More an expression of political expediency rather than religious feeling
From the beginning of her reign Elizabeth had to make her mark as the new ruler of England. If it was not foreign invasion or an internal plot she feared, then it was being a single woman in a mans world, and amidst all this Elizabeth sought acceptance from her people. It appears she may have tried to do this through her settlement of 1559; after all it was the queen herself who referred to religion as ‘the foundation on which all other matters ought to take root…
Elizabeth did however rule on from her Catholic sister Mary who was a devout Catholic that burned heretic protestants at the stake, and upon Elizabeth’s arrival to the throne people saw her as nothing like her sister, and some even perceived her as the protestant saviour of England. Elizabeth took in everything from her surroundings, and combined with her own views, constructed the Settlement of 1559. This settlement would ultimately define her future on the throne, from enemies to allies, both on English soil and abroad.
Elizabeth knew from previous monarchs and seeing her sister Mary on the throne, that religion never really pleased anyone, after all it was Mary who’s hard line Catholic views caused many Protestants to flee England during her reign. As a result Elizabeth wanted to create something that would be accepted by almost everyone, and would take on board everyone’s belief respectively. The past four monarchs to have sat on the English throne all expressed different religious views and beliefs, and it seems Elizabeth sought stability from all the constant change, a ‘via media’.
I believe the Settlement was necessary and it was wise of Elizabeth to introduce it at the earlier stages of her reign, because as a new monarch whom people knew didn’t share the extreme views as her predecessor, she needed to signal her religious intentions not only to relieve dangerous uncertainty among her own subjects, but in order to gain the support she would need to be a successful ruler and quell any the threats from abroad.
Elizabeth had a number of options to choose from regarding her religious standing; she could maintain Mary’s Catholicism which could have secured her alliance with the Spanish, and in turn help bring down the main threat of Scotland and France taking the backdoor into England, and also stop any hopes on Mary Queen of Scots laying claim to the English throne. England also had strong ties with the Spanish regarding trade, so pleasing Spain would reap befits in the long run for England, and a fall out had to potential to impact heavily on the English economy.
Her other choice would be to return England back to its religious form during her farther Henry VIII’s reign, Anglo Catholicism without the pope as the head of the Church. The evidence suggests however, from her upbringing and the people she surrounded herself with, that she shared more protestant views and ideas. Her surest supporters were also Protestant, and she could not afford to lose them.
It would not have been feasible for Elizabeth to have taken England forward to a complete Protestant changeover so soon after Mary’s departure and implementation of Catholicism. Therefore it would seem logical to believe that she would take none of those options, and instead create her own solution. She proved she did not want to keep herself as final head of the church in England and had the Act proclaiming her this amended, her hope in doing this was to help win over Catholics.
After all the majority of the country was still believed to be Catholic at the time, predominantly in the northern areas so she needed them on her side for her Settlement to work and at least be passed. The queen was under pressure from many sides; she had the Puritan ‘choir’ singing at her for Protestant reform, and the Catholic bishops ganging up on her as well. It seems Elizabeth had no choice but to go down a middle road and create her settlement.
She couldn’t abandon her personal beliefs, however mild, about Protestantism due partly to the fact that she had surrounded herself with Protestant thinking people, her small hand picked council. Elizabeth was imprisoned by her own sister and barely escaped death, so the last thing she would want to do is be associated with would be everything her sister stood for, outright Catholicism. Elizabeth was sure of one thing about her settlement; she wanted one settlement, one religion that would unite and maintain stability.