This meant that the Pope's jurisdiction was illegal: if Henry wanted a divorce, he could have it, as long as the Archbishop of Canterbury agreed. But William Warham didn't. Henry applied some pressure, charging the clergy with Praemunire, the unlawful exercise of spiritual jurisdiction. In they had capitulated, and the next year a new Act asserted England's judicial independence. By now, matters were pressing: Anne was pregnant. Henry had to marry for the child to be legitimate.
Luckily, Warham had just died. Henry replaced him with Cranmer and the divorce came through within months. But the Reformation was far from over. The Protestant Anne Boleyn had the motivation, the power and the intelligence to push reform as far as it would go. She also had the means: Cranmer and Cromwell. In the Orwellian atmosphere of the Tudor state, Cranmer was the thought, Cromwell the police.
Thomas Cromwell combined managerial genius with Machiavellian ruthlessness. The years to saw his hitsquads travel the country, assessing the church's wealth. Once he knew how much to take, he took. The Dissolution of the Monasteries lasted four years to Two thirds of all the land was sold to the laity and the money squandered in vanity wars against France. With the destruction of priceless ecclesiastical treasures it was possibly the greatest act of vandalism in English history but also an act of political genius, creating a vested interest in the Reformation: those now owning monastic lands were unlikely to embrace a return to Catholicism.
With the destruction of priceless ecclesiastical treasures it was possibly the greatest act of vandalism in English history But for all the work carried out in his name, Henry was never a Protestant. Further doctrinal reform was halted by the Act of Six Articles in and following Cromwell's sudden fall the next year the court hung between religious conservatives and radical reformers with the Reformation stuck in the mud.
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But on the quiet, Henry's young son, born to Jane Seymour wife number three , was being educated by Protestants. Edward was only ten when he became king in but his two regents accelerated the pace of Protestant reform considerably. The Act was repealed, priests were permitted to marry - creating another vested interest - and more land was confiscated. Altars and shrines were all removed from churches and the stained glass was smashed. Becoming Queen in Mary, Edward's devoutly Catholic sister, was always going to have a tough time undoing twenty years' work.
Although Protestantism remained patchy and its followers a minority, this minority was entrenched and substantial, at least in London and the South East. Mary did her best, reinstating Catholic doctrines and rites, and replacing altars and images, but she handicapped herself by martyring almost ordinary men and women, as well as bigger names like Cranmer. The burnings were unpopular and immensely counter-productive, and she compounded her errors by marrying Philip II of Spain, son of Charles V who had so successfully thwarted Henry in Burning bodies, Spanish courtiers and Philip's awful English all fuelled further Protestant propaganda and confirmed fears of the Catholic menace that had been threatened since Fighting France for Philip, Mary's loss of Calais in - England's last territory in France - helped turn distrust into hatred and xenophobia.
Tension mounted, Thomas Wyatt was rebelling in Kent, and religious civil war seemed not too far away. Mary, Edward's devoutly Catholic sister, was always going to have a tough time undoing twenty years' work. However, chance rolled the dice once more. After two phantom pregnancies Mary died childless in November the only heir was Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn's daughter.
A moderate Protestant, she inherited a nervous kingdom where Catholicism dominated everywhere but the major cities, the South East and East Anglia. She had to inject some stability. The religious settlement of was intended to be inclusive. It restored Royal Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity but, in a conciliatory gesture, reintroduced clerical vestments and a more Catholic Eucharist. Altars were allowed, and clergy had to get permission to marry. All but one of Mary's Bishops were removed from office after refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, replaced by men hand-picked by Elizabeth's chief minister, Robert Cecil.
Most were far more radical than their Queen, as were the clergy who filled the parishes vacated by resigning Catholic priests. While altars were theoretically allowed, in practice they were removed by church commissions that toured the country to check compliance. The church was further bolstered in when another Act of Uniformity made refusal to take the oath, or the defence of papal authority, a treasonable offence.
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But this time the foreign threat was real: a revolt in , the papal invasion of Ireland, Elizabeth's excommunication and the arrival of priests from France all underlined the insecurity of the Anglican Church. The severity of the Treason Laws increased alongside anti-Catholic sentiment, effectively killing it as any real force by driving it underground for the rest of her reign.
After the stop-start policies of Edward and Mary, it had 45 years of Elizabethan rule to bed down. And it was the length of her reign that secured Anglicanism and established it as Protestant. Had she succumbed to smallpox in , a religious civil war might easily have followed. But luck struck again, and by her death in the country was united as had not been possible in the previous century, both by a common religion and a common enemy.
Patriotism and Protestantism were two halves of the same coin, a coin baring Henry's title, 'Fidei Defensor'. They still do. So why is the Reformation important? True, it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but it established in English minds the image of an island nation, separate and supreme, still resonant today. English policy became increasingly repressive in Ireland, importing Protestant landowners to oppress the locals who resisted conversion.
That legacy still lingers, and the abiding sense of anti-Catholicism remained potent enough to be a cause of the Civil War a century later. Bruce Robinson is a professional journalist who graduated with a first class degree in History from Cambridge University, specialising in English Social, Political and Economic History from to Search term:.
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An introduction to the Protestant Reformation
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Protestants asserted not the right to choose their rulers, but the duty to challenge them. In performing that duty, the Scottish radical John Knox wrote in , "all man is equal. He didn't mean that the way we would understand it today, and he very definitely meant men and not women. But the idea had a life of its own. It wasn't true. They favored monarchy, good order and social stability. But their rulers had an intolerable tendency to defy God's will.
3 surprising ways the Reformation changed the world - CNN
Again and again, they were forced reluctantly to take matters into their own hands. They insisted that their voices be heard, and, when forced to, they took up arms against rulers who persecuted them. If we all stand equally before God, it is hard not to conclude that we should all have a voice before this world's rulers. Left to itself, this notion could have led to the creation of self-righteous theocracies like the one some New England Puritans tried to build.
But those have been rare, partly because Protestants are so ready to quarrel, but also because of the Reformation's third legacy to the modern world. Protestants have sometimes confronted or overthrown their rulers, but their most constant political demand is simply to be left alone. Going back to Christianity's roots in ancient Rome, they have tried to carve out a spiritual space where political authority does not apply and have insisted that that space, the kingdom of God, matters far more than this world's sordid and ephemeral quarrels.
The results are paradoxical. Protestants have often been obedient subjects to thoroughly noxious rulers, taking no interest in politics so long as their own separate sphere is respected. They have also given unexpectedly stubborn opposition to rulers who won't respect their demand to be free of government intrusion. In the process, they helped give the modern world the counterintuitive notion of limited government: the principle that a government's first duty is to get out of the way of its people's lives as much as it can.
If Protestantism has given the modern world these three legacies, did it also give us a fourth one, capitalism? The German sociologist Max Weber famously argued that the "Protestant work ethic" produced the modern economy, and though his evidence didn't really add up, the idea won't go away. Capitalism first emerged in a group of Protestant countries: the Netherlands, Britain and the United States. The Protestant surge in Latin America seems to be matched by a similar surge of private enterprise. As Weber pointed out, capitalism is a system of "restless activity.
Protestant activism isn't always economic, but Protestants do have a certain itchy instability, a restless, argumentative search for better, truer, purer.
Protestants are forever seeking out new sins or striving to recover old virtues. That self-perpetuating dynamo of dissatisfaction and yearning has certainly had economic effects, and has meant that Protestantism has thrived most during periods of rapid or wrenching social change. It also means that its behavior is unpredictable. You can never tell where these restless consciences are going to go next.
Politicians who imagine they have Protestants in their pockets should beware.
Related essay on the causes and effects of the protestant reformation
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