In this lesson, we will examine the English Reformation of the 16th century. Using a timeline, we will explore its motivations, major leaders, and development.
Reformation Roller Coaster
The Protestant Reformation in England was like a giant roller coaster ride - up and down, back and forth, Catholic to Protestant and back again, over and over. This lesson will hit the high points of the English Reformation and examine its motivations, major leaders, and development by presenting a timeline. So, hang on for a wild ride of climbs and drops and twists and turns.
Henry VIII - A Break with Rome
- 1527-1529 - In these years, King Henry VIII became more and more dissatisfied with his wife, Catherine of Aragon. She had produced no male heirs that would continue his dynastic line, and the king often wondered if their marriage was even valid. Catherine was the widow of Henry's brother, and the Catholic Church had provided a special dispensation so that they could marry. Now, however, Henry was concerned, and he appealed to Rome for an annulment that would allow him to remarry. The pope declined, maintaining that Henry and Catherine's marriage was valid and binding. Henry, however, was determined to get his way, for he had fallen in love with a young woman named Anne Boleyn, and he was set on marrying her.
- 1529 - Henry gave up on Rome and pressured the English bishops to annul his marriage to Catherine, which they did. Henry quickly married Anne Boleyn.
- 1531 - The English clergy declared that Henry was the 'supreme head and protector' of the Church of England.
- 1534 - In the Act of Supremacy, Parliament agreed with the clergy and declared Henry to be the 'supreme head of the church in England.' All English people had to offer their allegiance to Henry in that capacity. The break with Rome was complete. Henry had now taken the place of the pope for the English Church.
- 1536 - The Act of Dissolution closed 560 English monasteries and gave their land and holdings to the king.
- 1539 - The Six Articles defined the doctrine and practice of the English Church. They retained many Catholic elements, including a celibate clergy, the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and the practice of confession. Henry, however, remained the head of the church.
- 1547 - Henry VIII died.
Edward VI - Protestant to the Core
- 1547 - Henry's son, Edward VI, took the throne. He was Protestant to the point of being a fanatic, and his father's Six Articles were quickly sent out the door.
- 1548 - Images and many Catholic symbols, including the crucifix and holy water, were removed from English churches.
- 1549 - The Book of Common Prayer was introduced. This book presented the religious services in English rather than Latin, and established a simpler liturgy that was more like Lutheran worship.
- 1549 - A new Act of Uniformity required everyone to use the Book of Common Prayer. England was fast becoming more and more Protestant.
- 1552 - The Book of Common Prayer received revision that stripped it of more Catholic elements, including mention of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sign of the cross, clerical vestments, and prayers for the dead.
- 1553 - Edward VI, who was always sickly, died.
Mary I - Catholic to the Core
- 1553 - Queen Mary I took the throne. She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and staunchly Catholic in her beliefs and practices. She quickly reinstated Catholicism in England.
- 1554 - The Roman Catholic Church formally received England back into its fold.
- 1554 - Mary married Philip of Spain, cementing an alliance with the devout Catholic country.
- 1555-1558 - During these years, about 287 Protestants were killed as the queen tried to rid the country of Protestant influence. In doing so, she earned the nickname 'Bloody Mary.' The queen also battled with Parliament to repeal the pro-Protestant laws passed during the reigns of her father and brother. She was ultimately successful.
- 1558 - Queen Mary died.
Elizabeth I - Religious Settlement
- 1558 - Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, assumed the English throne. Elizabeth was Protestant, but more moderate than either of her siblings. She was a prudent ruler and willing to compromise - to a point.
- 1559 - Another Act of Supremacy declared that Elizabeth was the 'supreme governor of this realm in all things ecclesiastical and temporal.' Notice that she did not take her father's title of 'supreme head of the church in England.'
- 1559 - Another Act of Uniformity established a Protestant state church in which all English people were required to worship. This version of the English Church retained many Catholic elements, which made it more acceptable to most English Catholics.
- 1563 - The Thirty-nine Articles set in the doctrine and practice of the English Church and sealed the compromise that scholars call the Elizabethan Settlement. Many Protestant elements remained, including the practice of only two sacraments, married clergy, and an emphasis on faith instead of good works. The deliberately ambiguous settlement did, however, offer concessions to Catholics, including elaborate ceremonies that were similar to those of Catholicism, visible symbols, and saints' days. Elizabeth expected that this moderate policy would achieve obedience and at least outward conformity from her subjects, and she was mostly right. Elizabeth was a popular and successful queen, and for the moment, the English religious question was settled.
Let's review our wild ride through the English Reformation. King Henry VIII started things off by being dissatisfied with his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He wanted an annulment, which the Catholic Church refused to grant. Henry broke with the Roman Church and had himself declared 'supreme head of the church in England.' He retained, however, most elements of Catholic doctrine and worship.
Henry's son, Edward VI, was almost fanatical in his Protestantism. He eliminated many Catholic practices, symbols, and beliefs and introduced the Book of Common Prayer, which was required for all English people. After Edward died young, his sister Mary I took the throne. Mary was a staunch Catholic and quickly reinstated Catholicism in England. She also executed many Protestants, which earned her the nickname 'Bloody Mary.'
Mary reigned only five years before she died. Then her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I, assumed the throne. Elizabeth was moderate in her Protestant beliefs and willing to compromise. She developed the successful Elizabethan Settlement, which balanced Protestant and Catholic elements in the English Church. For the moment, Elizabeth had settled the English religious question.
After this lesson is over, you should be able to:
- Identify the major players in the English Reformation
- Describe the changing religious map from Catholicism, to Anglican, to Protestant and back, including Henry VIII's separation from Rome, Edward the VI's introduction of the Book of Common Prayer and Elizabeth I's establishment of a Protestant state church