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The Henrican Reformation


Submitted By fordixie13
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Henry 8th
The year is 1563, after the bloodshed of Mary’s reign, England is unified and united under the reign of Elizabeth I.1 With Protestantism taking hold, the English had truly embraced their religion, incorporating it as part of their national image. However, the High Church of England had a rough history. In the beginning it was never truly sure of its position or role in relation to Catholicism and other protestant faiths. It took nearly 40 years and 4 monarchs to solidify its stance and finalize the church doctrine. The reason for this instability was caused in part by the true nature of the schism. Unlike the reformations of the continent, the English Reformation was caused by political motives rather than differences in theology and clerical practices. It was all started off by Henry’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, followed by the English courts desire to access the power and wealth of the church. Cementing the fact that the reformation was political, was how closely the High Church’s doctrine mimicked that of the Catholic Church.
Henry had been married for 21 years to Catherine of Aragon and she had not been able to produce a male heir. Not only had they not conceived a male, they had struggled to conceive at all. ‘During their marriage, Catherine had given birth to 6 children. 2 were stillborn, 3 did not survive the first year and Mary, the only one to make it to adulthood, was frail and sickly.’2 In Henry’s mind it was integral to the continuation of the Tudor dynasty that a male heir be produced; and he was not without cause in this belief. ‘England had experienced an uneasy peace after the coronation of his father and the conclusion of the War of the Roses.’3 This peace could come to an end if England did not have a strong male heir to become king.4 In order to provide England with a male heir Henry needed to conceive a child with another woman; ‘In Henry’s mind, all of the failed pregnancies pointed to God’s displeasure with their union.’5 Then Anne Boleyn came into the picture.
‘Unlike many other royal unions of the day, Henry and Catherine had enjoyed a strong relationship as man and wife. And Henry had very few mistresses.’6 But as the marriage progressed and no boy was born, Henry’s gaze began to fall elsewhere. In 1525, Henry started to pursue Anne Boleyn, a young lady in service at court. ‘Anne did not want to be used and discarded like her sister, whom Henry had an affair with before.’7 ‘She made it understood to Henry that she would not give herself to him unless they were married’8; by default making her Queen in the process. This only made Henry want her more, putting him in a tough position. He was already married to Catherine, and would need to get the marriage annulled by the Pope in order to marry Anne. This request put the Pope in a tough position, and one that had no chance of ever going Henry’s way. ‘Rome had just been sacked by the Emperor, Charles V, and the Pope was for a time imprisoned’9. Charles being the nephew of Catherine expressed his displeasure with the idea of his Aunt being cast aside for another woman. Not wanting to give the Emperor cause against him, the Pope felt that he could not give Henry the annulment. This put Henry at odds with Rome. Henry desperately wanted a son and he desperately wanted Anne and with Rome’s hands tied, he decided to take matters into his own hands. ‘Henry had his own clergy annul the marriage with Catherine and in the year 1533 he married Anne.’10 ‘In the same year parliament passed the First Act of Succession, which validated the union and any issues conceived by it.’11 Thus Henry had taken the first step of separating England from Rome, simply because of his own personal desires. However, the ties with Rome had not been completely severed by this marriage, but as Henry continued he begins to desire power over the clergy and what they possess and he feels like it should belong to him.
England, like many other countries in Europe, had within in political arena, a unique dynamic with the clergy. The clergy answered to Rome and followed the decrees of the chief pontiff before they took into account the wishes of the King. With the divide between Rome and England already formed, Henry, upon the urging of his council (particularly Thomas Cromwell), decided to go after the power and wealth of the clergy. Henry felt the need to get the clergy on his side, or at least listen to him. ‘Starting in 1533, parliament put forth a series of laws that limited the power of the clergy and gave it to Henry. It forced the clergy to accept the King’s nomination for bishop and they could no longer pass laws without the permission of the King.’12 This effectively reduced the clergy to an arm of the Kings government that could no longer act independently. ‘ During this time, estimates show that the clergy held around one quarter of all the land in England.’13 Like most of the European nations at the time, the crown was in debt. The king and his council saw the wealth of the clergy as a way to pay for their current and future expenses. ‘Through a series of acts culminating with the Act of First Fruits and Tenths, the crown stopped all payments by the clergy (and secular landowners), and transferred them to the crown.’14 ‘Starting in 1534 and lasting the next six years, the crown went about disbanding and dissolving the monasteries and abbeys.’15 Starting with the smaller ones and working their way up, they transferred the lands of the church into the hands of the Crown. ‘The Crown used these lands to appropriate funds and gain allies by making nobles and elites loyal to the King17, by giving them these lands.’16
‘It was only in the middle of all this business of dismantling the clergy’s power that parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, which named Henry the head of the Church of England.’18 The acts of parliament clearly show that once Henry had married Anne the split with Rome was not based on theological grounds. The Driving force of the reformation was the desire to consolidate the Kings power within the realm, and he did this by asserting his authority over the clergy and dissolving their ties to Rome. By essentially subjugating the clergy to the will of the crown it freed up land and capital with which the crown used to further enhance its power with the non-ecclesiastical members of the nobility. It is hard to doubt that politics was the true reason for the split with Rome and one need only to look at Henry’s own religious actions and practice before and after the split to realize this.
‘It was known that the Tudor family was very religious and devout.’19 ‘Both Henry and his father were known to have taken a barefoot pilgrimage. Henry himself was very gracious with his donations to the monasteries and churches so they could buy candles.’20 As I have mentioned before it was through Henry’s faith that he believed that his marriage was blighted in the eyes of the Lord. ‘Henry did not believe in divorce, for once a marriage had been properly consummated and confirmed in the light of God, there was no way to break the vows.’21 Maybe the most telling is Henry’s treatise, The Defense of the Seven Sacraments. ‘He wrote out against the teachings of Luther and promoted the authority and validity of the Churches practices. For this he was given the title of Defender of the Faith by Pope Leo X.’22 These actions speak to his character of a good catholic before the reformation but what about after. Six years after his marriage to Anne, England had been flooded with protestant theologians, particularly Lutheran doctors. Henry was uncomfortable on the direction of the Church in regards to theological and clerical practices. ‘In 1539, Henry had parliament pass the Act of Six Articles which reaffirmed Catholic doctrine on six key issues. These included clerical celibacy, transubstantiation, and the necessity of confession to a priest.’23 ‘Although Henry authorised the printing of an English Bible, he had its reading restricted to those of noble birth.’24’ And masses were kept in Latin during Henry’s reign and an English Book of Common Prayer was published in the reign of his son.’25 These act for the large part kept close to the Catholic doctrine and while during Henry’s reign, he was reluctant to change theological practices. It can be seen by the actions of Henry (who was spearheading the English Reformation) that the reformation was driven by political motives and had nothing to do with Catholic doctrine or practices. It can be said that the Anglican Church came to represent its own style of Christianity as time went on. But it would be hard to argue that the true reason for the schism was theological. The spark that set it off was Henry’s desire for a male heir; which would ensure the continuation of his dynasty. He had become infatuated with Anne Boleyn and in an effort to produce a son he annulled his marriage to Catherine and married Anne, without the consent of the Pope. The reformation was helped along by Henry’s desire for more power (and wealth) over the clergy. They formally dissolved all ties to Rome and made the clergy subservient to the crown. Henry exemplifies the phrase, once a catholic, always a catholic. He was extremely reluctant to abandon his religion in favor protestant doctrine. When looking at the whole picture, it is clear that the English Reformation occurred because of political reasons instead of debate over church doctrine and clerical practices.

Endnotes 1. Under Elizabeth, the year The Act of 39 Articles is past. This act solidifies the doctrine and image of the Church of England. 2. Simon Schama, A History of Britain. (London England, BBC Worldwide Ltd., 2000.) 124 3. George Trevelyan, Illustrated English Social History, Vol. 1. (London, England. Longmans,Green and Co Ltd., 1944.) 199 4. During this time, it had not been proven that a female heir could gain assent to the throne and rule effectively. Henry was justified in thinking that only a male would due, especially with the turbulent atmosphere in England. 5. Hans Hillerbrand, The Reformation.( New York, New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1964) 23 6. HIllerbrand 18 7. Colin Pendrill, The English Reformation: 1485-1558. (Oxford, England. Heinemann Educational Publishers,2000) 32 8. HIllerbrand, 28 9. Trevelyan 222 10. Hillerbrand 30 11. HIllerbrand 31 12. Leonard Cowie, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century. (New York, New York: Way land Ltd., 1970) 52 13. Cowie 61 14. Cowie 63 15. Pendrill 54 16. Cowie 64 17. The nobles during this time were unsure as to who m they should side with, Henry or Rome. He used the confiscated lands as tokens and gifts to earn and keep the loyalty of the nobles. 18. Trevelyan 229 19. Schama 122 20. Schama 123 21. Trevelyan 206 22. Schama 124 23. Pendrill 66 24. Cowie 82 25. Hillerbrand 71


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