England Breaks with the Church of Rome - History

England Breaks with the Church of Rome - History

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After the Church of Rome canceled his annulment to Catherine, and had Henry VIII excommunicated for marrying Anne Boylen, Henry breaks with Rome. He has the parliament pass the Act of Supremacy which states that the King is the supreme head of the English church, and he is the one to appoint all clergy. Henry goes on to break up England monstaries. This results in unforseen economic consequences with more land is enclosed and less common land for peasants to graze their animals.

The breach with Rome of Henry VIII

Action called for a revolution, and the revolution required a man who could conceive and execute it. That man was Thomas Cromwell, who, in April 1532, won control of the council and thereafter remained in command for some eight years. The revolution consisted of the decision that the English church should separate from Rome, becoming effectively a spiritual department of state under the rule of the king as God’s deputy on earth. The revolution that he had not intended gave the king his wish: in January 1533 he married Anne Boleyn in May a new archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, presided over the formality of a trial that declared the first marriage annulled in September the princess Elizabeth was born. The pope retaliated with a sentence of excommunication it troubled no one.

The supreme headship on earth over the Church of England, though he had not sought it, represented Henry’s major achievement. It had very wide-ranging consequences, but those that immediately concerned the king were two. In the first place, the new title consolidated his own concept of kingship, his conviction that (as he once said) he had no superior on earth. It rounded off the majestic image of divinely instituted royal rule that it was Henry’s constant ambition to present to an awed and obedient world. But, in the second place, it created a real personal problem for the king: earlier, in his book Assertio septem sacramentorum adversus Martinum Lutherum (1521), he had attacked Luther and had expressed a profound devotion to the papacy and had been rewarded with the title of Defender of the Faith. Now he had turned against the pope his act was equal to encouraging the Protestant Reformation, a thing attractive to Cranmer and Cromwell (and perhaps Anne Boleyn) but not to Henry, who despised Luther. The religion of the newly independent church was for its head to settle: for the rest of his life, Henry, who prided himself on his theological learnings, was to give much time and thought to the nature of the true religion. With the exception of the papal primacy, he never gave up the main tenets of the faith in which he had grown up, but he changed his mind on details and arrived at an amalgam of his own in which transubstantiation and clerical celibacy mingled with radical views about the worldly authority of the church and man’s ability to seek salvation without the aid of priests.

The consolidation of the Reformation

The medieval tenet that church and state were separate entities with divine law standing higher than human law had been legislated out of existence the new English church was in effect a department of the Tudor state. The destruction of the Roman Catholic Church led inevitably to the dissolution of the monasteries. As monastic religious fervour and economic resources had already begun to dry up, it was easy enough for the government to build a case that monasteries were centres of vice and corruption. In the end, however, what destroyed them was neither apathy nor abuse but the fact that they were contradictions within a national church, for religious foundations by definition were international, supranational organizations that traditionally supported papal authority.

Though the monasteries bowed to the royal supremacy, the government continued to view them with suspicion, arguing that they had obeyed only out of fear, and their destruction got under way early in 1536. In the name of fiscal reform and efficiency, foundations with endowments of under £200 a year (nearly 400 of them) were dissolved on the grounds that they were too small to do their job effectively. By late 1536 confiscation had become state policy, for the Pilgrimage of Grace, a Roman Catholic-inspired uprising in the north, which appeared to the government to have received significant support from monastic clergy, seemed to be clear evidence that all monasteries were potential nests of traitors. By 1539 the foundations, both great and small, were gone. Moreover, property constituting at least 13 percent of the land of England and Wales was nationalized and incorporated into the crown lands, thereby almost doubling the government’s normal peacetime, nonparliamentary income.

Had those estates remained in the possession of the crown, English history might have been very different, for the kings of England would have been able to rule without calling upon Parliament, and the constitutional authority that evolved out of the crown’s fiscal dependence on Parliament would never have developed. For better or for worse, Henry and his descendants had to sell the profits of the Reformation, and by 1603 three-fourths of the monastic loot had passed into the hands of the landed gentry. The legend of a “golden shower” is false monastic property was never given away at bargain prices, nor was it consciously presented to the kingdom in order to win the support of the ruling elite. Instead, most—though not all—of the land was sold at its fair market value to pay for Henry’s wars and foreign policy. The effect, however, was crucial: the most powerful elements within Tudor society now had a vested interest in protecting their property against papal Catholicism.

The marriage to Anne, the break with Rome, and even the destruction of the monasteries went through with surprisingly little opposition. It had been foreseen that the royal supremacy might have to be enacted in blood, and the Act of Supremacy (March 1534) and the Act of Treason (December 1534) were designed to root out and liquidate the dissent. The former was a loyalty test requiring subjects to take an oath swearing to accept not only the matrimonial results of the break with Rome but also the principles on which it stood the latter extended the meaning of treason to include all those who did “maliciously wish, will or desire, by words or writing or by craft imagine” the king’s death or slandered his marriage. Sir Thomas More (who had succeeded Wolsey as lord chancellor), Bishop John Fisher (who almost alone among the episcopate had defended Catherine during her trial), and a handful of monks suffered death for their refusal to accept the concept of a national church. Even the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536–37 was a short-lived eruption. The uprisings in Lincolnshire in October and in Yorkshire during the winter were without doubt religiously motivated, but they were also as much feudal and social rebellions as revolts in support of Rome. Peasants, landed country gentlemen, and barons with traditional values united in defense of the monasteries and the old religion, and for a moment the rebels seemed on the verge of toppling the Tudor state. The nobility were angered that they had been excluded from the king’s government by men of inferior social status, and they resented the encroachment of bureaucracy into the northern shires. The gentry were concerned by rising taxes and the peasants by threatened enclosure. But the three elements had little in common outside religion, and the uprisings fell apart from within. The rebels were soon crushed and their leaders—including Robert Aske, a charismatic Yorkshire country attorney—were brutally executed. The Reformation came to England piecemeal, which goes far to explain the government’s success. Had the drift toward Protestantism, the royal supremacy, and the destruction of the monasteries come as a single religious revolution, it would have produced a violent reaction. As it was, the Roman Catholic opposition could always argue that each step along the way to Reformation would be the last.

What was the Reformation?

What was the Reformation? Your guide to the religious revolution that tore apart the Christian world in the 16th century and established a new faith, Protestant Christianity.

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Published: June 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm

Everything you wanted to know about the religious revolution known as the Reformation – from Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses to Henry VIII‘s break from Rome…

What was the Reformation?

The Reformation was a schism in the Catholic Church during the 16th century, which had major political, economic and religious implications and led to the creation of Protestant Christianity.

Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of The Reformation: A History, answers…

How does the English Reformation relate to the wider European Reformations?

“The English Reformation was the outwash of something much bigger, which started in northern Germany in 1517 with Martin Luther – and spread out from there. If you’re thinking about the English Reformation, you simply cannot ignore the other Reformations.

“These Reformations came in waves. The first wave was from Luther. Then, very quickly, there was another wave from Switzerland – and then successive waves that created different sorts of Protestantism. (So there is a Lutheran Protestantism. There is also what you could label a ‘Reformed Protestantism’, which some people might call ‘Calvinism’ – although that is just not good enough.)

“With the English Reformation, the big variable was the immensely insecure Tudor monarchy. They were always preoccupied with their succession, partly because they didn’t have a very good claim to the throne, and, later on, because they had problems reproducing.

“In the end, you get three children of King Henry VIII with different takes on reformation. Henry VIII had his distinct one. His son, Edward VI, had another take. Mary I had the absolute opposite stance: she was Catholic and attempted to restore the old church. And then finally, Elizabeth.”

Listen: Diarmaid MacCulloch answers everything you want to know about the Reformation on the HistoryExtra podcast

Why did the Reformation begin?

Although there had been previous calls for change, the Reformation was firmly established in 1517 when German religious thinker Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses.

He argued for extensive reform of the Catholic Church, who were the dominant religious authority in Western Europe at the time.

One of the issues that concerned Luther was the sale of indulgences, whereby the church allowed people to escape punishment for their sins, but for a fee.

Did you know?

According to legend, Luther nailed his Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg

Luther’s words tapped into existing frustrations about the state of the church, especially its wealth and power and the widespread corruption of some of its priests. These criticisms were not new – and nor was Luther the first to seek to reform the church.

Yet, the recent invention of a printing press meant that his ideas spread quickly across Europe, where they reached receptive audiences.

One of his most important publications was a 1534 German translation of the Bible, which allowed far more people to read it for the first time. The Bible had mostly been written in Latin and could only be read by the priests, but now people could form their own opinions of their faith.

Diarmaid MacCulloch answers…

When and why did the English Reformation start – and who started it?

“There are two different answers. There is a groundswell from below in England in the form of dissatisfaction with the old church this went back to the 14th century and is something distinctively English, a movement called ‘Lollardy. This dissent met Martin Luther’s rebellion in the 1520s.

“And then you have the extraordinary fact of Henry VIII and his dissatisfaction with his longstanding wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry’s attempt to find the ideal wife and create the ideal heir to the throne gets mixed up with this other, wider story.

“And after that, there’s always an official Reformation going alongside an unofficial Reformation in England. The fascination of the English Reformation is trying to sort them out and see how they related to each other.”

Listen: Diarmaid MacCulloch answers everything you want to know about the Reformation on the HistoryExtra podcast

How did Luther’s arguments lead to a split in the church?

While Luther hoped to reform the church, he did not plan to divide it. His vision of Christianity, however, went against the basic tenets of the Church and the authority of the Pope, so set him on a collision course with the church hierarchy.

In 1521, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X.

Europe’s growing Protestant movement (so-called because they were religious protestors) began to develop outside the Catholic sphere and Protestantism branched out into a number of different strands, including the Lutherans and Calvinists, named after another reformer, John Calvin.

What happened in Britain? Why did Henry VIII ‘break from Rome’?

Although some churchmen and thinkers supported reform in England, King Henry VIII initially remained a staunch supporter of the Catholic church. But that all changed when he decided he wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn.

The Pope refused to allow the divorce, and so Henry and his advisors split the church away from Rome, a process completed in 1534.

Henry became head of the Church of England and, with no need to defer to the Pope, married Anne Boleyn.

Listen: Diarmaid MacCulloch responds to listener queries and popular search enquiries about Henry VIII’s break from Rome and the seismic events that followed

Taking advantage of his new authority, Henry ordered the disbanding of England’s monasteries in order that he could seize their wealth for himself.

Despite these changes, Henry continued to be fairly traditional in his religious beliefs, and the Church of England did not take on a fully Protestant character until the reigns of his more reform-minded children, Edward VI and Elizabeth I.

As for Scotland, it had its own reformation led by John Knox, a follower of John Calvin. The Scottish reformers followed England’s lead and broke their church away from Rome in 1560.

Diarmaid MacCulloch answers…

Would the English Reformation have happened if there’d been no love affair with Anne Boleyn?

“The answer is yes and no. An English Reformation would have happened, but not the very odd tangled one which happened under Henry VIII.

“At the heart of Henry VIII’s problems was his attempt to find an heir, but also the fact that he absolutely fell passionately in love with the young lady at court, Anne Boleyn.

“In the later 1520s, you’ve got this extraordinary attempt to get out of the marriage to Catherine of Aragon and create a marriage to Anne Boleyn, who rather interestingly could have stayed a mistress – but did not want to. She was determined to be queen. This would take an enormous amount of diplomacy and the only person who could really untangle it in the 1520s was the Pope.

“The Pope, for very good reasons, didn’t want to. The most powerful man in Europe was the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and he was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon he simply put pressure on the Pope to stop this.

“It becomes an absolutely impossible situation, which Henry, with his enormous ego ‘solved’ by breaking his loyalty to the Pope and declaring that he, Henry, could make a decision on his marriage. So in that sense, Anne Boleyn is really crucial to the way the official Reformation in England started.”

Listen: Diarmaid MacCulloch answers everything you want to know about the Reformation on the HistoryExtra podcast

How did the Catholic Church respond to the Reformation?

The Catholic Church fought back with the Counter-Reformation, a movement beginning in the reign of Pope Paul III (1534-49).

The Counter-Reformation sought both to challenge the reformers and to improve some aspects of the church that originally inspired the Reformation.

In general, the Counter-Reformation won out in southern Europe, while the Reformation remained stronger in the north of the continent.

Diarmaid MacCulloch answers…

Was Anne Boleyn a catalyst for the English Reformation or is too much made of her influence on religious reform?

“Oh, she was a catalyst, no question. The distinctive thing about Anne Boleyn and her brother George was that they were already enthusiasts for reform in the church.

“Anne had spent time in France, in the French court, where she would have met people already interested in reform before Luther, (or independently from Luther). So she had a real enthusiasm for reform, which you wouldn’t expect in a royal mistress.

“I should emphasize that her brother, George, was also important. They were both enthusiastic for reform. And so Anne Boleyn did influence Henry VIII, particularly once she was queen because she could influence who became bishops in his new Church of England. As vacancies happened on the episcopal bench, she could get her proteges in (examples being the great Protestant preacher, Hugh Latimer, and the Archbishop Cranmer, who had been chaplain to the Boleyn family).”

Listen: Diarmaid MacCulloch answers everything you want to know about the Reformation on the HistoryExtra podcast

What was the legacy of the Reformation?

The Reformation was without doubt one of the most important events in European and world history, leading to the formation of all the branches of Protestantism that exist today.

It also resulted in a great deal of violence, as Protestant and Catholic powers battled for supremacy in Europe for centuries afterwards.

In some places, these wounds have still not completely healed.

Diarmaid MacCulloch answers…

Was Henry a willing participant or just a pawn during the English Reformation?

“He was both. He fancied himself as a reformer, but not really a Protestant reformer (you could never, ever say that Henry VIII was a Protestant). But Henry was a huge fan of Erasmus – that great reforming influence in Europe in the early 16th century – and sort of fancied himself as a mini Erasmus. But this is not really Protestantism it’s Henry’s own agenda.

“So was he a willing participant? A participant, yes. But pawn? Now, this is where it becomes interesting. Two key players Henry had put into power were Thomas Cranmer – a former Cambridge don who, to everyone’s surprise, Henry made Archbishop of Canterbury – and Thomas Cromwell, who Henry chose to be a royal minister at the beginning of the 1530s.

“Cromwell had been Cardinal Wolsey’s employee for a very specific purpose: to look after Wolsey’s tomb design. Henry VIII, when he effectively destroyed Cardinal Wolsey, inherited Cromwell and the tomb, which was now going to be the king’s tomb.

“So this is where Cromwell entered the story – and Henry very quickly recognised his talent. Now, Cromwell had a huge enthusiasm for the Reformation and had his own agenda (which he could very often often bend Henry VIII to). So, in that sense, Henry was a pawn in the hands of Cromwell from time to time.”

Listen: Diarmaid MacCulloch answers everything you want to know about the Reformation on the HistoryExtra podcast

This article was first published in the July 2015 issue of BBC History Revealed

Diarmaid MacCulloch’s answers are taken from a 2020 podcast interview on the Reformation, which you can listen to here

Today in History – Extinguishing the Pope’s Power in England

[Henry VIII, King of England, half-length portrait, standing, facing front] / from the original of Holbein in the collection of the Right Honbl. the Earl of Egremont drawn by Wm. Derby engraved (with permission) by T.A. Dean. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs,

According to the Oxford History of England: The Early Tudors 1485-1558, questions had been raised about the validity of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon from its celebration in 1509. ਋ut it was not until 1524 when it was clear Catherine would never have a son, did Henry begin to look for alternatives including, a possible attempt to legitimize his bastard son, Henry Fitzroy.  However, by 1527, Henry was in love with Anne Boleyn and wanted a divorce so he could have legitimate heirs.  At first Henry, and his chief minister Cardinal Wolsey, thought it might be possible to gain a divorce from the Pope Clement VII popes had obliged kings before in this type of thing.  Clement stalled the case at first allowing it to be heard in England and then revoking it to Rome.  Wolsey’s failure to obtain the divorce led to his fall from power in late 1529 and the concurrent rise of Thomas Cromwell.  Although Henry continued to try to persuade Clement to grant the divorce, from 1529 onwards he worked to restrict the authority of the pope in England.

Much of this work was accomplished through the passage of laws through Parliament.  The Parliament that sat in successive sessions between 1529 and 1536 came to be known as the Reformation Parliament.  It was this Parliament that passed the laws formalizing the break with Rome and the transfer of power over the church and religion to Henry who became Supreme Head of the Church in England.  One could argue that at least initially these acts were intended to put pressure on the pope, particularly by limiting revenue from England but by 1533, Henry and his ministers were set on a complete break.

The 1529 session of the Reformation Parliament focused in part on a catalog of grievances against clergy abuses including the charge of fees for burying the dead and the probate of wills as well as the question of simony.  Having fanned the flame of anti-clericalism in Parliament, in February 1531, Henry forced the clergy to acknowledge him as their Supreme Head as far as the law of Christ allowed. This was followed in March 1532 by the Act in Conditional Restraint of Annates (23 Hen. VIII c. 20) which strictly limited the amount of money sent to Rome, reducing it by approximately 95%.  Then in May 1532 Henry brought an end to the church’s independent jurisdiction and lawmaking power by requiring them to submit all new canon laws to him for approval, his consent for their meeting (Convocation) and their agreement to have all existing church law reviewed by a royal commission.

1533 saw the marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn, her coronation, the birth of Elizabeth I and the passage of An Act in Restraint of Appeals (24 Hen.VIII c.12).  This law forbade the appeal of any case to a foreign tribunal – thereby making it illegal to appeal Henry’s divorce case to Rome.  1534 was a busy legislative year and saw the passage of several laws including: the Act in Restraint of Annates (25 Hen. VIII ch. 20) which completely cut off the flow of money from clerical appointments to the papacy and the Act Against Peter’s Pence (25 Hen.VIII ch. 21).  These laws cumulatively cut off all revenue to Rome from England and essentially made communication with Rome illegal. Most momentously, 1534 saw the passage of the Act of Succession (25 Hen. VIII ch. 22) and the Act of Supremacy (26 Hen. VIII ch. 1).  The Act of Succession cut Princess Mary from the succession and settled the crown on Henry and Anne’s children.  The Act of Supremacy made Henry head of the church with the power to “visit, redress, reform, correct or amend all errors, heresies and enormities” to define faith and to appoint bishops.  This law also directed the monies which had previously been paid to Rome to the king’s coffers.  The Treason Act (26 Hen. VIII ch. 13) passed in the same month among other things made it treasonable to deny the king’s role as Supreme Head of the Church.

The act we are remembering today was actually not passed by the Reformation Parliament.  Indeed, it was passed after the execution of Anne Boleyn, and Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour.  The July 18, 1536 Act extinguishing the authority of the bishop of Rome (28 Hen. 8 c. 10) finalized the break with Rome.  The law began with a prelude recounting the Bishop of Rome’s depredations, his illegal usurpation of royal authority and his impoverishment of the kingdom through the collection of annates and other church taxes.  The law went on to make it illegal to defend the pope and requiring all officers ecclesiastical and temporal to take an oath of renouncing Rome’s authority.  Failure to take the oath would be regarded as treasonous.  Henry had cast out the pope and his minions from England, and it was worth one’s life to deny the king or the new church he had established.

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Archbishop of Canterbury

In 1164, the Archbishop of Canterbury was involved in a dispute over land. Henry ordered Becket to appear before his courts. When Becket refused, the king confiscated his property. Henry also claimed that Becket had stolen £300 from government funds when he had been Chancellor. Becket denied the charge but, so that the matter could be settled quickly, he offered to repay the money.

Henry refused to accept Becket’s offer and insisted that the Archbishop should stand trial. When Henry mentioned other charges, including treason, Becket decided to run away to France. Thomas Becket eventually agreed to return to England. However, as soon as he arrived on English soil, he excommunicated (expelled from the Christian Church) the Archbishop of York and other leading churchmen who had supported Henry while he was away.

Henry, who was in Normandy at the time, was furious when he heard the news and supposedly shouted out: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four of Henry’s knights, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, Reginald Fitz Urse, and Richard Ie Bret, who heard Henry’s angry outburst decided to travel to England to see Becket. On the way to Canterbury, the four knights stopped at Bletchingley Castle to see Roger of Clare.

The Church of England

With some historical pride, the Church of of England traces its origin back to very early times when Christianity first found its way across the Channel to the islands of Britannia. It is important for one to understand some of England’s early background in order to appreciate more fully the statement, “King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn was the occasion and not the cause of the establishment of the Church of England.”

About the time the apostle Paul was starting on his first missionary journey, the legions of the Roman Empire had penetrated far enough north to encompass what is now called England. Some traditions hold that Paul personally visited the conquered Britons. Whether this is true or not cannot be definitely determined, but one can say with some confidence that the Christian faith was established in Britain through colonists, travelers, and missionaries. Although the English sector of Christianity had not provided evidence of great intellectual or organizational strength in its earlier years, it was sufficiently established to have three bishops invited by Constantine to Arles in A.D. 314 to discuss problems that were plaguing the church.

When barbarians invaded the northern reaches of the Roman Empire, England was cut off from direct contact with Rome for about 150 years, and many petty kingdoms were created by the heathen invaders. Nevertheless, missionary efforts continued.

“In the year 597 Augustine and his monks landed in Kent, the territory of the most powerful of the Anglo-Saxon petty kings, Ethelbert. Their local success was immediate. Within a short time the king and his people accepted Christianity, a Church was founded at Canterbury that was destined to become the center of the Anglican Communion, and plans had been made for missionary efforts in the other tribal States of the Angles and the Saxons.” 1

Even as early as the late 600s, debates were held on whether the church should look to Rome or to local authority for church leadership the decision then was to align with Rome.

The church became the most potent cohesive force for unifying the multitude of Anglo-Saxon tribes, and it continued to develop through the eleventh century. Under the influence of Theodore of Tarsus, the Archbishop of Canterbury, native Britons were trained to assume clerical responsibility. Consequently, the next twenty-four occupants of the archbishop’s chair were drawn from among the Saxons.

Under the rule of William the Conqueror, the Saxons were defeated in A.D. 1066, and from that time on England was greatly influenced, religiously and politically, by western Europe. The affairs of church and state lost their distinction as bishops began to occupy positions of both secular and ecclesiastical authority. An example of the resulting conflict can be found in the struggle that developed between Archbishop Thomas à Becket and King Henry II in their efforts to determine where the authority of each began and ended. Archbishop Becket was murdered in A.D. 1170, and a bloody era followed but church law was victorious. Sentiment against Rome and its influence in English affairs, however, continued for the next several centuries.

The occasion for the break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England came when King Henry VIII requested papal permission to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order that he might marry Anne Boleyn. The hope of this proposed union was that a male heir might be born to succeed Henry VIII. Although popes had granted such permission before (e.g., in the cases of Louis XII of France and Margaret of Scotland), Pope Clement VII denied Henry VIII’s request to annul his marriage. In 1529, after a bitter controversy, Henry called Parliament together and enacted statutes that would end papal authority in England. On November 3, 1534, Parliament passed the famous Supremacy Act, and the church in England became the Church of England. The king was declared to be “the only Supreme Head in the earth of the Church of England.” That the ecclesiastical and secular power could center in one monarch was defended this way:

“No reformer thought this royal power to be other than an ancient prerogative rightfully possessed by the Christian monarch. ‘The Kings of Israel exercised it so did the Roman emperors so did the ancient Kings of England,’ wrote Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and most staunchly conservative of Henry’s ecclesiastics. ‘Surely I can see no reason,’ he continued, ‘why any man should be offended that the King is called the head of the Church of England rather than the head of the Realm of England, seeing that the Church of England consisteth of the same sort of people at this day that are comprised in this word Realm. …’” 2

As noted before, the refusal to annul Henry’s marriage was the occasion and not the cause of the founding of the Church of England. The causes may be more appropriately linked to certain growing feelings of nationalism and reformation and the view that the Roman Church and its authorities were guilty of the following abuses:

1. Unjust financial demands by the church on the people

2. Interference in what were believed to be local or national political concerns

3. The use of papal authority as though it were secular

4. The seeking and buying of church offices

5. The growing wealth accumulated in monastic orders

6. The selling of indulgences and an inordinate concern with relics

The Protestant reformation, which had received great impetus on the continent from the work of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others, also had its impact in England. A good share of Europe seemed ripe for revolt against Rome.

Henry VIII found occasion at this time to break with Rome, but with the stated intent of retaining the doctrine and practice of catholic (universal) Christianity intact. Consequently, of all churches arising in the Reformation period, the Church of England is most like the Roman Catholic Church. And for the average layman, there was little observable difference in the church after the break with Rome. The majority of English people accepted the change without any problem, and the way was then opened for the newly created national church to effect some changes in church practice. For example:

1. Scriptures were to be made available in the language of the people.

2. Less emphasis was to be placed on indulgences, pilgrimages, and relics.

3. More frequent doctrinal instruction was to be provided by the clergy on such things as the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

King Henry VIII desired to retain the Catholic faith and was not desirous of aligning himself with the reformation ideas adopted on the continent by those who followed Luther, Calvin, and others. From a doctrinal point of view, Henry also hoped to retain the title “Defender of the Faith” given him earlier by Pope Leo X of Rome. And while the desire to retain the Catholic doctrine was evident in most of King Henry’s acts, the break with Rome gave encouragement to the Protestants, and English life was increasingly influenced by Protestant thought.

After King Henry’s death, his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, assumed the throne in 1547 and with the assistance of the new king’s adult advisers, the Church of England moved even further in a Protestant direction. However, Edward’s administration ended with his early death July 6, 1553.

After some conflict, the throne was assumed by Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, who was a devout Catholic. Mary succeeded in bringing the church back under papal control at Rome, and was recognized and absolved from heresy. Parliament voted to restore papal authority on November 30, 1554. Queen Mary’s reign was marked by so much bloodshed and persecution of Protestant leaders that most history books refer to her as “Bloody Mary.” More than three hundred persons were burned at the stake, and English sentiment toward Rome turned hostile. Mary died in 1558.

When Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, came to the throne, her political sensitivity had a calming effect on England, and eventually Parliament passed the new Supremacy Act in 1559. Elizabeth insisted that the title of “Supreme Head” of the Church be changed to “Supreme Governor,” which was less offensive to her Catholic subjects. She placed English sovereignty first in religious affairs and made some compromises to bring more allegiance to the throne from both Protestant and Catholic factions. The liturgy was revised in the Book of Common Prayer so it would be less offensive to Catholics, and in 1559 the Act of Uniformity ordered that all religious services be conducted in accordance with the approved pattern.

In this same year four bishops who had been ordained under Henry VIII and Edward VI united to consecrate the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. The Church of England looks to this act of consecration for the maintenance of apostolic succession. The validity of this succession, however, was officially denied at Rome in 1896 by Pope Leo XIII on grounds of “defect in intention.”

The struggle for a uniform religion and pattern of worship under Queen Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity incited many Puritans of different persuasions and approaches to react against the church and crown. Serious conflict between the Roman Catholics and the crown also occurred during the last years of Queen Elizabeth’s life, producing a bitterness not yet entirely erased. The idea of religious toleration did not develop until the latter half of the seventeenth century, when it became apparent that the religious differences that could not be cured would have to be endured.

At least two significant religious movements have grown out of the Church of England. They are the Methodist and Protestant Episcopal churches of America. Neither was intended originally as a separate religion from the standpoint of church doctrine, but both have had their impact as separate sects. The Protestant Episcopal Church is now in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Methodist is not.

A little more than a century after the Church of England began establishing itself in the American colonies, John Wesley, an ordained priest in the Church of England, and his brother Charles were instrumental in leading a movement within the church to stimulate more methodical devotion. At Oxford in 1729, a small group of religious men formed a society dedicated to improving their spiritual lives. Other fellow churchmen derisively called them “Methodists.” At a small meeting in London’s Aldersgate Street in 1838, John Wesley, while listening to Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, experienced a deeply moving spiritual assurance that he had achieved salvation through Christ alone. This conviction and the message of this experience were central to his work for the rest of his life.

A contemporary of Wesley’s, George Whitefield, an ordained deacon in the Church of England and an impressive orator, stimulated open-air preaching and the circuit-rider style of conducting meetings and proselyting and it was this mode of preaching that John Wesley employed when he delivered 40,000 sermons and traveled 250,000 miles throughout England, bringing the church to the people. Charles Wesley, John’s brother, made a prodigious contribution to religious literature by composing the words and music for hundreds of hymns.

Whitefield and John Wesley later separated theologically over the issue of Calvinism. Whitefield adopted Calvin’s concept of predestination, but John Wesley rejected the concept that God is a tyrant who predestined some to salvation and others to damnation he accepted him as a God of love. This rift led to the early division of Methodists into those who followed Whitefield as Calvinists and the Wesleyan Methodists who agreed with John Wesley and what is called the Arminian path.

The Church of England was not in a position to adjust to the Wesleyan movement, which spread rapidly throughout the British Isles and even to the colonies in America. As a result, an estrangement occurred that accounted for Methodism’s becoming a separate church movement. In 1784 John Wesley took the necessary steps to legally constitute what amounted to a charter for Wesleyan Methodists.

Like some other reformers, John Wesley had not intended to establish a separate church. In fact, he himself remained a priest in the Anglican Church to his death, but arrangements were nevertheless made for the Methodist societies to expand during and after his life.

Today there are more than thirteen million Methodists in the United States and more than seven million in fifty other countries.

The Anglican faith or Protestant Episcopal Church was first established in the American colonies in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. This was within a few years of the death of Queen Elizabeth and the start of James I’s struggle with dissident Puritans and other political problems. The King James Version of the Bible was not yet ready for publication, and Shakespeare was at the height of his literary career. Captain John Smith wrote:

“… we did hang an awning [which is an old sail] to three or four trees … till we cut planks, our pulpit was a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees. This was our church till we built a homely thing like a barn. … Yet we had daily Common Prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two sermons, and every three months the Holy Communion.” 3

The religion of the Church of England found its way into America together with many of the English colonists. It had the benefits of being the “established” church from the beginning. The responsibility for the direct leadership of these Virginia clergymen was given to the Bishop of London. But the three-thousand-mile distance between them presented unusually difficult hurdles for church government, and gradually more and more authority was assumed at the local colonial level. For 177 years there was no bishop in the colonies thus generations lived and died without being confirmed.

The Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 brought with them an abiding dislike for the crown and the Church of England, and so opposition to the church was an early reality of colonial life. In an ironic effort to throw off the shackles of what the Puritans considered to be an unacceptable church, they created communities marked by an even greater degree of religious intolerance than the Puritans themselves had experienced in England.

This initial opposition by many colonists to the crown and the Church of England caused the growth of this church to develop slowly. In fact, the Anglicans were the minority group and were considered to be of the wealthy class, distrusted by many for being loyal to England during the colonists’ fight for independence. The membership of this group, however, included a large proportion of the professional class, such as lawyers, doctors, merchants, and landowners, and it is interesting to note that a large number of the early founders of the United States of America were identified with the Church of England.

Nevertheless, Anglicanism in America was handicapped by not being organized into dioceses. The source of real help and direction for the church was the Bishop of London. When the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Revolutionary War began, there was no American bishop or organization among the parishes to give any real stability to the colonial church.

When the crisis of war came, many Anglicans who felt an allegiance to England suffered indignities at the hands of those loyal to the colonies, and a number of them fled to Canada or back to England, which further weakened the church in the colonies. Financial support from the colonial government, which it had received as the established church, was almost totally cut off. Because of these trying circumstances, the American parishes of the Church of England were in a sorry state by the time the war ended and independence had been achieved.

After the war William White, rector of the famous Christ’s Church in Philadelphia and chaplain of the Continental Congress, was instrumental in spearheading efforts to create a federation of the separate churches that would ultimately declare independence from the rule of the Church of England. The spirit of independence and constitutional convention that was so apparent in the former colonies was manifest in the church as well.

In order to preserve the basic principle of the traditional Episcopalian form of church government, it was essential that American bishops be consecrated. For this important authority Samuel Seabury went to England and requested consecration by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Legal restrictions made this impossible, since the Act of Supremacy required an oath of allegiance to the crown from all who would be so ordained. Seabury subsequently went to the bishops of the free Scottish Episcopal Church and received ordination as a bishop on November 4, 1784.

After Bishop Seabury’s return to America, rapid progress was made—though not without difficulty—toward ordaining clergymen and calling a general constitutional convention. After several meetings, William White and Samuel Provoost were ordained to the office of bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury the Book of Common Prayer was revised to meet the needs of an American independent church and the renowned General Convention of 1789 was held. The constitution adopted during that convention was illustrative of the spirit of the revolutionary times. It provided that the Protestant Episcopal Church be free from all foreign authority and have exclusive power to govern its own communion. It also advocated that the government of the Church be composed of a more representative group of combined clergy and laity. Through all this, emphasis was placed on maintaining major doctrinal ideas as advocated by the Church of England.

The members of the Anglican communion are referred to by many as Anglo-Catholics. The effort of the Church of England and its affiliated national churches has been directed toward retaining that which they consider to be fundamental to the universal (or catholic) faith. Consequently, there are profound similarities between the faith and practice of Anglicans and of Roman Catholics. Many refer to the Church of England as the bridge church between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants because it has retained the ancient Catholic sacraments and creeds.

The government of the Anglican Church is centered in its bishops, with the Archbishop of Canterbury being the nominal, if not hierarchical, head of the church. A fundamental principle of church authority is the belief in apostolic succession and the idea that one must be ordained in order to preside. Individuals are also ordained to various priesthood offices, which include deacons, priests, and bishops. The bishop presides over a diocese, which generally includes at least six parishes over which priests serve as pastors. The headquarters of a diocese is located in the cathedral church (the church where the bishop presides). A deacon’s responsibility is in the parish as an assistant to the priest, with limitations on performing certain sacraments.

Although the Archbishop of Canterbury does not govern the church in a monarchical and hierarchical sense, as does the pope over the Catholic Church, he does preside at the Lambeth Conference. This conference hosts over three hundred bishops who meet every ten years to discuss issues relating to the church and the world. The group assembled does not have legal power over the church, but its decisions do exercise a moral influence.

As with all other churches that profess the traditional Christian creeds, the concept of God for a member of the Anglican faith is triune—a trinity in unity. According to the Book of Common Prayer, the important point is that “God should be experienced in a trinitarian fashion.”

The scriptures of the Bible are not considered to be literally without error but are believed to contain the record of God’s revelation to man. A wide latitude for interpretation is allowed within the church, which enables some to hold vastly differing concepts about such doctrinal issues as the virgin birth, the creation, sacraments, and the role of Christ, as well as the resurrection.

Anglicans have been noted for fostering a dignified and reverential liturgy, which is conducted in church buildings that are usually architecturally impressive. The service comes principally from the Book of Common Prayer, which is the same in all parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion with the exception of some minor local variations. The service itself draws heavily upon excerpts from the Bible, which are read, sung, or recited by the priest and/or the congregation.

Any baptism by water in the name of the Trinity is considered valid by the Anglicans however, infant baptism is usually performed by sprinkling. Only a bishop can confirm a person. It is believed that this is a sacramental rite by which the Holy Spirit is conferred. An Anglican does not believe that his church is the only true church but that it is one of the members of “the body [or the church] of Christ on the earth.”

Particularly since World War II, the Anglican Church has been attempting to involve itself more in the social issues affecting mankind, such as poverty, urban renewal, and civil rights.

Some influential Episcopalian scholars, such as Bishop John A. T. Robinson of Woolwich, England, and the late Bishop James Pike of the diocese of California have challenged many of the doctrines traditionally held by many in the church, such as the nature of the Trinity, Christ, and the virgin birth.

Perhaps the major current trend within the Anglican communion is that of the ecumenical movement, or the attempt to unite churches. The fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope in Rome visited each other recently for the first time in history may be one of the major steps in bringing greater union between Protestants and Catholics. In some way, perhaps, the bridge church may be instrumental in effecting greater union among the millions of “estranged brethren.” At least that is the hope of many of the forty million members of the Anglican communion.

The Most Reverend Michael Ramsey (left), the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England, is shown here officiating at the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953 at Westminster Abbey. In addition to her other duties and titles, the queen as sovereign of Britain is anointed as the defender of the faith.

Used only on rare state occasions, the British royal carriage or “gold coach” is elegantly ornamented with a gold encrusted overlay of intricate design.

John Wesley (1703–1791), founder of Methodism in England and America, was an extraordinary preacher. Traveling more than 250,000 miles in the British Isles alone—much of it on horseback—Wesley delivered close to 50,000 sermons.

1 Henry VIII's Divorce

Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, failed to give Henry the son he needed to secure his legacy before she reached the end of her childbearing years. Henry petitioned the Catholic church to grant him a divorce so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and continue to attempt to produce a legitimate male heir. Royal divorces were not unheard of in Henry's time (his own sister had been granted one), but his request was ultimately denied largely because he had petitioned the Catholic church for permission to marry Catherine of Aragon at the beginning of his reign. One of the consequences of the Reformation was Henry's ability to end marriages freely, which ultimately led to the production of a legitimate royal male heir.

Why did Henry VIII break from Rome?

Henry VIII is probably England’s most famous monarch of all time. Not only did he marry six different women throughout his reign, he also began the process of changing the Church system in England. What changes did Henry make to the Church, and why did he make this change?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes below.

Rome = The capital city of modern Italy. It is also the capital of the Catholic world as it is the home of the Pope, the most holy person to Catholics.
Reformation = The process of changing the Church. This happened throughout Europe in the 1500s.

In the last lesson we began to look at the key differences between Catholics and Protestants. Can you name three similarities and three differences between Protestantism and Catholicism. An example has been done for you below.

TASK ONE: Why did Henry ‘break from Rome’?

Henry VIII was the first monarch in England to question the way the Church worked in England. In 1533, Henry decided to ‘break from Rome’ and start his own Church of England that was separate to the Church run by the Pope. But why did Henry want to do this?

Watch the Horrible Histories video below and bullet point the reasons Henry decided to break from Rome.
Do you know of any other reasons why Henry created his own Church? Bullet point these ideas too.

TASK TWO: Why did Henry ‘break from Rome’?

Look at the table below – it outlines all the reasons Henry decided to break from Rome and start his own Church of England.

For each factor, decide if it was a political, religious or economic reason. Explain why. An example has been done for you in the first box.

Political reason = anything that relates to Henry wanting more power for himself or for his family.

Religious reason = anything that relates to any criticisms of Catholicism as a religion.

Economic reason = anything that relates to money.

CHALLENGE: Do you think any of the factors relate to more than one reason. E.g., do any factors relate to both political and economic reasons, for example?

TASK THREE: What was the most important reason for Henry wanting to break from Rome?

So why did Henry really break from Rome? Do you believe it was for political, religious or economic reasons? Write your answer using the structure below:


1) Have a clear point/argument: This should be a single sentence. Are you going to say it was because of political reasons/economic reasons/religious reasons?

2) Have detailed evidence: Use evidence from 2 blocks from the table above that match your argument to help you explain why Henry broke from Rome.


Henry's wives

Henry was in love with Anne Boleyn, and was deeply concerned because his wife, Catherine of Aragon had not borne him a living son. Henry's belief that he was being punished by God for his marriage to Catherine is discussed in the section on the historical background.

A tangled web

Henry had hoped to resolve the issue of who was to succeed him--and to expand the kingdom--by marrying his daughter, Mary, to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. However, although Henry supported Charles against France in 1521, Charles rejected an English alliance, breaking his engagement to Mary in order to marry Isabella of Portugal.

Henry therefore sought to dissolve his marriage to Catherine of Aragon to enable him to father a legitimate son in marriage to Anne Boleyn.

The Act of Supremacy

The Act of Supremacy established the crown as the "supreme head on earth" of the church. The establishment of royal supremacy put an end to conflicts between canon and civil law, making the sovereign's court the highest court of appeal for both secular and ecclesiastical courts.

It became treason to oppose Henry's title of "supreme head," one result of which was the execution of Sir Thomas More in July 1535.

Watch the video: After Rome - The War For Britain. History Documentary


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