity of episcopal visitations — the means for enforcing the settlement — dissolves the ambiguity presented by restoring both the ornaments rubric and the 1604 Canons.


I draw this strange story to a close with a few conclusions. Interpreting what the ornaments proviso in the Act of Uniformity and the ornaments rubric in the 1559 Book of Common Prayer both originally meant presents a great number of difficulties; however, the enforcement of the settlement presents a clear, consistent picture. If the Queen intended to enforce use of the chasuble at the Lord’s Supper, she gave up on the aspiration quite quickly and without a fight. The 1559 Injunctions, visitation articles, and the 1566 Advertisements all enforce the surplice, while the latter adds to these the cope (for cathedrals and colleges) and hood (for graduates) or tippet (for non graduates). The 1604 Canons reiterate that standard.

By 1662 it was assumed that the Canons and Prayer Book were in harmony with each other. There were very few people who thought that the ornaments rubric might imply a restoration of the vesture prescribed by the first Edwardine Prayer Book (which, incidentally, it does not seem anyone involved in the Savoy Conference had actually seen). As we saw, the Restoration bishops were unanimous in their enforcement of the surplice and hood or tippet.

The chasuble was rejected not simply because it had been used by Roman Catholics — it was not simply guilty by association — but because it expressed a sacerdotal understanding of the presbyterate and of the Lord’s Supper. The surplice, cope, and hood, by contrast, were neutral. Although they were worn before the Reformation, they were not distinctively, exclusively mass vestments; the alb, chasuble, and tunicles, by contrast, were. A surplice and a cope could be worn by any clerk (in holy orders or not) and any graduate was entitled to wear a hood. These garments simply expressed office, role, and qualification.

Those who rejected (or reluctantly conformed to) the surplice feared any association with Roman practices was enough to suggest the sacerdotal system, “the Levitical priesthood” as Laurence Humphrey and Thomas Sampson wrote to their old friend Bullinger in 1566. The leader of the church in Zurich replied:

[I]t is not yet proved that the pope introduced a distinction of habits into the church; so far from it, that it is clear that such distinction is long anterior to popery. Nor do I see why it should be unlawful to use, in common with the papists, a vestment not superstitious, but pertaining to civil regulation and good order.[47]

The letter further argues there can be no objection to clerical dress appointed only for “decency, and comeliness of appearance, or dignity and order”[48]

Opposition to the surplice was not opposition to official dress, to the use of clothing to express hierarchical relationships. Early modern England was a world in which clothing was not merely a matter of self-expression. Clothes expressed role and status; laws regulated what an individual could wear. Not until the Quakers emerged in the Interregnum did a concerted opposition to hierarchy and social distinction through clothing appear. The vestiarian controversy was not about that at all. It was not a debate for and against official dress, but a debate about what kind of dress should distinguish ministers of the Gospel. Humphrey, Sampson, and old Coverdale wanted the ministers in preaching gowns and hoods. Jewell and Grindal did as well, but they accepted the right of the monarch to rule on adiaphora. Bullinger argued that the surplice expressed nothing more than “decency, and comeliness of appearance, or dignity and order” precisely because all sides embraced those values.

It is sometimes claimed that the Reformed position implies a rejection of “comeliness of appearance” altogether. That is decidedly not the case. Reformed Protestants (on all sides of the vestiarian controversy) rejected and wished to guard against sacerdotalism and idolatry, not beauty, dignity, and order. They disagreed over how the principle applied in the case of the surplice and whether or not the monarch could make that decision for the church. The controversy over vesture (and ornaments more broadly) was never about aesthetics.

  1. Nigel Yates (1999) Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain, 1830-1910, p. 120-124.

  2. I have updated the orthography for ease of reading.

  3. The word had already been removed from the liturgical script in 1549, but remained in the rubrics, now it was removed even from these.

  4. Maria Hayward (2009) Rich Apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII’s England, p. 20.

  5. Remember, the notion that the monarch could and should regulate dress was already accepted.

  6. Patrick Collinson (1967) The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, p. 69.

  7. On this see Torrance Kirby (2004) “‘Relics of the Amorites’ or ‘Things Indifferent’? Peter Martyr Vermigli’s authority and the Threat of Schism in the Elizabethan Vestiarian Controversy,” Reformation & Renaissance Review 6(3).

  8. Scott A. Wenigp (2001) “The Ecclesiastical Vision of the Reformed Bishops Under Elizabeth I 1559-1570,” Anglican and Episcopal History 70(3), p. 284-287. See the Rev. Steven McCarthy’s recent two-part exploration of this conflict.

  9. Wenigp (2001) p. 286.

  10. Roger Bowers (2000) “The Chapel Royal, the First Edwardian Prayer Book, and Elizabeth’s Settlement of Religion, 1559,” The Historical Journal 43(2), p. 339.

  11. Ibid.

  12. Calvin Lane (2005) “Before Hooker: The Material Context of Elizabethan Prayer Book Worship,” Anglican and Episcopal History, 74(3), p. 326.

  13. Cyndia Susan Clegg (2016) “The 1559 Books of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Reformation,” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 67(1), p. 101.

  14. In 1950 the historian J. E. Neale argued that the 1559 Settlement was very far from what the conservative settlement Elizabeth herself wanted. He argued that she hoped to restore Henrician Catholicism or at most the 1549 Prayer Book, but was thwarted by a well-organized proto-puritan party in the Commons. Although Geoffrey Elton, Norman Jones, W. S. Hudson, and Andrew Pettegree have effectively dismantled the evidence on which the hypothesis rests, it remains popular. It is the picture of the Elizabethan Settlement presented by Christopher Haigh in his 1993 English Reformations.

  15. Andrew Pettegree (1669), Marian Exiles: Six Studies, p. 133. See also Diarmaid MacCulloch (1990), The Later Reformation in England 1547-1603, p. 29.

  16. MacCulloch (1990) p. 28.

  17. Tomlinson (1897) p. 100.

  18. Ibid. p. 104.

  19. Wenig (2001) p. 289. Note, by “first and second year” Sandys clearly indicates the proviso means all the ornaments in use before the 1549 Prayer Book took effect, that is, i.e., all the ornaments restored by Mary.

  20. Wenig (2010) p. 288.

  21. Colin Buchanan (2006) Historical Dictionary of Anglicanism, p. 342.

  22. Lane (2005) p. 325.

  23. Risdale v Clifton 1876 noted this. Some bishops in Elizabeth’s day fretted because every printed copy of the Prayer Book included changes not authorized by the Uniformity Act and no two print runs were identical. By Elizabeth’s order Parker made changes to the calendar in 1561 which also lacked statutory authorization.

  24. 1 Cor. 14:40, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”

  25. Lane (2005) argues that they aimed to describe only the “basic apparel for Elizabeth’s priests” rather than their apparel for all services (p. 330).

  26. Tomlinson (1897) p. 113.

  27. Ibid. p. 110.

  28. Ibid. p. 111.

  29. Collinson (1967) p. 68.

  30. Ibid. p. 65.

  31. Collinson (1967) p. 67-68.

  32. Davd J. Crankshaw,(1998) “Preparations for the Canterbury Provincial Convocation of 1562-63: A Question of Attribution,” in Susan Wabuda and Caroline Litzenberger (ed.s)’s Belief and Practice in Reformation England: A Tribute to Patrick Collinson from his Students, p. 64.

  33. Collinson (1967) p. 69.

  34. Lane (2005) p. 341.

  35. Celia Hughes (1982) “Coverdale’s Alter Ego,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 65(1), p. 121. His views on the question had hardened; in 1551, at his own consecration, he was willing to wear the required surplice and cope.

  36. Whitgift Works, Vol. III, p. 550.

  37. “Comely” means agreeable, suitable, or attractive. The phrase “referred to order” means that the significance is civil not theological.

  38. Tomlinson (1897) p. 161.

  39. Ibid. 133.

  40. Keeble, ed. (2014) ‘Settling the Peace of the Church’: 1662 Revisited, p. 79.

  41. Tomlinson (1897) p. 154.

  42. Ibid.

  43. Ibid. p. 155.

  44. Ibid. p. 156.

  45. Ibid.

  46. Ibid. p. 155.

  47. The Zurich Letters, Series II (1845) p. 348.

  48. Ibid., 347.

Drew Keane

Drew Nathaniel Keane is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University and a PhD candidate in the School of English at the University of St. Andrews, writing a thesis (tentatively) titled The Use of the Prayer Book: The Book of Common Prayer (1549-1604) as Technical Writing for an Oral-Aural Culture. With Samuel L. Bray, he edited the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition (IVP Academic, March 2021). From 2012 to 2018 he served on the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. More of his work is available at

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