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The English Reformation was a series of events in 16th-century England by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. These events were, in part, associated with the wider process of the European Protestant Reformation, a religious and political movement that affected the practice of Christianity across western and central Europe during this period. Many factors contributed to the process: the decline of feudalism and the rise of nationalism, the rise of the common law, the invention of the printing press and increased circulation of the Bible, and the transmission of new knowledge and ideas among scholars, the upper and middle classes and readers in general. However, the various phases of the English Reformation, which also covered Wales and Ireland, were largely driven by changes in government policy, to which public opinion gradually accommodated itself.
Based on Henry VIII's desire for an annulment of his marriage (first requested of Pope Clement VII in 1527), the English Reformation was at the outset more of a political affair than a theological dispute. The reality of political differences between Rome and England allowed growing theological disputes to come to the fore. Until the break with Rome, it was the Pope and general councils of the Church that decided doctrine. Church law was governed by canon law with final jurisdiction in Rome. Church taxes were paid straight to Rome, and the Pope had the final word in the appointment of bishops.
The break with Rome was effected by a series of acts of Parliament passed between 1532 and 1534, among them the 1534 Act of Supremacy, which declared that Henry was the "Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England". (This title was renounced by Mary I in 1553 in the process of restoring papal jurisdiction; when Elizabeth I reasserted the royal supremacy in 1559, her title was Supreme Governor.) Final authority in doctrinal and legal disputes now rested with the monarch, and the papacy was deprived of revenue and the final say on the appointment of bishops.
The theology and liturgy of the Church of England became markedly Protestant during the reign of Henry's son Edward VI largely along lines laid down by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Under Mary, the whole process was reversed and the Church of England was again placed under papal jurisdiction. Soon after, Elizabeth reintroduced the Protestant faith but in a more moderate manner. The structure and theology of the church was a matter of fierce dispute for generations.
The violent aspect of these disputes, manifested in the English Civil Wars, ended when the last Roman Catholic monarch, James II, was deposed, and Parliament asked William III and Mary II to rule jointly in conjunction with the English Bill of Rights in 1688 (in the "Glorious Revolution"), from which emerged a church polity with an established church and a number of non-conformist churches whose members at first suffered various civil disabilities that were removed over time. The legacy of the past Roman Catholic Establishment remained an issue for some time, and still exists today. A substantial minority remained Roman Catholic in England, and in an effort to disestablish it from British systems, their church organisation remained illegal until the 19th century.
Henry VIII acceded to the English throne in 1509 at the age of 17. He made a dynastic marriage with Catherine of Aragon, widow of his brother Arthur, in June 1509, just before his coronation on Midsummer's Day. Unlike his father, who was secretive and conservative, the young Henry appeared the epitome of chivalry and sociability. An observant Roman Catholic, he heard up to five masses a day (except during the hunting season); of "powerful but unoriginal mind", he let himself be influenced by his advisors from whom he was never apart, by night or day. He was thus susceptible to whoever had his ear.
This contributed to a state of hostility between his young contemporaries and the Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. As long as Wolsey had his ear, Henry's Roman Catholicism was secure: in 1521, he had defended the Roman Catholic Church from Martin Luther's accusations of heresy in a book he wrote—probably with considerable help from the conservative Bishop of Rochester John Fisher—entitled The Defence of the Seven Sacraments, for which he was awarded the title "Defender of the Faith" (Fidei Defensor) by Pope Leo X. (Successive English and British monarchs have retained this title to the present, even after the Anglican Church broke away from Roman Catholicism, in part because the title was re-conferred by Parliament in 1544, after the split.) Wolsey's enemies at court included those who had been influenced by Lutheran ideas, among whom was the attractive, charismatic Anne Boleyn.
Anne arrived at court in 1522 as maid of honour to Queen Catherine, having spent some years in France being educated by Queen Claude of France. She was a woman of "charm, style and wit, with will and savagery which made her a match for Henry." Anne was a distinguished French conversationalist, singer, and dancer. She was cultured and is the disputed author of several songs and poems. By 1527, Henry wanted his marriage to Catherine annulled. She had not produced a male heir who survived longer than two months, and Henry wanted a son to secure the Tudor dynasty. Before Henry's father (Henry VII) ascended the throne, England had been beset by civil warfare over rival claims to the English crown. Henry wanted to avoid a similar uncertainty over the succession. Catherine of Aragon's only surviving child was Princess Mary.
Henry claimed that this lack of a male heir was because his marriage was "blighted in the eyes of God". Catherine had been his late brother's wife, and it was therefore against biblical teachings for Henry to have married her (Leviticus 20:21); a special dispensation from Pope Julius II had been needed to allow the wedding in the first place. Henry argued the marriage was never valid because the biblical prohibition was part of unbreakable divine law, and even popes could not dispense with it. In 1527, Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage, but the Pope refused. According to canon law, the pope could not annul a marriage on the basis of a canonical impediment previously dispensed. Clement also feared the wrath of Catherine's nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose troops earlier that year had sacked Rome and briefly taken the Pope prisoner.
The combination of his "scruple of conscience" and his captivation by Anne Boleyn made his desire to rid himself of his Queen compelling. The indictment of his chancellor Cardinal Wolsey in 1529 for praemunire (taking the authority of the papacy above the Crown), and subsequent death in November 1530 on his way to London to answer a charge of high treason left Henry open to the opposing influences of the supporters of the Queen and those who sanctioned the abandonment of the Roman allegiance, for whom an annulment was but an opportunity.
In 1529, the King summoned Parliament to deal with annulment, thus bringing together those who wanted reform but who disagreed what form it should take; it became known as the Reformation Parliament. There were common lawyers who resented the privileges of the clergy to summon laity to their courts; there were those who had been influenced by Lutheranism and were hostile to the theology of Rome; Thomas Cromwell was both. Henry's chancellor, Thomas More, successor to Wolsey, also wanted reform: he wanted new laws against heresy.
Cromwell was a lawyer and a member of Parliament—a Protestant who saw how Parliament could be used to advance the Royal Supremacy, which Henry wanted, and to further Protestant beliefs and practices Cromwell and his friends wanted. One of his closest friends was Thomas Cranmer, soon to be made an archbishop.
In the matter of the annulment, no progress seemed possible. The Pope seemed more afraid of Emperor Charles V than of Henry. Anne and Cromwell and their allies wished simply to ignore the Pope, but in October 1530 a meeting of clergy and lawyers advised that Parliament could not empower the archbishop to act against the Pope's prohibition. Henry thus resolved to bully the priests.
Having brought down his chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII finally resolved to charge the whole English clergy with praemunire to secure their agreement to his annulment. The Statute of Praemunire, which forbade obedience to the authority of the Pope or of any foreign rulers, enacted in 1392, had been used against individuals in the ordinary course of court proceedings. Now Henry, having first charged Queen Catherine's supporters, Bishops John Fisher, Nicholas West and Henry Standish and Archdeacon of Exeter, Adam Travers, decided to proceed against the whole clergy. Henry claimed £100,000 from the Convocation of Canterbury (a representative body of English clergy) for their pardon, which was granted by the Convocation on 24 January 1531. The clergy wanted the payment spread over five years, but Henry refused. The convocation responded by withdrawing their payment altogether and demanded Henry fulfill certain guarantees before they would give him the money. Henry refused these conditions. He agreed only to the five-year period of payment and added five articles that specified that:
In Parliament, Bishop Fisher championed Catherine and the clergy; he had inserted into the first article the phrase "...as far as the word of God allows..."[page needed] In Convocation, however, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, requested a discussion but was met by a stunned silence; then Warham said, "He who is silent seems to consent," to which a clergyman responded, "Then we are all silent." The Convocation granted consent to the King's five articles and the payment on 8 March 1531. That same year, Parliament passed the Pardon to Clergy Act 1531.
The breaking of the power of Rome proceeded little by little. In 1532, Cromwell brought before Parliament the Supplication Against the Ordinaries, which listed nine grievances against the Church, including abuses of power and Convocation's independent legislative power. Finally, on 10 May, the King demanded of Convocation that the Church renounce all authority to make laws. On 15 May, the Submission of the Clergy was subscribed, which recognised Royal Supremacy over the Church so that it could no longer make canon law without royal licence—i.e., without the King's permission—thus emasculating it as a law-making body. (Parliament subsequently passed this in 1534 and again in 1536.) The day after this, More resigned as chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister. (Cromwell never became chancellor. His power came—and was lost—through his informal relations with Henry.)
Several acts of Parliament then followed. The Act in Conditional Restraint of Annates proposed that the clergy pay no more than 5 percent of their first year's revenue (annates) to Rome. This was initially controversial and required that Henry visit the House of Lords three times to browbeat the Commons.
The Act in Restraint of Appeals, drafted by Cromwell, apart from outlawing appeals to Rome on ecclesiastical matters, declared that
This realm of England is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one Supreme Head and King having the dignity and royal estate of the Imperial Crown of the same, unto whom a body politic compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of Spirituality and Temporality, be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience.
This declared England an independent country in every respect. English historian Geoffrey Elton called this act an "essential ingredient" of the "Tudor revolution" in that it expounded a theory of national sovereignty. The Act in Absolute Restraint of Annates outlawed all annates to Rome and also ordered that if cathedrals refused the King's nomination for bishop, they would be liable to punishment by praemunire. Finally in 1534, the Acts of Supremacy made Henry "supreme head in earth of the Church of England" and disregarded any "usage, custom, foreign laws, foreign authority [or] prescription".
Meanwhile, having taken Anne to France on a pre-nuptial honeymoon, Henry married her in Westminster Abbey in January 1533. This was made easier by the death of Archbishop Warham, a strong opponent of an annulment. Henry appointed Thomas Cranmer to succeed him as Archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer was prepared to grant the annulment of the marriage to Catherine as Henry required, going so far as to pronounce the judgment that Henry's marriage with Catherine was against the law of God on 23 May. Anne gave birth to a daughter, Princess Elizabeth, in September 1533. The Pope responded to the marriage by excommunicating both Henry and Cranmer from the Roman Catholic Church (11 July 1533). Henry was excommunicated again in December 1538.
Consequently, in the same year the Act of First Fruits and Tenths transferred the taxes on ecclesiastical income from the Pope to the Crown. The Act Concerning Peter's Pence and Dispensations outlawed the annual payment by landowners of one penny to the Pope. This Act also reiterated that England had "no superior under God, but only your Grace" and that Henry's "imperial crown" had been diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions" of the Pope.
In case any of this should be resisted, Parliament passed the Treasons Act 1534, which made it high treason punishable by death to deny Royal Supremacy. The following year, Thomas More and John Fisher were executed under this legislation. Finally, in 1536, Parliament passed the Act against the Pope's Authority, which removed the last part of papal authority still legal. This was Rome's power in England to decide disputes concerning Scripture.
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The break with Rome was not, by itself, a Reformation. However, the political break with Rome was inseparable from the success of Protestantism. English Catholicism was strong and popular in the early 1500s, and while there were those who held Protestant sympathies, they would have remained a religious minority if political events had not intervened.
An earlier reform movement that anticipated some Protestant teachings but remained outside the religious mainstream was Lollardy. Derived from the writings of John Wycliffe, a 14th-century theologian and Bible translator, Lollardy stressed the primacy of Scripture and emphasised the preaching of the word over the sacrament of the altar, holding the latter to be but a memorial. Unlike Protestants, the early Lollards lacked access to the printing press and failed to gain a foothold among the church's most popular communicators, the friars. Unable to gain access to the levers of power, the Lollards were much reduced in numbers and influence by the 15th century. They sometimes faced investigation and persecution and rarely produced new literature after 1450. Lollards could still be found—especially in London and the Thames Valley, in Essex and Kent, Coventry, Bristol and even in the North—and many would be receptive to Protestant ideas.
More respectable and orthodox calls for reform came from Renaissance humanists, such as Erasmus (who lived in England for a time), John Colet, Dean of St Paul's, and Thomas More. Humanists downplayed the role of rites and ceremonies in achieving salvation and criticised the superstitious veneration of relics. Erasmus and Colet emphasised a simple, personal piety and a return ad fontes, back to the sources of Christian faith—the scriptures as understood through textual and linguistic scholarship. Colet's commentaries on the Pauline epistles emphasized double predestination and the worthlessness of human works. Anne Boleyn's own religious views were shaped by French humanists such as Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, whose 1512 commentaries on Paul's epistles stated that human works were irrelevant to salvation five years before Luther published the same views.
Humanist scholarship provided arguments against papal primacy and support for the claim that popes had usurped powers that rightfully belonged to kings. In 1534, Lorenzo Valla's On the Donation of Constantine—which proved that one of the pillars of the papacy's temporal authority was a hoax—was published in London. Cromwell paid for an English translation of Marsiglio of Padua's Defensor pacis in 1535. The conservative Stephen Gardiner used Marsiglio's theory of a unitary realm to defend the royal supremacy.
By the early 1520s, the views of German reformer Martin Luther were known and disputed in England. The main plank of Luther's theology was justification by faith alone rather than by good works. In this view, only faith, itself a gift from God, can secure the grace of God. Justification by faith alone threatened the whole basis of the Roman Catholic penitential system with its doctrine of purgatory, prayer for the dead, indulgences, and the sacrificial character of the mass. Early Protestants portrayed Catholic practices such as confession to priests, clerical celibacy, and requirements to fast and keep vows as burdensome and spiritually oppressive. Not only did purgatory lack any biblical basis according to Protestants, but the clergy were accused of using fear of purgatory to make money from prayers and masses. Catholics countered that justification by faith alone was a "licence to sin".
Protestant ideas were popular among some parts of the English population, especially among academics and merchants with connections to continental Europe. The first open demonstration of support for Luther took place at Cambridge in 1521 when a student defaced a copy of the papal bull of condemnation against Luther. Also at Cambridge was a group of reform-minded university students that met at the White Horse tavern from the mid-1520s, known by the moniker "Little Germany". Its members included Robert Barnes, Hugh Latimer, John Frith, Thomas Bilney, George Joye and Thomas Arthur.
The publication of William Tyndale's English New Testament in 1526 helped to spread Protestant ideas. Printed abroad and smuggled into the country, the Tyndale Bible was the first English Bible to be mass produced; there were probably 16,000 copies in England by 1536. Tyndale's translation was highly influential, forming the basis of all later English translations. An attack on traditional religion, Tyndale's translation included an epilogue explaining Luther's theology of justification by faith, and many translation choices were designed to undermine traditional Catholic teachings. Tyndale translated the Greek word charis as favour rather than grace to de-emphasize the role of grace-giving sacraments. His choice of love rather than charity to translate agape de-emphasized good works. When rendering the Greek verb metanoeite into English, Tyndale used repent rather than do penance. The former word indicated an internal turning to God, while the latter translation supported the sacrament of confession.
As chancellor, Thomas More pursued an aggressive campaign against heresy. Between 1530 and 1533, Thomas Hitton (England's first Protestant martyr), Thomas Bilney, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbury, James Bainham, Thomas Benet, Thomas Harding, John Frith and Andrew Hewet were burned to death. In 1531, William Tracy was posthumously convicted of heresy for denying purgatory and affirming justification by faith, and his corpse was disinterred and burned.
While Protestants were only a small portion of the population, the growing rift between the King and papacy gave Protestants a new sense of confidence. Heretical ideas were openly discussed, and militant iconoclasm was seen in Essex and Suffolk between 1531 and 1532. Because they tended to oppose royal supremacy, traditionalists were on the defensive, while Protestants found opportunities to form new alliances with government officials.
By 1529, Henry VIII was using the language of radical reform openly—speaking of Rome's "vain and superfluous ceremonies" and blaming the papacy for numerous wars and heresies. At Anne Boleyn's urging, he was also reading Protestant books, such as Simon Fish's Supplication for the Beggars and Tyndale's The Obedience of a Christian Man. Borrowing from Luther, Tyndale argued that papal and clerical claims to independent power were unscriptural and that the king's "law is God's law". In 1531, Henry sought, through Robert Barnes, Luther's opinion on his annulment; the theologian did not approve.
After Warham's death, Cranmer was made Archbishop of Canterbury (with papal consent) in 1533. Cranmer's shift to Protestantism was borne partly by his membership of the team negotiating for the annulment, finally came through his stay with Andreas Osiander in Nuremberg in 1532. (Cranmer also secretly married Osiander's niece.) Even then the position was complicated by the fact that Lutherans were not in favour of the annulment. Cranmer (and Henry) felt obliged to seek assistance from Strasbourg and Basel, which brought him into contact with the more radical ideas associated with Huldrych Zwingli.
In 1534, a new Heresy Act ensured that no one could be punished for speaking against the pope and also made it more difficult to convict someone of heresy; however, sacramentarians and Anabaptists continued to be vigorously persecuted. What followed was a period of doctrinal confusion as both conservatives and reformers attempted to shape the church's future direction. The reformers were aided by Thomas Cromwell. In January 1535, the King made Cromwell his vicegerent in spirituals. Effectively the King's vicar general, Cromwell's authority was greater than that of bishops. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury answered to Cromwell. Largely due to Anne Boleyn's influence, a number of Protestants were appointed bishops between 1534 and 1536. These included Latimer, Thomas Goodrich, John Salcot, Nicholas Shaxton, William Barlow, John Hilsey and Edward Foxe. Protestant bishops remained a minority, however.
Cromwell's programme, assisted by Anne Boleyn's influence over episcopal appointments, was not merely against the clergy and the power of Rome. He persuaded Henry that safety from political alliances that Rome might attempt to bring together lay in negotiations with the German Lutheran princes of the Schmalkaldic League. There also seemed to be a possibility that Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, might act to avenge his rejected aunt (Queen Catherine) and enforce the Pope's excommunication. The negotiations did not lead to an alliance, but it brought Lutheran ideas to England.
In 1536, Convocation adopted the first doctrinal statement for the Church of England, the Ten Articles. This was followed by the Bishops' Book in 1537. These established a semi-Lutheran doctrine for the church. Justification by faith, qualified by an emphasis on good works following justification, was a core teaching. The traditional seven sacraments were reduced to three only—baptism, Eucharist and penance. Catholic teaching on praying to saints, purgatory and the use of images in worship was undermined.
In August 1536, the same month the Ten Articles were published, Cromwell issued a set of Royal Injunctions to the clergy. Minor feast days were changed into normal work days, including those celebrating a church's patron saint and most feasts during harvest time (July through September). The rationale was partly economic as too many holidays led to a loss of productivity and were "the occasion of vice and idleness". In addition, Protestants considered feast days to be examples of superstition. Clergy were to discourage pilgrimages and instruct the people to give to the poor rather than make offerings to images. The clergy were also ordered to place Bibles in both English and Latin in every church for the people to read. This last requirement was largely ignored by the bishops for a year or more due the lack of any authorised English translation. The only complete vernacular version was the Coverdale Bible finished in 1535 and based on Tyndale's earlier work. It lacked royal approval, however.
Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch in his study of The Later Reformation in England, 1547-1603 argues that after 1537, "England's Reformation was characterized by its hatred of images, as Margaret Aston's work on iconoclasm and iconophobia has repeatedly and eloquently demonstrated." In February 1538, the famous Rood of Grace was condemned as a mechanical fraud and destroyed at St. Paul's Cross. In July, the statues of Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Ipswich, and other Marian images were burned at Chelsea on Cromwell's orders. In September, Cromwell issued a second set of Royal Injunctions ordering the destruction of images to which pilgrimage offerings were made, the prohibition of lighting candles before images of saints, and the preaching of sermons against the veneration of images and relics. He once again instructed each parish to acquire an English Bible.
For Cromwell and Cranmer, the next step in the Protestant agenda was attacking monasticism, which was associated with the doctrine of purgatory. While the King was not opposed to religious houses on theological grounds, there was concern over the loyalty of the monastic orders, which were international in character and resistant to the Royal Supremacy. The Crown was also experiencing financial difficulties, and the wealth of the church, in contrast to its political weakness, made appropriation of church property both tempting and feasible. The Church owned between one-fifth and one-third of the land in all England; Cromwell realised that he could bind the gentry and nobility to Royal Supremacy by selling to them the huge amount of Church lands, and that any reversion to pre-Royal Supremacy would entail upsetting many of the powerful people in the realm.
In 1534, Cromwell initiated a visitation of the monasteries ostensibly to examine their character, but in fact, to value their assets with a view to expropriation. Suppression of monasteries to raise funds was not unknown previously. Cromwell had done the same thing on the instructions of Cardinal Wolsey to raise funds for two proposed colleges at Ipswich and Oxford years before. The visiting commissioners claimed to have uncovered sexual immorality and financial impropriety amongst the monks and nuns, which became the ostensible justification for their suppression. There were also reports of the possession and display of false relics, such as Hailes Abbey's vial of the Holy Blood, upon investigation announced to be "honey clarified and coloured with saffron". The Compendium Competorum compiled by the visitors documented ten pieces of the True Cross, seven portions of the Virgin Mary's milk and numerous saints' girdles.
For these various reasons the Dissolution of the Monasteries began in 1536 with the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act, affecting smaller houses—those valued at less than £200 a year. Henry used the revenue to help build coastal defences (see Device Forts) against expected invasion, and all the land was given to the Crown or sold to the aristocracy. Whereas the royal supremacy had raised few eyebrows, the attack on abbeys and priories affected lay people. Mobs attacked those sent to break up monastic buildings. Suppression commissioners were attacked by local people in several places. In Northern England there were a series of uprisings by Roman Catholics against the dissolutions in late 1536 and early 1537.
In the autumn of 1536 there was a great muster, reckoned at up to 40,000 in number, at Horncastle in Lincolnshire. The nervous gentry managed, with difficulty, to disperse these masses—who had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with the king by petition. The Pilgrimage of Grace was a more serious matter. Revolt spread through Yorkshire, and the rebels gathered at York. Robert Aske, their leader, negotiated the restoration of sixteen of the twenty-six northern monasteries, which had actually been dissolved. However, the promises made to them by the Duke of Suffolk were ignored on the king's orders. Suffolk was instructed to put the rebellion down. Forty-seven of the Lincolnshire rebels were executed, and 132 from the northern pilgrimage. Further rebellions took place in Cornwall in early 1537, and in Walsingham (in Norfolk). These received similar treatment.
It took Cromwell four years to complete the process. In 1539 he moved to the dissolution of the larger monasteries that had escaped earlier. Many houses gave up voluntarily, though some sought exemption by payment. When their houses were closed down some monks sought to transfer to larger houses. Many became secular priests. A few, including eighteen Carthusians, refused and were killed to the last man.
Henry VIII personally devised a plan to form at least thirteen new dioceses so that most counties had one based on a former monastery (or more than one), though this scheme was only partly carried out. New dioceses were established at Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford, Peterborough, Westminster and Chester, but not, for instance, at Shrewsbury, Leicester or Waltham.
The abolition of papal authority made way not for orderly change, but for dissension and violence. Iconoclasm, destruction, disputes within communities that led to violence, and radical challenge to all forms of faith were reported daily to Cromwell—developments he tried to hide from the King. Once Henry knew what was afoot, he acted. Thus at the end of 1538, a proclamation was issued forbidding free discussion of the sacrament and forbidding clerical marriage, on pain of death.
Henry personally presided at the trial of John Lambert in November 1538 for denying the real presence. At the same time, he shared in the drafting of a proclamation giving Anabaptists and Sacramentaries ten days to get out of the country. In 1539 Parliament passed the Six Articles reaffirming Roman Catholic practices such as transubstantiation, clerical celibacy and the importance of confession to a priest and prescribed penalties if anyone denied them. Henry himself observed the Easter Triduum in that year with some display.
On 28 June 1540 Cromwell, Henry's longtime advisor and loyal servant, was executed. Different reasons were advanced: that Cromwell would not enforce the Act of Six Articles; that he had supported Barnes, Latimer and other heretics; and that he was responsible for Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife. Many other arrests under the Act followed. Cranmer lay low.
In 1540 Henry began his attack upon the free availability of the Bible. In 1536 Cromwell had instructed each parish to acquire "one book of the whole Bible of the largest volume in English" by Easter 1539. This instruction had been largely ignored, so a new version, the Great Bible (largely William Tyndale's English translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures), was authorised in August 1537. But by 1539 Henry had announced his desire to have it "corrected" (which Cranmer referred to the universities to undertake).
Many parishes were, in any case, reluctant to use English Bibles. Now the mood was conservatism, which expressed itself in the fear that Bible reading led to heresy. Many Bibles that had been put in place were removed. By the 1543 Act for the Advancement of True Religion, Henry restricted Bible reading to men and women of noble birth. He expressed his fears to Parliament in 1545 that "the Word of God, is disputed, rhymed, sung and jangled in every ale house and tavern, contrary to the true meaning and doctrine of the same."
By 1546 the conservatives, the Duke of Norfolk, Wriothesly, Gardiner and Tunstall were in the ascendent. They were, by the king's will, to be members of the regency council on his death. However, by the time he died in 1547, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, brother of Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife (and therefore uncle to the future Edward VI), managed—by a number of alliances with influential Protestants such as Lisle—to gain control over the Privy Council. He persuaded Henry to change his will to replace Norfolk, Wriothesly, Gardiner and Tunstall as executors with Seymour's supporters.
When Henry died in 1547, his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, inherited the throne. Edward was a precocious child who had been brought up as a Protestant, but was initially of little account politically. Edward Seymour was made Lord Protector. He was commissioned as virtual regent with near sovereign powers. Now made Duke of Somerset, he proceeded at first hesitantly, partly because his powers were not unchallenged. When he acted it was because he saw the political advantage in doing so.
The 1547 injunctions against images were a more tightly drawn version of those of 1538, but they were more fiercely enforced, at first informally, and then by instruction. All images in churches were to be dismantled. Stained glass, shrines and statues were defaced or destroyed. Roods, and often their lofts and screens, were cut down and bells were taken down. Vestments were prohibited and either burned or sold. Chalices were melted down or sold. The requirement of the clergy to be celibate was lifted. Processions were banned and ashes and palms were prohibited. Chantries (endowments to provide masses for the dead) were abolished completely. How well this was received is disputed. Modern historian A.G. Dickens contends that people had "...ceased to believe in intercessory masses for souls in purgatory", while others, such as Eamon Duffy, argue that the demolition of chantry chapels and the removal of images coincided with the activity of royal visitors. The evidence is often ambiguous.
In 1549 Cranmer introduced a Book of Common Prayer in English, which while to all appearances kept the structure of the Mass, altered the theology so that the holy gifts of consecrated bread and wine were not offered to God as a sacrifice although he was well aware that this had been the Church's doctrine since the late 2nd century (it would be restored by Scottish non-Jurors of the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States in 1789) In 1550 stone altars were replaced by wooden communion tables, a very public break with the past, as it changed the look and focus of church interiors.
Less visible, but still influential, was the new ordinal—which provided for Protestant ministers rather than Roman Catholic priests, an admittedly conservative adaptation of Bucer's draft; its Preface explicitly mentions the historic succession but it has been described as "... another case of Cranmer's opportunist adoption of medieval forms for new purposes." In 1551, the episcopate was remodelled by the appointment of Protestants to the bench. This removed the refusal of some bishops to enforce the regulations as an obstacle to change.
Henceforth, the Reformation proceeded apace. In 1552, the prayer book—which the conservative Bishop Stephen Gardiner had approved from his prison cell as being "patient of a Catholic interpretation"—was replaced by a second, much more radical prayer book that altered the service to remove any sense that the Eucharist was a material sacrifice offered to God while keeping the belief that it was a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise (in word). Edward's Parliament also repealed his father's Six Articles.
The enforcement of the new liturgy did not always take place without a struggle. Conformity was the order of the day, but in East Anglia and in Devon there were rebellions, as also in Cornwall, to which many parishes sent their young men; they were put down only after considerable loss of life. In other places the causes of the rebellions were less easy to pin down, but by July throughout southern England, there was "quavering quiet," which burst out into "stirs" in many places, most significantly in Kett's Rebellion in Norwich.
Apart from these more spectacular pieces of resistance, in some places chantry priests continued to say prayers and landowners to pay them to do so. Opposition to the removal of images was widespread—so much so that when during the Commonwealth, William Dowsing was commissioned to the task of image breaking in Suffolk, his task, as he records it, was enormous. In Kent and the southeast, compliance was mostly willing and for many, the sale of vestments and plate was an opportunity to make money (but it was also true that in London and Kent, Reformation ideas had permeated more deeply into popular thinking).
The effect of the resistance was to topple Somerset as Lord Protector, so that in 1549 it was feared by some that the Reformation would cease. The prayer book was the tipping point. But Lisle, now made Earl of Warwick, was made Lord President of the Privy Council and, ever the opportunist (he died a public Roman Catholic), he saw the further implementation of the reforming policy as a means of defeating his rivals.
Outwardly, the destruction and removals for sale had changed the church forever. Many churches concealed their vestments and their silver, and had buried their stone altars. There were many disputes between the government and parishes over church property. Thus, when Edward died in July 1553 and the Duke of Northumberland attempted to have the Protestant Lady Jane Grey made Queen, the unpopularity of the confiscations gave Mary the opportunity to have herself proclaimed Queen, first in Suffolk, and then in London to the acclamation of the crowds.
From 1553, under the reign of Henry's Roman Catholic daughter, Mary I, the Reformation legislation was repealed and Mary sought to achieve the reunion with Rome. Her first Act of Parliament was to retroactively validate Henry's marriage to her mother and so legitimise her claim to the throne.
Achieving her objective was, however, not straightforward. Before reunion with Rome could occur, church property disputes had to be settled—which, in practice, meant letting those who had bought former church property keep it. Cardinal Reginald Pole arrived in November 1554 to become Archbishop of Canterbury in Cranmer's place. Mary could have had Cranmer, imprisoned as he was, tried and executed for treason—he had supported the claims of Lady Jane Grey—but she resolved to have him tried for heresy. His recantations of his Protestantism would have been a major coup. Unhappily for her, he unexpectedly withdrew his recantations at the last minute as he was to be burned at the stake, thus ruining her government's propaganda victory.
If Mary was to secure England for Roman Catholicism, she needed an heir. On the advice of the Holy Roman Emperor she married his son, Philip II of Spain; she needed to prevent her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth from inheriting the Crown and thus returning England to Protestantism. There was opposition, and even a rebellion in Kent (led by Sir Thomas Wyatt); even though it was provided that Philip would never inherit the kingdom if there was no heir, received no estates and had no coronation. He was there to provide an heir. But she never became pregnant, and likely suffered from cancer. Ironically, another blow fell. Pope Julius died and his successor, Pope Paul IV, declared war on Philip and recalled Pole to Rome to have him tried as a heretic. Mary refused to let him go. The support she might have expected from a grateful Pope was thus denied.
After 1555, the initial reconciling tone of the regime began to harden. The medieval heresy laws were restored. The Marian Persecutions of Protestants ensued and 283 Protestants were burnt at the stake for heresy. This resulted in the Queen becoming known as Bloody Mary, due to the influence of John Foxe, one of the Protestants who fled Marian England. Foxe's Book of Martyrs recorded the executions in such detail that it became Mary's epitaph; Convocation subsequently ordered that Foxe's book should be placed in every cathedral in the land. In fact, while those who were executed after the revolts of 1536, and the St David's Down rebellion of 1549, and the unknown number of monks who died for refusing to submit, may not have been tried for heresy, they certainly exceeded that number by some amount. Even so, the heroism of some of the martyrs was an example to those who witnessed them, so that in some places it was the burnings that set people against the regime.
There was a slow consolidation in Roman Catholic strength in Mary's latter years. The reconciled Roman Catholic Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, produced a catechism and a collection of homilies. Printing presses produced primers and other devotional materials, and recruitment to the English clergy began to rise after almost a decade. Repairs to long-neglected churches began. In the parishes "...restoration and repair continued, new bells were bought, and churches' ales produced their bucolic profits." Commissioners visited to ensure that altars were restored, roods rebuilt and vestments and plate purchased. Moreover, Pole was determined to do more than remake the past. He insisted on scripture, teaching and education, and on improving the clergy's moral standards.
It is difficult to determine how far previous reigns had broken Roman Catholic devotion, with its belief in the saints and in purgatory, but certainties—especially those that drew public financial support—had been shaken. Benefactions to the church did not return significantly. Trust in clergy who had changed their minds and were now willing to leave their new wives—as they were required to do—was bound to have weakened.
Few monasteries, chantries, and guilds were reinstated. "Parish religion was marked by religious and cultural sterility," though some have observed enthusiasm, marred only by poor harvests that produced poverty and want. Full restoration of the Roman Catholic faith in England to its pre-Reformation state would take time. Consequently, Protestants secretly ministering to underground congregations, such as Thomas Bentham, were planning for a long haul, a ministry of survival. Mary's death in November 1558, childless and without having made provision for a Roman Catholic to succeed her, would undo her consolidation.
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Following Mary's childless death, her half-sister Elizabeth inherited the throne. One of the most important concerns during Elizabeth's early reign was religion. Elizabeth could not be Roman Catholic, as that church considered her illegitimate. At the same time, she had observed the turmoil brought about by Edward's introduction of radical Protestant reforms. Communion with the Roman Catholic Church was again severed by Elizabeth. She relied primarily on her chief advisors, Sir William Cecil, as her Secretary of State, and Sir Nicholas Bacon, as the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, for direction on the matter. Chiefly she supported her father's idea of reforming the church but made some minor adjustments. In this way, Elizabeth and her advisors aimed at a church that included most opinions.
Two groups were excluded. Roman Catholics who remained loyal to the Pope after he excommunicated the Queen in 1570 would not be tolerated. They were, in fact, regarded as traitors, because the Pope had refused to accept Elizabeth as Queen of England. Roman Catholics were given the hard choice of being loyal either to their church or their country. For some priests it meant life on the run, in some cases death for treason.
The other group not to be tolerated was people who wanted reform to go much further, and who finally gave up on the Church of England. They could no longer see it as a true church. They believed it had refused to obey the Bible, so they formed small groups of convinced believers outside the church. The government responded with imprisonment and exile to try to crush these "separatists".
The Church of England itself contained three groups. Those who believed the form of the church was just what it should be included leaders like John Jewel and Richard Hooker. A second group looked for opportunities to reintroduce some Roman Catholic practices. Under the Stuart kings they would have their chance. The third group, who came to be called Puritans, wanted to remove remaining traces of the old ways. The Stuart kings were to give them a rough passage. At the end of Elizabeth's reign, the Church of England was firmly in place, but held the seeds of future conflict.
Parliament was summoned in 1559 to consider the Reformation Bill and to create a new church. The Reformation Bill defined the Communion as a consubstantial celebration as opposed to a transubstantial celebration, included abuse of the pope in the litany, and ordered that ministers (meaning ordained clergy) should not wear the surplice or other Roman Catholic vestments. It allowed the clergy – deacons, priests and bishops – to marry, banned images from churches, and confirmed Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
The Bill met heavy resistance in the House of Lords, as Roman Catholic bishops as well as the lay peers voted against it. They reworked much of the Bill, changed the litany to allow for a transubstantial belief in the Communion and refused to grant Elizabeth the title of Supreme Head of the Church. Parliament was prorogued over Easter, and when it resumed, the government entered two new bills into the Houses—the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity.
This Act made null and void (with certain specific exceptions) the Marian act of 1554 that had repealed all Henry VIII's legislation from 1529 onwards, which had denied the authority of the See of Rome and also confirmed Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Supreme Governor was a suitably equivocal title that made Elizabeth head of the Church without ever saying she was. This was important for two reasons: (1) it satisfied those who felt that a woman could not rule the church, and (2) it acted in a conciliatory way toward English Roman Catholics. For the clergy, Elizabeth's changes were more wholesale than those of her half-brother, Edward, had been. All but one (Anthony Kitchin) of the bishops lost their posts, a hundred fellows of Oxford colleges were deprived; many dignitaries resigned rather than take the oath. The bishops who were removed from the ecclesiastical bench were replaced by appointees who would agree to the reforms. Since the government was concerned that continuity of Orders continue without a break Mathew Parker was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury by two bishops who had been consecrated in the mid-1530s using the Pontifical and two with the English Ordinal of 1550.
On the question of images, Elizabeth's initial reaction was to allow crucifixes and candlesticks and the restoration of roods, but some of the new bishops whom she had elevated protested. In 1560 Edmund Grindal, one of the Marian exiles now made Bishop of London, was allowed to enforce the demolition of rood lofts in London and in 1561 the Queen herself ordered the demolition of all lofts. Thereafter, the determination to prevent any further restoration was evidenced by the more thoroughgoing destruction of roods, vestments, stone altars, dooms, statues and other ornaments. The queen also appointed a new Privy Council, removing many Roman Catholic counsellors by doing so. Under Elizabeth, factionalism in the Council and conflicts at court greatly diminished. The Act of Supremacy was passed without difficulty.
The Act of Uniformity 1558, which forced people to attend Sunday service in a parish church with a new version of the Book of Common Prayer, passed by only three votes. The Bill of Uniformity was more cautious than the initial Reformation Bill. It revoked the harsh laws proposed against Roman Catholics, it removed the abuse of the pope from the litany and kept the wording that allowed for both consubstantial and transubstantial interpretations of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist without making any declaration about the matter (transubstantion is actually condemned in the Thirty-Nine Articles).
After Parliament was dismissed, Elizabeth and Cecil drafted the Royal Injunctions. These were additions to the settlement, and largely stressed continuity with the Catholic past – clergy were ordered to wear the surplice and the use of the cope was allowed in cathedrals and collegiate chapels – especially since all the clergy upon her accession the throne were Roman Catholic. Men were ordained to the three traditional orders of deacon, priest and bishop and so referred to in the Prayer Book Rites. The Ornaments Rubric states that the ornaments of the church and ministers thereof shall remain as they were in the second year of the reign of Edward VI, i.e. in 1548, when Mass was still celebrated (the Oxford Movement in the 19th century interpreted this as permission to wear chasubles, dalmatics and other vestments). Wafers, as opposed to ordinary baker's bread, were to be used as the bread at Communion. Communion would be taken kneeling. The Black Rubric denied the real and essential presence of Christ in the consecrated elements but allowed kneeling as long as this act did not imply adoration. The Queen had it removed. There had been opposition to the settlement in rural England, which for the most part was largely Roman Catholic, so the changes aimed for acceptance of the settlement. What succeeded more than anything else was the sheer length of Elizabeth's reign; while Mary had been able to impose her programme for a mere five years, Elizabeth had forty-five. Those who delayed, "looking for a new day" when restoration would again be commanded, were defeated by the passing of years.
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Elizabeth's reign saw the emergence of Puritanism, which encompassed those Protestants who, whilst they agreed that there should be one national church, felt that the church had been but partially reformed. Puritanism ranged from hostility to the content of the Prayer Book and "popish" ceremony, to a desire that church governance be radically reformed. Grindal was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1575 and chose to oppose even the Queen in his desire to forward the Puritan agenda. He ended a 6,000-word reproach to her with, "Bear with me, I beseech you Madam, if I choose rather to offend your earthly majesty than to offend the heavenly majesty of God." He was placed under house arrest for his trouble and though he was not deprived, his death in 1583 put an end to the hopes of his supporters.
Grindal's successor, Archbishop Whitgift, more reflected the Queen's determination to discipline those who were unprepared to accept her settlement. A conformist, he imposed a degree of obedience on the clergy that apparently alarmed even the Queen's ministers, such as Lord Burghley. The Puritan cause was not helped even by its friends. The pseudonymous "Martin Marprelate" tracts, which attacked conformist clergy with a libellous humorous tone, outraged senior Puritan clergy and set the government on an unsuccessful attempt to run the writer to earth. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 incidentally made it more difficult for Puritans to resist the conclusion that since God "blew with his wind and they were scattered" he could not be too offended by the religious establishment in the land.
On the other side, there were still huge numbers of Roman Catholics. Some conformed, bending with the times, hoping that there would be a fresh reverse. Vestments were still hidden, golden candlesticks bequeathed, chalices kept. The Mass was still celebrated in some places alongside the new Communion service but was more difficult than before. Both Roman Catholic priests and laity lived a double life, apparently conforming, but avoiding taking the oath of conformity. Only as time passed did recusancy—refusal to attend Protestant services—became more common. Jesuits and seminary priests, trained in Douai and Rome to make good the losses of English priests, encouraged this.
By the 1570s, an underground church was growing fast as the Church of England became more Protestant and less bearable for Roman Catholics who were still a sizeable minority. Only one public attempt to restore the old religion occurred: the Rising of the Northern earls in 1569. It was a botched attempt; in spite of tumultuous crowds who greeted the rebels in Durham, the rebellion did not spread. The assistance they sought did not materialise, their communication with allies at Court was poor. They came nowhere near to freeing Mary Stuart, whose presence might have rallied support, from her imprisonment in Tutbury.
The Roman Catholic Church's refusal to countenance occasional attendance at Protestant services, as well as the excommunication of Elizabeth by Pope Pius V in 1570, presented the choice to Roman Catholics more starkly. The arrival of the seminary priests, while it was a lifeline to many Roman Catholics, brought further trouble. Elizabeth's ministers took steps to stem the tide: fines for refusal to attend church were raised from 12 d. per service to £20 a month, fifty times an artisan's wage; it was now treason to be absolved from schism and reconciled to Rome; the execution of priests began—the first in 1577, four in 1581, eleven in 1582, two in 1583, six in 1584, fifty-three by 1590, and seventy more between 1601 and 1608. It became treasonable for a Roman Catholic priest ordained abroad to enter the country. Because the papacy had called for the deposing of the Queen, the choice for moderate Roman Catholics lay between treason and damnation. The List of Catholic martyrs of the English Reformation was extensive.
There is some distance between legislation and its enforcement. The governmental attacks on recusancy were mostly upon the gentry. Few recusants were actually fined; the fines that were imposed were often at reduced rates; the persecution eased; priests came to recognise that they should not refuse communion to occasional conformists. The persecutions did not extinguish the faith, but they tested it sorely. The huge number of Roman Catholics in East Anglia and the North in the 1560s disappeared into the general population in part because recusant priests largely served the great Roman Catholic houses, which alone could hide them. Without the Mass and pastoral care, yeomen, artisans and husbandmen fell into conformism. Roman Catholicism, supported by foreign or expatriate priests, came to be seen as treasonous.
By the time of Elizabeth's death a third party had emerged, "perfectly hostile" to Puritans but not adherent to Rome. It preferred the revised Book of Common Prayer of 1559, which was without some of the matters offensive to Roman Catholics. The recusants had been removed from the centre of the stage. The new dispute was now between the Puritans (who wished to see an end of the prayer book and episcopacy), and this third party (the considerable body of people who looked kindly on the Elizabethan Settlement, who rejected prophesyings, whose spirituality had been nourished by the Prayer Book and who preferred the governance of bishops).
It was between these two groups that, after Elizabeth's death in 1603, a new, more savage episode of the Reformation was in the process of gestation. During the reigns of the Stuart kings, James I and Charles I, the battle lines were to become more defined, leading ultimately to the English Civil War, the first on English soil to engulf parts of the civilian population. The war was only partly about religion, but the abolition of prayer book and episcopacy by a Puritan Parliament was an element in the causes of the conflict. As historian MacCulloch has noted, the legacy of these tumultuous events can be recognised, throughout the Commonwealth (1649–60) and the Restoration that followed it, and beyond. This third party was to become the core of the restored Church of England, but at the price for further division.
The historiography of the English Reformation has seen vigorous clashes among dedicated protagonists and scholars for five centuries. The main factual details at the national level have been clear since 1900, as laid out for example by James Anthony Froude, and Albert Pollard.
Reformation historiography has seen many schools of interpretation with Protestant, Catholic, Anglican historians using their own religious perspectives. In addition there has been a highly influential Whig interpretation, based on liberal secularized Protestantism, that depicted the Reformation in England, in the words of Ian Hazlitt, as "the midwife delivering England from the Dark Ages to the threshold of modernity, and so a turning point of progress". Finally among the older schools was a neo-Marxist interpretation that stressed the economic decline of the old elites in the rise of the landed gentry and middle classes. All these approaches still have representatives, but the main thrust of scholarly historiography since the 1970s falls into four groupings or schools, according to Hazlett.
Geoffrey Elton leads the first faction with an agenda rooted in political historiography. It concentrates on the top of the early modern church-state looking at it at the mechanics of policymaking and the organs of its implementation and enforcement. The key player for Elton was not Henry VIII, but rather his principal Secretary of State Thomas Cromwell. Elton downplays the prophetic spirit of the religious reformers in the theology of keen conviction, dismissing them as the meddlesome intrusions from fanatics and bigots.
Secondly, Geoffrey Dickens and others were motivated by a primarily religious perspective. They prioritize the religious and subjective side of the movement. While recognizing the Reformation was imposed from the top, just as it was everywhere else in Europe, it also responded to aspirations from below. Dickens has been criticized for underestimating the strength of residual and revived Roman Catholicism, but has been praised for his demonstration of the close ties to European influences. In the Dickens school, David Loades has stressed the theological importance of the Reformation for Anglo-British development.
Revisionists comprise a third school, led by Christopher Haigh, Jack Scarisbrick and numerous other scholars. Their main achievement was the discovery of an entirely new corpus of primary sources at the local level, leading them to the emphasis on Reformation as it played out on a daily and local basis, with much less emphasis on the control from the top they emphasize turning away from elite sources they emphasize local parish records, diocesan files, guild records, data from boroughs, the courts, and especially telltale individual wills.
Finally, Patrick Collinson and others have brought much more precision to the theological landscape, with Calvinist Puritans who were impatient with the Anglican caution sent compromises. Indeed, the Puritans were a distinct subgroup who did not comprise all of Calvinism. The Church of England thus emerged as a coalition of factions, all of them Protestant inspiration.
All the recent schools have decentered Henry VIII, and minimized hagiography. They have paid more attention to localities, Catholicism, radicals, and theological niceties. On Catholicism, the older schools overemphasized Thomas More (1470–1535), to the neglect of other bishops and factors inside Catholicism. The older schools too often concentrated on elite London, the newer ones look to the English villages.
[He ...believed he that he could keep his own secrets... but he was often deceived and he deceived himself.]