The English Reformation (1529-53)

Not surprisingly, given its continental precedents, the Henrican Reformation in England was not fundamentally doctrinal; it was: initially and peculiarly dynastic, reflecting the rational but exaggerated fears of King Henry VIII about the succession; ecclesiological, reflecting Henry's turbulent and ultimately poisonous relationship with the Papacy; diplomatic, reflecting Henry's varying leverage vis a vis the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (Nephew of Henry's divorced wife, Catherine of Aragon); political, reflecting the balance between Henry's orthodoxy and his need for support from reformers; and financial, reflecting Henry's need for quick money to pursue foreign policy which might involve war. Henry died in the firm belief that he was an orthodox and faithful Catholic who, in the year before his death, had seriously considered a full, formal and constitutional reconciliation with Rome.

From his accession (1491-1547, r1509) Henry was effective head of the English church, with Cardinal Wolsey (1473-1530) ruling with Papal and royal consent as Legate and Chancellor until his fall in 1529.

Queen Catherine (1485-1536), having been married to his brother Arthur, was married to Henry  after a Papal dispensation which he, troubled by a succession of still-born offspring other than his sickly daughter Mary, now regarded as invalid, a position which Pope Clement VII (1523-34) could hardly accept, particularly as Charles' army sacked Rome and captured him in 1526 during his lengthy obfuscations.

Henry resolved to imitate the German princes, taking formal control of ecclesiastical administration by radically extending the 1393 act of Pramunire, forbidding Papal interference with English law. Between 1529-33 the Convocations handed their powers to Parliament, payments to Rome ceased, all remaining Papal powers were transferred to the Crown and Henry was declared Head of the English Church; Archbishop Cranmer (1489-1556) declared the marriage to Catherine annulled and Henry married Anne Boleyn.

In 1535 Fisher and Moore were beheaded for denying Henry's authority but they were exceptional; by and large the English aristocracy, clergy and middle classes accepted the change. the poor were more conservative and resented the dissolution of the monasteries (Wolsey had dissolved 28 to pay for his own foundations). The wealthy, who benefited, now had a vested interest in reform, supported by Chancellor Cromwell (1485-1540) and an increasingly radical Cranmer who iconically denounced transubstantiation in 1545, two years before Henry's death.

Henry was succeeded by Edward VI (1537-53 r47-53) under a Somerset Protectorate and the flood gates opened, particularly to Protestant exiles. Cranmer's 1449 Prayer Book, decidedly Lutheran, was succeeded by the 1553 Prayer Book which was decidedly Zwinglian. The most conservative reformation in Europe had become almost the most radical.

Partly taken from

KC X/06

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