The Pre-Reformation Church in England

  • How important was the Church in the everyday lives of the people?
  • How far was the English Church in need of reform?
  • How opposed the Catholic Church in England before the Reformation?
  • Created by: alys
  • Created on: 11-01-13 19:42


Henry and the Henrician Reformation...


  • Broke with the Pope in Rome
  • Established royal (ie. his) control over the Catholic Church
  • Did not reform out of principle: he remained very conservative in religion; his action was pragmatic and was to do with gaining an heir
  • For the Pope and the rest of Europe, Henry's actions were seen as heretical. Given that England no longer looked to the Pope as its spiritual head, England was no longer seen as part of the Universal Catholic Church


  • Henry remained conservative
  • Doctrine remined Catholic
  • Moderate reformers saw that an opportunity existed to take the church in a protestant direction
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Introduction (continued)

Reform! - John Foxe

  • Protestant historian
  • Portrayed pre-Reformation church as corrupt
  • Insisted that it was unpopular with intense anti-clericalism
  • Welcomed Henry's changes and wanted more

Universal Anti-Clericalism?

  • Foxe argued that popular support demanded further change
  • Not true- wills, registers and accounts show that the Church played a central role in the lives of most English people.
  • The church played both a Social and Spiritual Role
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Why was the Church important?

  • Catholisicm was the only religion in western Europe
  • You had to attend church and people wanted to to achieve salvation, which could only be found through church teachings
  • The people followed the seven sacraments, the most important for commoners being the Eucharist
    • Baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, penance, extreme unction and the Eucharist
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The Mass and the Eucharist

  • Heard every Sunday and on Holy Days
  • Eucharist at the heart of the mass- re-enactment of Christ's sacrifice through transubstantiation. (Bread and Wine = Body and Blood)
  • However...
  • There was separation between the Priest and the People- rood screen. Priest spoke in Latin, only he took the eucharist. People took communion only at Easter and only had the bread.
  • The mass was about popular participation and the Christian community. Christmas and Easter were the two key religious festivals.
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Penance, Saints and Donations


Before you could take the Eucharist you must absolve oneself of all sins through confession and penance.
People did not want to die in a state of sin for risk of eternal damnation.
If you had commited just minor sins then after your death people could pay for prayers to be said in your name and purchase indulgences to shorten your time in purgatory.


Saints were seen as powerful intercessors between God and Man. They were adopted by communities and individuals to protect against misfortune. Saints were venerated and candles were lit before them. Churches often had 'relics' of saints such as the 'Ear of St Malchus'- people would make pilgrimages to view these items and pay the church to do so. 


Ordinary people showed their faith through this- bequests in wills, donations for upkeep and rebulding and confraternities to pray for the dead.

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Benefit of the Clergy

In 1509, England had 800 religious houses. They were especially important in the north, providing, education and care for the poor in the local community. Their spiritual role was also valued- saying prayers for the souls of the dead.

However some hosues were less useful and did decline, with numbers dailing, buildings in disrepair and poor moral standards. Abbots used the riches for their own use and had become in some ways no more than country gentlemen.

The Benefit of the Clergy

A church priviledge that allowed clergymen to escape trial in secular courts for serious crimes. Such a priviledge could be abused and lead to miscarriages of justice. Unsurprisingly it was a major cause of anti-clericalism.


The Hunne Case, 1514

The Standish Case, 1515

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The State of the Pre-Reformation Church

Not poor: A sound church

Poor: Anti-clericalism

Educated Clergy- Majority of priests were properly trained. Increading number of University Graduates.

Regional: Anticlericalism greater in south eat, not widespread.

Individual examples who were pro-reform: Archbishop of Canterbury, John Morton (d. 1500) persued internal reform. Bishop Longland of Lincoln attacked non-residence and absenteeism in his diocese.

Timing: periodic heightening of anti-clericalism with events like the Hunne Case.

Poor examples: and high profile ones like Wolsey.

Many of the abuses had been around for centuries.

Henry's opportunism: he did not object to the standards of the clergy but used anticlericalism and radical bishops fo destory the English Church.

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Lutheran Doctrine (beliefs)

Justification By Faith Alone

Salvation would be found in faith. Poeple sinners- deeds would not perfect them.

Sola Scriptua- By Scripture Alone

All doctrine has to be grounded in scripture. Translated new testament into German. Bridged gap between clergy and people- reduced superiority. Authorit of scripture.

Priesthood of all Belivers

People should forge a closer relationship with God. Each person should read the bible themselves. 

(More on Lutheranism in later notes)

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Who opposed the church?

(Before reformation?)

The Humanists. 

Humanists were intellectuals who wanted reform: not of doctrine or methods of worship, but by improving the intellectial and moral standards of the clergy.

Sir Thomas More met the humanist Erasmus as did John Colet, Dean of St Pauls.

Colet attacked chuch abuses and insisted, like Luther, that only a scriptual understanding of the scriptures could lead to holiness. Fiery attacks on the church caused clashes with the Bishop of London, but if the Bishop was corss, Colet's impact on the people was limited. The common man was not bothered with high level corruption within the church so long as their everyday worshop was alright.

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