The Ornaments Rubric Explained

Did pre-Reformation ceremonial legally exist after 1559?

If you’ve ever done a little research into Anglicanism and vestments, you have encountered the Ornaments Rubric. It sits before Morning Prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 1559 BCP. It reads as follows:

“The Morning and Evening Prayer shall be used in the accustomed Place of the Church, Chapel, or Chancel; except it shall be otherwise determined by the Ordinary of the Place. And the Chancels shalt remain as they have done in times past. 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.”

One often hears the rubric cited as a justification for “sacrificial” vestments, and other ornamentation, since it refers to the year the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was released, wherein items such as chasubles and albs were permitted. Unfortunately, this is a misconception: the Ornaments Rubric does not allow for sacrificial vestments. I’ll explain further below, but first I should say that these are not my arguments. Everything I write here is adapted from the “Folkestone Ritual Case” in 1877. At the time, it was the most significant trial in Britain, as it was the penultimate case in a series that dealt with Ritualists re-adopting Catholic ceremonial and ornamentation, which had been banned for over 300 years. The entire nation watched, and in the courtroom sat the bulk of the English bishops to observe the ruling of the Lord Chancellor. Ultimately, he would agree: sacrificial vestments, such as chasuble, stole, and alb, are not allowed by the Ornaments Rubric.

We should begin by noting that the rubric found in the 1559 and 1662 BCPs is only half of the rubric. The full version is at the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s Act of Uniformity from 1559 (25th section):

“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.”

The question is, then, were other orders taken? The Lord Chancellor ruled that they indeed had, in at least two instances: the Injunctions of 1559 and The Advertisements.

The Injunctions

In the Injunctions of 1559, the 23rd Injunction orders the removal of “all monuments of idolatry and superstition in churches and houses.” It also creates a prerogative for Royal Commissioners to go throughout England to ensure that the Injunctions are enforced. We know from Peacock’s Returns, that all chasubles and albs were removed from use or destroyed by the Commissioners, who cite the 23rd Injunction as their reason for doing so. This continues for decades, with visitation articles giving testament to the Injunction, perhaps the most prominent being the product of one William Laud, who in 1628 sought “any chalices, copes, vestments [chasubles], albs, or other ornaments of superstition” to be defaced or destroyed. On top of all this, not one single instance of the legal usage of sacrificial vestments can be found from 1559 onward.

Do the Injunctions count as the “other order”? Abp. Matthew Parker explicitly says so, tying the Injunctions and the Act of Uniformity together. Abp. Laud uses them as canon law to prosecute Roman Catholics, and they are then used against him in his own trial, again, as canon law.

The Advertisements

In January of 1564-65, Queen Elizabeth I requested that Archbishop Parker inquire as to rubrical conformity throughout the kingdom. Puritanism had started to become an issue, and a number of clergy refused to wear even a surplice. The Royal Commissioners once again assessed the situation, documenting for every clergyman in England the vestments worn. As I mentioned above, not one instance of chasuble and alb is documented, but the lack of adherence to either surplice or cope results in The Advertisements.

Unlike the Injunctions, which remove “monuments of superstition,” The Advertisements are created for the purpose of ensuring that all parish priests wear the surplice at Holy Communion, and that priests in Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches wear copes, not because chasubles continue to be used, but because of a lack of conforming to rubrics by Puritans. The Advertisements are extraordinarily specific, mandating down to when a hood should be worn, or when a priest should be seen in a Canterbury cap. If they fulfill the requirement for being the “other order,” then no doubt can be left in our mind that the Ornaments Rubric does not allow for the use of sacrificial vestments.

Opponents of using such an argument state that The Advertisements cannot count as the “other order” due to their being no official act from the Queen, and therefore they were not viewed as binding law. The Folkestone Case clearly demonstrates otherwise, though. In 1566, Bishop Grindal of London uses The Advertisements to deprive clergy who refuse to conform. In 1569, Abp. Parker states that The Advertisements are set forth by “public authority,” a term in English Law meaning that all subjects must yield obedience to it. In 1583, Articles of Visitation, citing explicitly the “Book of Advertisements” are presented to the Queen, who endorses them. In the Canons of 1604, the 24th Canon, dealing with the garments to be worn in Cathedrals, cites The Advertisements as law, as do the Canons of 1640, which are not binding after the Restoration, but still point to their status.

Savoy Conference

Why then is Ornaments Rubric still present in Prayer Book? Why was it maintained in the 1604 BCP, and more importantly, the 1662? Because it points to the Act of Uniformity, which still holds canonical status. This is precisely the reason given by the Bishops at the Savoy Conference in response to Puritans who state that the rubric “seemeth to bring back the cope, albe, etc, and other vestments forbidden.” Note the use of “seemeth,” as the Bishops did, who responded by saying that the Puritans knew the opposite was true, and were looking to find a way out of using the surplice (Carter’s Conferences), by undermining the Act of Uniformity.

It appears that the case is closed. There are now a few loose-ends that we will tie up.

Minimum and Maximum

Another method for interpreting the Rubric as allowing chasubles and albs is by arguing that The Advertisements and other rubrics are the bare minimum, that is, a priest must at least wear a surplice, but can wear anything “above” that. This is a laughable proposition, though, when one faces the fact that both Elizabeth I and Parker are obsessed with uniformity and conformity. The preamble of the Act of Uniformity itself states that its goal is to create “an universal agreement in the public worship of Almighty God,” and if we take into account the relentless prosecution of those who refuse to conform in the 1560s, combined with the complete lack of evidence demonstrating the use of sacrificial vestments in any way, it’s a non-starter. The Lord Chancellor in the case of Western v. Liddell summarizes it best when he rules, “In the performance of the services, rites, and ceremonies ordered by the Prayer Book, the directions contained in it must be strictly observed; no omission and no addition can be permitted.”

The Queen’s Chapel

Perhaps the best argument for the “minimum and maximum” principle is regarding the Queen’s Chapel Royal, which is well documented to have had a silver crucifix upon the altar, as well as lit candles. First, I’ll note that no vestments beyond copes are ever documented here, but secondly, it must be taken into account that the Act of Uniformity does not apply to the Queen’s Chapel. Remember, “public authority” refers to English subjects, and there is only one person in England who does not fall into that category. At the same time, such ornamentation only exists for a limited period. As the 1560s roll on, and the need for greater conformity becomes clear, the ornaments disappear.


A confusing bit of history exists surrounding copes, a vestment used originally during non-consecratory acts, but promoted by Cranmer as a way of signifying the lack of necessity for a chasuble during Holy Communion. They return via Elizabeth, but two confusing things happen. One is that during sweeps for “monuments of superstition” by Royal Commissioners, and later by visiting Bishops, copes are sometimes destroyed, making their status ambiguous, and presenting the possibility of diversity in the application of the Injunctions and Advertisements. If we look closely at such cases, though, an answer emerges: there are two types of copes. The categories are “superstitious” copes, that is, copes with images that can be adored, and “decent” copes, which do not.

The second aspect of copes that results in confusion comes from the Puritans, who often describe them as “popish,” but when pressed, such as in the case of Peter Smart, admit that they are in fact just “decent” copes. This can be applied to the vestments of the Chapel Royal, to those worn in Westminster Abbey, or with John Cosin, who when accused of wearing a “superstitious” cope embroidered with the Trinity, snaps back that all he ever wore was a cope of plain white silk.

Cosin’s Notes

This brings us to the final loose-end. In 1619, when he was 23 years-old, John Cosin, one of the most lauded Anglican Divines of the 17th century, wrote in the margin of one of his prayer books that he believed the vestments of the 1549 BCP were still legal via the 58th Canon. This has been held up as evidence that chasubles and albs were indeed permitted, but had fallen into disuse. What is not often cited here is that in the same margin, written at a much later date, but in the same hand, is another note, stating, “But the Act of Parliament, I see, refers to the Canon ‘and until such time as other shall be taken,’” which only serves to confirm what we have known this whole time.

So the Ornaments Rubric does not allow for the use of sacrificial vestments. What does this mean for us today? Perhaps nothing. The Ornaments Rubric is not binding in the United States, as well as in England after 1969. But it does explode a myth. That is the myth that the Elizabethan Settlement was all about achieving a “broad” and “comprehensive” consensus, which today is cited as a justification for pluralism existing within the Anglican Communion or within a province. It is true that Elizabeth’s Church of England did not achieve perfect agreement on topics such as Predestination. But there was far more uniformity than popular history would have one believe, and while the following three centuries would see some minor exceptions, we must come to grips with the fact that uniformity was once the norm in Anglicanism. Anglicanism-as-diversity is the innovation, and if it is going to be defended, it has to be defended as a good innovation, not as an intrinsic or historic characteristic of Anglicanism.