How Protestant was England by 1540?

How far had the break with Rome changed the nature of the Church in England?

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  • Created by: alys
  • Created on: 17-01-13 09:54

How had the Break changed the Church?

Henrician Reformation: An act of state motivated by political, personal & financia; motives- pragmatism rather than religious principle: still Catholic
Yet Evangelicals (needed by Henry to support his actions) seized opportunites to follow their own protestant agenda.

Henry's ambiguity allowed Faction to develop at court:
One faction: use the supremacy to advance evangelical doctrine.
Other faction: prevent this and maintain Catholic rituals and worship

Henry and caesaropapism
Henry VIII, Catholic, was doctrinally conservative yet
He would also flirt with evangelical ideas if they underpinned his caesaropapism 

Fabric and structure of the English Church had been fundamentally altered 1532-34

BUT the nature of worship at a popular level remained mainly Catholic

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Was there a move towards Protestantism

1. The English Church was different from churches in other Kingdoms. The Break with Rome severed links with the papacy. 

2. A national English Church had been established. Papal authority had been destroyed.

3. Little popular support for reformist ideas.

4. The changes introduced by Parliament

  • Did little to alter popular worship on the ground- stayed Catholic
  • Did little to encourage an outpouring of anti-clericalism

The point: Given a conservative king and a conservative populace further positive evangelical change was not likely.

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The Factional Struggle

Evangelicals vs Conservatives

Evangelicals- not the king, not peopl. Leading men at court.
Spiritual: Cramner emerged from obscurity to gain high position
Temporal: Cromwell has masterminded the Royal Supremacy
Other reformers had emerged due to the Break with Rome: Shaxton, Latimer, Jerome, Barnes.
Role of Anne Boleyn: patronised key evangelical figures. She protects and promoted reformers at court.

Gardiner and Howard: for them the Supremacy and doctrinal reform was the same thingand so could not accept it.

Evangelicals, conservatives and Henry VIII
The evangelicals knew that they could not push reform too far. Henry could not feel that he was being decieved. He did not want to be controlled by faction. Henry was master- it was a reform from above. 

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The Ten Articles- 1536

The new national church had to produce a statement of faith and define its new doctrine.

Henry was anti-Lutheran, as seen in his 1521 Assertio Septem Sacramentorum. It was an attack on the Lutheran doctrine and works. His view had not changed but the Church had. The Ten Articles were thought up by Cromwell and left official religion deeply ambiguous.

What the articles stated:
-3 sacraments: Baptism, Penance, Eucharist (last supper) no mention of the other 4 (ie, marriage and confirmation)
-Transubstatiation: not mentioned by name but real presence of Christ was reaffirmed.
- The Lutheran concept of 'justification by faith alone' was outlined, but moderately, to make it acceptable to conservatives.

It was protestant to deny the 4 sacraments. Luther only upheld 3 as they were the only ones in the new testament.
It was pro-Catholic & did not condemn the Mass or Catholic call for good works in attaining salvation. It was also pro-reform. Emphasis was placed on the importance of scripture. 

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In 1536 the religion was ambiguous- a mix of Christian and Protestant beliefs.

There was also some more limited reform: in Cromwell's injunctions of 1536
They took a moderate stance against images in church, pilgrimages and limiting the number of holy and saint's days.

Significance of the Ten Articles

  • A tentative move in an evangelical direction
  • An indication of the need for compromise
  • Cromwell, as vice gerant, was able to forward the evangelical cause. However he has to couch ambiguous terms to satisfy all parties. 
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The Bishops Book 1537

AKA: The Institution of a Christian Man

This was a 2nd attempt at an outline of what the church believed in.
Aim: to deal with the controversal issues of justification, purgatory and the status of the 4 missing sacraments.

The book made ORTHODOX statements of Faith

  • Recovered the 'lost' sacraments- called them 'lesser' sacraments
  • Emphasised that 'justification through faith' didn't dispense the need for good works
  • Transubstantiation: asserted that is did include the real presence of Christ

These were counter-balanced by more evangelical views:

  • Primary function of priests to preach the word
  • The Mass was mentioned only twice in the whole book
  • No distinction made between office of bishop and priest (radical)
  • 10 commandments were renumbered to highlight mistaken practice of worshipping graven images
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Henry recieved the Bishop's Book for approval but didn't read it because he was too busy with the birth of his son. The book was revised and renamed the 'King's Book' in 1543. Henry had been unhappy with the Bishop's Book.

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Cromwell and the English Bible

The Evangelicals at court (esp. Cromwell) had gotten partial success with the Ten Articles and the Bishop's book. While not Protestant in content, they didn't follow the orthodox line either.

Cromwell & Reform:
He knew that change had to be gradual. He needed the king's trust which he would lose if he moved too quickly. He manipluated episcopal appointments to ensure conservatives lost out to reformers
He organised preaching campaigns against catholic practices
He promoted the circulation and use of a vernacular bible. 

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The English Bible

Unofficial and Official
Unofficial versions of the bible had existed before- 1537 was the first official translation.

Political: Henry saw the Bible in English as a propaganda tool, designed to consolidate further his imperial kingship.
Religious: Cromwell as vice gerent saw the Bible as a key way of placing thr word of God into the hands of the common man.
He was personally committed, giving £400 of his own money towards printing the bibles so that 3000 were printed in November 1539 alone.
1540: the suggested price of the bible was cut so ordinary folk could afford it
For many the publication of the Bible is 'the high point of evangelical success in Henrician England'.

There were some problems: very few parishes bought it by 1540 and many conservatives disagreed with the translation. 

But Cromwell had put the idea of a scriptually literate society forward and did instigate positive and evangelical reform.

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Execution of Anne & Cromwell

The evangelical cause was undermined by the fall of these two. Ives argues that Anne did cause the break with Rome and introduced heresy into England.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn, 1536
Anne was clever, careful and politically ambitious. She would not be Henry's mistress so she withstood his lust until the English church was seperate from Rome.

Was it merely political ambition or was religious principle involved?
Anne was pivotal to the Henrician Reform but others would argue that she had reforming evangelical ideas. She had a strong personal faith and influenced the appointment of bishops. She also influenced Henry, introducing him to the writings of Tyndale (Obedience of a Christian Man). It was however Henry who made the break and agreed to the reform- Anne could not have forced them on him.

Anne's Problem- babies and the death of Catherine of Aragon
Anne's future depended on her giving Henry a son. She had a lot of miscarriages and Henry saw this as a bad omen. Anne was safe so long as Catherine was alive because he couldn't end that marriage without admitting the validity of his first one. When Catherine died, Anne was left in the open.

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The Attack on Anne
May 1536: Anne was accused of committing multiple adultery- even with her own brother. She was found guilty and executed along with her brother and four others.

The conservative court faction led by Gardiner and Norfolk had planned their assault carefully. They had set up Jane Seymour as they vehicle for their resurgence. Henry was smitten and married her only 11 days after Anne's execution. 

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The Duke of Norfolk (Anne's Uncle) was in a difficult position. He has to preside over her adultery trial & in addition to this her execution would lessen the Howard influence at court. However he hopes to undermine Cromwell through her death.

In 1540 he introduced Henry to another of his nieces- Catherine Howard. She was a Roman Catholic. This was all in a bid to discredit Cromwell. Though Cromwell had gone. Norfolk later lost influence with Catherine's execution for adultery. Henry felt betrayed.

Cromwell Survives

Conservatives hoped that Anne's disgrace would bring down Cromwell, but being politically skilled and ruthless he evaded his own execution by distancing himself from the affair. He even controlled the events leading up to her execution by aligning himself to the anti-Boleyn faction, turning on them after her execution and filling the privy chamber with his supporters when he became Lord Cromwell of Wimbledon.
The future of the reformed cause in England was secure- for now. 

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Cromwell's Fall

From 1535 he was appointed vice gerant in spirituals- allowing him to make policy on religious matters. He made many enemies who waited for him to lose Henry's trust.

He formed 2 sets of injunctions, the Ten Articles, the Bishops Book and the dissolution of the Monasteries.

France and the Empire were now ruthlessly persecuting Protestants (from 1540). The papacy denounced him as a heretic.

Henry's response to hostility was to make an outward show of doctrinal conservatism. He executed John Lambert in 1538 and passed the Six Articles in 1539.

He made a protestand alliance with his marriage to Anne of Cleves which was a bad move- it was Cromwell's idea and the marriage remained unconsummated because she was ugly & the foreign situation changed. Cromwell was out of the running from the moment Henry saw her & there was a breakdown in Franco-spanish relations which made the Protestant alliance irrelevant.

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Cromwell had enemies at court led by conservatives Gardiner and Norfolk. They gathered damaging information against him as he had protected protestants in Calais and was unwilling to enforce the terms of the 1539 Six Articles. He had also brought Catherine Howard to court, captivating Henry.

Cromwell was in a catch-22 situation. If he agreed with Henry's wishes and anulled the Cleves' marriage then Norfolk's power would be increased. If he denied the king then he would face Henry's anger. His final act was to provide the essential evidence for a divorce with Anne.

His Execution:

He was arrested in June 1540 and executed in July. The Norfolk-Gardiner faction had won. Henry had been persuaded to get rid of Cromwell, a servant who had...

  • secured annulments of three unwanted marriages, 
  • made the Break with Rome and the supremacy a reality 
  • doubled the King's annual income through the dissolution of the monasteries. 
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1539-40: A turning point?

It was significant to the evangelical cause in that it signified the end of their immediate hopes and ambitions- only Cramner remained. In the short-term, a conservative backlash would ensue. This is strange- talking about a conservative reaction if Henry had remained an Orthodox Catholic.

At this point the factional struggle swung towards the conservatives.

6 Articles:
Doctrinal shift had begun during Cromwell's lifetime. Henry liked it because it endorsed the central tenets of Catholic Theology. Henry was very much behind their formation, unlike the earlier formularies of 1536 & 1537.

The Act of 6 Articles:
- Confirmed transubstantiation, private Masses and auricular confession
- Banned clerical marriage & laity communion
- Upheld chastity vow (worried Cramner- his marriage was an open secret)


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- Harsh act of parliament: "Whip with 6 strings"
- Heresy laws strictly enforced: failure to comply lead to imprisonment and ultimately death if one denied transubstantiation
- Reaffirmed Catholic worship
- Evangelicals Latimer and Shaxton resigned their sees the day after the act was passed


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Cramner's Importance

Beliefs: Cramner was an evangelical divinity scholar from Cambridge. He was probably a protestant and moderated his views to act like an evangelical reformer and not upset Henry.

The Divorce: He helped draw up the Collectanea Satis Copiosa, justifying Henry's imperial kingship & serving as the basis for the Royal Supremacy in 1534

Archbishop of Canterbury: appointed in 1532 for two reasons...
- to pressurise the Pope by showing that Henry was in support of evangelicals
- Cramner would support a radical solution to the Great Matter if Rome wouldn't

Cramner was a key figure in furthering radical religious reform by helping to draft the Ten Articles and the Bishop's Book. He also supported the campaign for an English bible and an English Litany. However he moved gradually- he was cautious.

Cramner was not as politically important as Cromwell but the scholar. However he was able to maintain a good relationship with the King. When he was attacked by conservative in 1534, Henry supported him- what he failed to do with Cromwell.

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Gains of Protestantism

Influence of the Papcy removed.

Monasteries destroyed- no opposition.

Popular enthusiasm for Catholicism deminished over time.

Traditional Catholic rites were extinguished.

It can be argued that there was a marked decline in the appeal of traditional Catholic worship such as the veneration of saints, images, sites and relics as they came under attack from the government. Even if they did not have an immediate affect, they did erode local loyalties to the traidtional Church in the long run.

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The Survival of Catholicism

There was no positive protestant reform- much of Catholic rites and worship were destroyed. However little was achieved in reforming the moral or educational standards of the clergy. Little protestantism was introduced.

Catholicism remained popular, especially in the north of England. Many communites remained untouched by the Henrician reform. However, some northern towns such as Hull and Leeds had important protestant communities. Protestantism also advanced in the south east.

There was no simple north-south divide in the response to the reformation.

It was so complex due to the hierarchy- much depended on the leadership and influence of the local nobility.

Protestants were tolerated- protestantism made only limited progress in Henry's reign. Henry would not tolerate heterodox opinion.

By the 1540s, despite the emergence of a pro-protestant faction, the Reformation was far from secure in England.

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Post 1540 Developments

The King's Book of 1543 replaced the Bishops book and removes Lutheranism traces.
The Act for the Advancement of the True Religion: limited the right of reading the bible to upper class males- it became a matter of status. It was seen as too dangerous to place the Gospel in the hands of the common man.

Catherine Howard's adultery and execution in 1542 discredited Norfolk and the conservative cause.
Penalties for those breaking the more Catholic Six Articles were modified to protect Evangelicals.

Was Henry assuming the middle ground?
No- he was simply unwilling to tolerate papists and hereticals. He backed Cramner.

Finally: the extent to which the masses embraced the Reformation has been debated by historians, but there is one way or reconciling the two positions: the geographical divide between the north and west and the south and east. 

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This is just what i was looking for! Thank you !



This is an excellent resource that organises the key information well. It goes through events in chronological order and links evidence to the overall debate about how Protestant England became during Henry's reign.

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