What happened that caused such an abrupt move in the Church of England towards a reformation in the 16th century? Why did the church change hands from Catholic to Protestant so many times? Finally, how did the church become a middle of the road church that most were able to accept as the Anglican Church? These are the questions I hope to answer in this short paper on the Reformation of the Church of England during the sixteenth century as we take a quick peek at the influential rulers of that time period.
From Henry VIII and the split with Rome to the middle of the road Anglican Church of Elizabeth I, we see a new and separate church evolve from that of Rome. The abrupt move in the Church of England towards a reformation started out in a much different manner than in continental Europe. It had come about mainly for reasons to due with Henry VIII attempts to gain an annulment from his first wife Katherine.
Henry VIII did not simply seek an annulment for his own personal gratification in the need or want for a new wife, but that he was in desperate need for a successor to the royal thrown. 2 The marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine had remained fruitless in the attempts to produce a male heir to the English Royal Thrown, with Henry believing that a curse listed in the Book of Leviticus stating that a man who marries his brothers wife will not be able to produce children from this nuptial and the only surviving to this point had been his daughter Mary.
Having that Katherine had been previously married for a short time to Henrys brother Prince Arthur, who died within months of their marriage, he used this as a means to seek an annulment from the marriage and sought the then pope Clement VII to declare the marriage void. 4 Henry had a trust and a belief that the papacy in Rome would grant him the annulment that he sought and it may have happened if it had not been for really bad timing.
The pope was under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor, who just happened to be the nephew of his wife Katherine of whom he was seeking the annulment from. 6 Although the pope tried to appease all parties involved, it failed through the use of stalling in the courts and turned down proposals by Queen Katherine herself whom no longer recognized the jurisdiction of the English courts and claimed that she and Arthur had never consummated the marriage in the first place giving little validity to the claim Henry was making for reasons of annulment. 7
The failure to be granted his most sought after annulment brought some hesitation to the king, but under a new direction with the help of his minister Thomas Cromwell he was able to set up a new arena to legitimize his separation from the queen by installing himself as a kind of pope in his own right of the Church of England. 8 Thomas Cramner was assigned as the archbishop of Canterbury and with the kings eyes as well as a few other anatomical items now looking towards the sister of Katherine, Anne Boleyn who was now impregnated, the whole assignment of annulment needed to be hastened to assure legitimacy.
Cramners archiepiscopal court was conveyed as the highest and one true court in dealings with religion under the Act of Appeals which totally shut out any links between Rome and the Church of England. 10 In May of 1533, the much sought after annulment was granted by Cramner who acted as more or less a puppet serving the kings needs, and thus a separation from Rome was fully complete with the needs being met now at home. 11 The results of the pregnancy of Anne Boleyn were yet another daughter for Henry VIII. With still no heir to the English thrown he wed several more times with only one producing a son.
The son would become the next King of England as Edward VI, followed by his eldest daughter Mary, and the daughter that was produced in the union with Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth. 13 Aside from the manner in which England reformation started, the Church of England remained under Henry VIII throughout his lifetime mainly Catholic in theology. His unintentional break with Rome for personal reasons now gave him the power that was usually yielded by the pope and as well as the extra monies usually funneled to them in allegiance to the church under the Roman papacy. 15
This newfound freedom from any other countries ties to control over any English way of life gave way to the first real English Monarchy, where all allegiance was to stay within the boundaries of the small island nation. By the end of Henry VIII life, he had enacted a change that was notable yet did not change official church doctrine. 17 The dissolving of monasteries and raping them of their abundant wealth of money, treasures and land, of which most proceeds went directly to the crown. 18 With the death of Henry VIII in 1547, England was changed in its state supported nature in the Church of England when the new King stepped up to the thrown.
Edward VI was the only surviving legitimate son of Henry VIII, hence giving him the best claim, and his short rein changed the atmosphere of the church from that of a Catholic nature to that of a Protestant one. 19 When Edward VI seated the thrown, he was a mere 9 years of age. 20 Being that he was so young, his uncle the Duke of Sumerset, a Lutheran made most of the decisions as the Regent to the thrown as Lord Protector. 21 Later Northumberland served in this position and was mainly influenced by yet another offshoot of the Protestant religion, that of a Zwinglist and Calvinist.
Edwards reign added to the reformation of his father by changes such as the introduction of The Book of Common Prayer in its two versions, although both versions were the work of Cramner, the first of which written at the time when the Duke of Sumerset presided as Regent was most Lutheran in nature and found to be largely unacceptable, the second written at the time of Northumberlands Regency found the book having more qualities of Zwinglism, no doubt the direct influence of the Regents at the different periods played major roles in the developments of religious attitudes of their time. With the life of Edward VI there was a spread of Protestant influence in England, but with his death so too died Protestants. Mary Tudor was now Queen of England, the older half sister of Edward who was the product of the first marriage between Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, whom may have had 288 people burned to death during her reign in attempts to bring Catholicism back to England. 24
Mary I was married to Philip II King of Spain which also made him the King of England. Marys thrown days were limited to five years from 1553 to 1558, where she managed to reengage the church back to its papal links by use of force. 26 Marys short reign of bloodshed and forcible Catholicism was out-shadowed by that of her half-sister Elizabeth whom became the next queen of England as Elizabeth I. 27 Elizabeth I reign of England started with the death of her half-sister Mary I in 1558. 28 Under Good Queen Bess, England prospered, but not without having many changes made under the new monarchy under a moderate Protestant state.
It was a time of great question about which religion would dominate and be put in place and questions among the people where as such. 30 Elizabeth I wanted a church that would be able to deal with both sides of the fence that her brothers reign started with Protestant and her sister with the Catholics. 31 Elizabeth was a great politician for the reason that she was able to change a church staffed by Marys clergy and build a more compromising middle-of-the-road Anglican church much more apt at dealing with the ecclesiastical needs of the many.
In 1559 to 1563 she was able to achieve a religious settlement and quiet the two opposing sides, one calling for the radical Protestants of her brothers clergy to be reinstated and the other calling for Catholics to remain in control. 32 The newly installed system of Elizabeth I church required only that everyone attended church on a regular basis, meaning that they went all the time, but the church was very moderate and tried to fill the religious flavor for all of England whether you were a Catholic or a Protestant. This new church also ended the hunting for heretics, stopped the torture and burning of those suspected of being on either side of the religious spectrum and only imposed fines for those who did not attend church services that had been instituted as a mandatory necessity of the church. 34
With the clergy now acting in a manner that suited Elizabeths liking, the errors of the Roman church were levied upon them in the Thirty-nine Articles of belief that had great tendencies of Lutheran and Calvinist Protestant beliefs. These Thirty-nine Articles of belief laid the foundations for what would become the Anglican Church under Elizabeth. It was, for the most part, only the most fanatical and religiously one-sided individuals that were not able to adapt to this new adaptation to the church policies leaving the rest more open to compromise. 36
Being that England was still basically an agricultural society, along with the limited number of people living on the small Island country, Elizabeth did not have the funds that her contemporaries did in other European nations such as France and Spain. She actually did not even have the funds to raise a standing army, and her control was not as absolute as it would become to her successors down the road a few years. Elizabeth I, like the Tudors who ruled before, all had to work their thrown through the parliament who became increasingly stronger with the House of Commons being the more vocal and aggressive of the two houses in Parliament. 38 Parliament went so far as to tell the queen to get married, but Elizabeth never bowed to Parliament in that arena, enjoying the control she had as the sole monarch.
To remain the sole monarch was to remain the sole church leader. If Elizabeth had married, and done so with a staunch Catholic like Phillip II, it would have been very likely to see the church of England once again change roles and likely turn subservient to the papacy in Rome. With the Church now acting Protestant in nature, trying to assimilate all of England under the singular roof of the Anglican church, Elizabeth I was the only ruler of her day able to tend the burning fires of religion and unrest of the 16th century.
Having this monumental task behind her, she spent the remaining years of her life trying to maintain the feats she was able to accomplish early in her reign. 40 The task of maintaining the church she had built was also a monumentous task with the pressures put on her by neighboring counties such as Scotland, France and Spain all of whom were Catholic states, but she managed to do so for the remainder of her reign just into the 17th century in 1603 when she died and the end of the Tutor reign with it. The question of why the reformation took place in England was not a religious motive, but one of a personal and political nature seeking to insure a male Tudor heir would be able to maintain the norm in England and keep the fighting of inner wars away. 42 This unfortunately did not happen in the way Henry VIII would have hoped being that his only son only stayed on the thrown for such a short time.
The changing from Catholic to Protestant several times might have never happened if Henry VIII would have been able to see into the future mess that he had created by the number of marriages he had had with wives from a number of different religious backgrounds. For instance, Spain has traditionally been a Catholic society while under the Spanish, and his first wife Katherine was a Spaniard and hence a Catholic. Since this marriage only produced a daughter Mary, who would eventually go to the thrown, the society was doomed to have a Catholic ruler if events were to play as they did.
The same thing happened with his only son whom took Henry VIII place at his death. Edward VI took over the thrown at such an early age that a regent was needed to rule for him. The regent in this case was his maternal uncle, the Duke of Sumerset who was a radical Protestant that changed the English church only to be crushed by Mary I upon her reign. 43 Lastly Elizabeth, the greatest of the Tudors was raised a Catholic but chose to rule opposite of her sisters brothers, and fathers way and found the middle to meet the needs of the people making her also probably the wisest of the English monarchs.
The reason for this middle-of-the-road church is due to Elizabeth I promulgating the end the terror, stabilizing England and creating an Anglican Church that everyone could accept and live by. 45 The disruption that Henry sought to avoid by ensuring a male heir to the thrown changed England in more ways than he could ever have known, threw the country into religious unrest for many years, and still the reasons for the English reformation of the church left a woman at the Tudor thrown that was better at dealing with the events of those days than even he himself, the King of England.