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9-08-2015, 15:30

The Reformation in England

The relationship between popular pressure and reform from above is sometimes a matter of dispute among historians, and in this the Reformation in England is the best example. Books and individuals brought Lutheran ideas into England very early, especially in the universities and the city of London, though they were strenuously opposed by the king, Henry VIII, and his lord chancellor, Thomas Wolsey (1475?–1530), who was also a cardinal. Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon – the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, those marriage brokers extraordinaire – who had originally been married to his older brother, Arthur, who had died as a youth. To marry Catherine, Henry had been required to obtain a special papal dispensation, as marriage to a brother’s widow went against canon law. The marriage was about average for royal marriages – they neither especially hated nor loved one another – but it had only produced one living heir, a daughter, Mary. By 1527, Henry decided that God was showing his displeasure with the marriage by denying him a son, and appealed to the pope to have it annulled; he was also in love with a court lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn (1504–1536), and assumed she would give him the son that he wanted. Normally an annulment would not have been a problem, but the troops of Emperor Charles V were at that point in Rome, and Pope Clement VII was essentially their prisoner. Charles V was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon, and thus was vigorously opposed to an annulment, which would have declared his aunt a fornicator and his cousin Mary a bastard. (An annulment declares that there never was a marriage, making children of such a union illegitimate.) The military situation in Rome, added to the fact that an annulment would have called into question the pope’s right to grant a dispensation from something proscribed by the Bible, led the pope to stall, though Cardinal Wolsey put immense pressure on him. Wolsey was removed from offi ce, arrested, and charged with treason, though he died before coming to trial. Working through Parliament and other offi cials, Henry gradually took over control of the English church. In 1533, he married Anne, and shortly afterward appointed Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556), a Cambridge scholar, as archbishop of Canterbury. Cranmer announced that Henry’s marriage to Catherine was void and his marriage to Anne valid, allowing her to become queen. Henry had forced the pope to agree to Cranmer’s appointment by threatening to withhold all taxes, but this move was too much, and the pope excommunicated Henry. Later that year, Anne gave birth, although to Henry’s great dismay, it was a daughter, Elizabeth, rather than a son. Henry and his new principal minister, Thomas Cromwell (1485?–1540), ordered everyone holding office in England to agree that Henry was the “supreme head of the Church of England” and dissolved the monasteries, transferring their assets to the royal treasury, and later disbursing them to Henry’s supporters. For the rest of his reign, Henry alternated between Protestant religious measures, such as supporting translations of the Bible, and Catholic ones, such as forbidding the marriages of monks and nuns whose convents he had closed. His own religious opinions were idiosyncratic, with the strongest held being his firm belief in the authority of the monarch over everything, temporal and spiritual. Archbishop Cranmer supported this royal supremacy, but also introduced Protestant doctrinal reforms regarding the Eucharist, the veneration of saints, and other issues, and wrote a new liturgy in English, The Book of Common Prayer . There is no dispute about these events, nor about the fact that Henry’s marriage and succession problems were the direct cause of the English Reformation. What is debated is how the king’s moves intersected with popular theological conviction. Some historians see the fact that most clergy and officials accepted Henry’s moves (Thomas More being one of the few who did not, for which he was executed), and that the return to Catholicism under his daughter Mary did not outlast her death, as evidence that English people were already deeply dissatisfied with the Catholic Church. Others argue that most people were quite content with the traditional Catholicism of communal celebrations and structured ceremonies, and that they resisted Henry’s changes as much as they could. In 1536, for example, opposition to Henry’s closing of the monasteries combined with discontent about rising taxes resulted in a revolt led by priests and nobles which began in the north of England. Called the “Pilgrimage of Grace,” it disbanded when promises were made to address its demands, though these promises were ignored and Henry later executed many of its leaders. More recent scholarship has pointed out that people rarely “converted” from Catholicism to Protestantism overnight, particularly in a situation like the one in England where changes were often piecemeal and where the religious policies of the crown itself varied. People responded to an action of the crown being played out in their own neighborhood – the closing of a monastery, the ending of masses said for the dead – with a combination of resistance, acceptance, cooperation, and collaboration. This process of cultural accommodation and compromise continued under Elizabeth I. She required offi cials, clergy, and nobles to swear allegiance to her as the “supreme governor of the Church of England.” She initially chose the word “governor” rather than “head” to provide a loophole for English Catholics to remain loyal to her without denying the primacy of the pope. She also realized that “head” might be viewed as inappropriate for a woman, for treatises about the family and proper gender relations always referred to men as the “head.” Many of the leaders of the Church of England under Elizabeth were infl uenced by continental reformers who were closer to Zwingli than Luther in their ideas, so that the Elizabethan church is part of the Reformed wing of Protestantism. Later the term Anglican would be used to describe the Church of England, but this word was not used during Elizabeth’s time. Though Elizabeth said she “would not make windows into men’s souls,” that is, inquire too closely into what people believed, her subjects were required to be members of the Church of England and to attend church. Later in her reign, doubts about the loyalty of her subjects if there should be a joint Spanish–papal invasion led to increasing fi nes and imprisonment of “recusants,” the term given to Catholics who refused to attend services. Every political authority in Christian Europe, whether Catholic, Evangelical, or Reformed, accepted this policy of religious uniformity and an offi cial state church. (Because of their links to political authorities, who were called “magistrates” in the sixteenth century, Evangelical and Reformed thinkers and churches are often termed magisterials .)

 

 

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