The English Reformation under the Tudors

Henry VIII 1509-47  Henry controlls the first stage of the English Reformation, which was driven by his desire to dump his first wife Catherine of Aragon to marry his lover Anne Boleyn.  Catherine had only had one surviving girl child, who would evnetually become Queen Mary I, and Henry wanted a male heir.  This secular desire is what led to a break with Rome in the 1534 and the creation of the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church.  Church practices however, were not reformed a great deal under Henry.  The King, rather than the Pope, became the head of the English church, and the monasteries were dissolved to put money in Henry's pocket, but Henry was overall a conservative. In many ways, English religious life continued as before.

Katherine of Aragon

Henry VIII's first wife and mother of Mary I (1553-1559), seen above.   Both mother and daughter were devout Catholics, and were related to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.


Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII's second wife.  Henry and Anne married in January 1534.  Anne was the mother of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), who would return the church to Protestantism by the via media, or the middle way.  Largely because Anne did not produce a male heir either, she was executed.


Jane Seymour
Henry was on the lookout for another wife to give him a son, and as a result he married a good Protestant girl of the English nobility, Jane Seymour (seen below).


Edward VI 1547-1553
Jane bore Henry a son, who would become Edward VI, and rule as a boy, advised by a council.  During Edward's reign, religious reform became politicized, and England became even more radically Protestant than under Henry.   The English Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549.  For the first time in England, all the rites required by clergy and people were in one volumen, and it was in English, so people could understand their role in the service.  In 1553, the 42 Articles were passed by Parliament, which allowed priests to marry, a controversial decision.


Mary I (1553-1559)
And then in that very year, Edward died, and the next eligible claimnant to the throne was Mary I, who was raised to be steadfastly Catholic.  Mary tried to reverse her father's work and return England to Catholicism, but her personal unpopularity during the latter part of her reign and short rule ultimately made this impossible.  England would become officially Protestant under the rule of Mary's half-sister, Elizabeth I.

Mary's persecution of Protestants would form the subject of John Foxes' Book of Martyrs, which was later required to be placed in every church in England.  The few hundred Protestant Martyrs burned at Smithfield from 1553-8 gave Mary the nickname "Bloody Mary."  However, Mary herself was actually rather gentle, and found that the logic of her ardent faith in Catholicism as well as political demands, led to her endorsing acts she personally found repulsive.  She died tragically of ovarian cancer, passing the crown to her half-sister, Elizabeth I, who was firmly protestant.

Elizabeth I 1558-1603
Elizabeth conceived of a state church that would appeal to as many of her people as possible, and saw religious belief primarily as a political tool to enhance her rule. Elizabeth was thus a politique.  The Elizabethan Settlement, began in 1559 with the Act of Uniformity, essentially returned England to the reformation of Henry VIII's years.  The Anglican Church was headed by the monarch, its priests were called ministers, and the official Prayer Book set down the rituals to be used.  The Anglican church under Elizabeth was largely episcopalian in structure, in that bishops ruled it via the monarch's wishes.

Although on the surface, religion faded away for a time as a divisive issue, but under the surface tensions remained, particularly among Puritans, reformers that wanted to further "purify" the Anglican church, and those who remained stubbornly Catholic, called recusants.  As a result, the issue of reform in England was postponed rather than resolved, ultimately resulting in a religious civil war in 1629.

 Elizabeth is seen below in her 1558 Coronation Portrait.  (This dress was reproduced with great fidelity by the movie Elizabeth.)

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