in Scotland
in Ireland

The Reformation in England

A.) The Separation of the Church of England from Rome

King Henry VIII. had married the widow of his brother Arthur, CATHERINE OF ARAGON; of their children, only a daughter, Mary, survived infancy. Remindful of the civil war (WAR OF THE ROSES, 1455-1485) that had divided England in two rival camps, Henry was determined to produce a son. However, he doubted that Catherine would bare him a son, and, having cast his eye on Anne Boleyn, he asked POPE CLEMENT VII., through the mediation of CARDINAL WOLSEY, to annul his marriage to Catherine. The latter being a close relative of Emperor CHARLES V., Pope Clement VII. did not comply.
In 1533, King Henry VIII. then pressed a council of English bishops to declare the separation of the Church of England from Rome. Archbishop of Canterbury THOMAS CRANMER now annulled Henry's marriage with Catherine, and he was free to marry Anne Boleyn. The Irish parliament in 1536/1537 followed suit, establishing the CHURCH OF IRELAND.

B.) The Anglican Reformation

On previous travels to Germany, Thomas Cranmer had met OSIANDER, the reformer of Basel, and through him he was acquainted with Lutheran thought. Later Cranmer invited MARTIN BUCER, the STRASSBURG reformer, to England.
In 1534 the ACT OF SUPREMACY was passed, according to which the King of England also was the head of the Church of England (and, since 1536/1537, also of the Church of Ireland). JOHN FISHER, bishop of Rochester, refused to swear an oath accepting the Act of Supremacy, and, as an alleged traitor, was executed (1535), as was ex-chancellor THOMAS MORE.
In 1536/1539 laws were passed which dissolved England's monasteries, the property of which was confiscated by the royal treasury. In 1539 the SIX ARTICLES were passed, which reaffirmed Catholic creed (except papal suppremacy) and rejected protestant creed. Celibacy was widely disregarded among the English clergy. Lutheran books had first appeared in England in 1521, a public burning of Lutheran publications had taken place in 1526. In 1531 THOMAS BILNEY, a priest from Cambridge who sympathized with Lutheranism, was burnt at the stake. WILLIAM TYNDALE, another English sympathizer with Lutheranism, who had illegally translated the bible into English in 1527, was executed in Brussels in 1536. Tyndale's bible translation was printed in Paris in 1538 and found Henry VIII.s approval.

King Henry VIII. died in 1547 and was succeeded by his son Edward VI., then 10 years old. In 1548 the first English language prayer was introduced in holy mass, still held in Latin. The removal of images was ordered. Church visitations were begun in 1550. During Edwards short reign, protestantism won in influence; the Six Articles were repealed, replaced by the FORTY-TWO ARTICLES in 1551, which were influenced by Calvinist ideas. In 1549/1553, Thomas Cranmer's BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER was published.

C.) Bloody Mary, 1553-1558

In 1553 Edward VI. died, only 16 years old. He was succeeded by his half-sister Mary, daughter of Henry VIII. and Catherine of Aragon, a devoted Catholic. She disbanded the Church of England, reintroduced Catholicism. Under her Protestants were treated as heretics (thus the nickname BLOODY MARY). The number of those burnt at the stake is estimated at c. 300, among them Archbishop Cranmer. Martin Bucer had died just before; his bones were exhumed and burnt. Others burnt at the stake include former bishop HUGH LATIMER and Bishop NICHOLAS RIDLEY. Catholic REGINALD POLE succeeded Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury.

D.) Elizabeth, 1558-1603

When Elizabeth succeeded her half-sister in 1558, she again favoured the Church of England. A second Act of Supremacy 1559 repealed the laws which under Queen Mary had undone the church legislation of Henry VIII. The ACT OF UNIFORMITY in 1559 adopted Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer in a modified version. The Saints' Days were reintroduced in 1560. The THIRTY NINE ARTICLES enacted in 1563 contained a definition of Anglican creed.
In her church legislation, Elizabeth was diplomatic, leaving room for dissenting groups in order not to alienate them. The most important religious groups, besides the Anglican state church, were Catholic and Calvinist minorities, the latter referred to as PURITANS. The expression 'Puritan' appeared first in 1564; in 1569 a Puritan program was outlined, in 1575 the GENEVA BIBLE, a new translation with Puritan comments was printed. A hot Anglican-Puritan dispute was followed by a ban of Puritan assemblies in 1593.

E.) The Early Stuarts, 1603-1649

Elizabeth had selected King James VI. of Scotland (the son of Mary Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth had ordered executed) to succeed her. James claimed to rule by divine right; he imposed the KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE (1611) and the (King James version of the) BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER on his English subjects. These measures lacked the diplomatic sensitivity Elizabeth had proven, and alienated both the Catholic and Puritan minorities. Disgruntled Catholic noblemen planned to blow up king and parliament in the GUNPOWDER PLOT of 1605 (which was uncovered); groups of Puritans emigrated to the Netherlands (1609) and later to Massachusetts (1620). England then saw the foundation of colonies as a solution for her domestic religious problem; MARYLAND was founded as a colony for England's Catholics.
In 1637, Archbishop Laud of Canterbury imposed a version destined for Scotland of the Book of Common Prayer (thus Anglican prayers) on the Scots who in their majority were Calvinists. The Scots took up arms and invaded England (1640); the King had to call for parliament to assemble, as he did not have the money to raise an army to defend England against the Scots his Archbishop had provoked to invade the country. Events escalated into the ENGLISH CIVIL WAR. In 1645 Archbishop William Laud was executed by decapitation.

F.) The Commonwealth of England, 1649-1660

The Parliamentary forces defeated the royalists; King Charles I. was executed in 1649. England became a republic - a commonwealth in the diction of the time. The dominating person was Puritan OLIVER CROMWELL who pursued a Calvinist policy, promoting work and prayer, banning games, theatre performances and dances. He pressed hard on the Irish Catholics and fought Catholic Spain.

G.) The Late Stuarts, 1660-1688

During the Cromwell years, Charles I's sons lived in exile in France, becoming impressed by Louis XIV.'s court, and becoming CRYPTO- CATHOLICS. In 1660 Charles II. was called back into the country and resumed the position of head of the Church of England. In 1662 a revised Book of Common Prayer was published; as many prayers were optional, it was more acceptable to dissenters. He died childless in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother JAMES II., who in 1668 openly had converted to Catholicism; now a Catholic was head of the Anglican church. With his policy, James II. alienated many influencial Englishmen; in 1688 seven Anglican bishops were prosecuted because they had presented a list of grievances to the king. This triggered a conspiracy which called in James' son-in-law, the Calvinist WILLIAM OF ORANGE, stadholder in the Netherlands, into the country. Among the conspirators was Bishop COMPTON of London. William landed in England, with a force; James II. realized that he could not rely on his forces and left the country. The GLORIOUS REVOLUTION had succeeded. After, the position of the church of England was no more threatened by dynastic turns of events; parliament played an increasing role in English politics. The ACT OF TOLERATION in 1689 recognized the (limited) rights of Catholics and Dissenters; the Church of England remained state church.
A new religious group, the QUAKERS, emerged; their leader WILLIAM PENN acquired a colony in North America where Quakers could settle and establish a religious utopia - PENNSYLVANIA.

Church History, from
The Anglican Timeline, by Ed. Friedlander
Article England before the Reformation, since the Reformation from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909 edition
Chronology of Catholic Dioceses : England and Wales, from Kirken i Norge
DOCUMENTS Documents Illustrative of English Church History (Gee & Hardy, 1914) posted by Hanover Historical Texts Project
Reformation Europe, from Modern History Sourcebook, scroll down for English Reformation
REFERENCE Carl Stephenson, Frederick George Marcham (ed.), Sources of English Constitutional History, Vol.I., New York : Harper & Row 1972, containing many of the documents mentioned above
A.G. Dickens, D. Carr, The Reformation in England to the Accession of Elizabeth I., Documents of Modern History, Wheeling : Edward Arnold, (1967) 1982

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 10th 2003, last revised on November 15th 2004

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