Tudor England and the Religious Dimension

A breakdown in details of the effect that religion and religious differences had on foreign policy.

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Pre-break with Rome

Religion had little impact on foreign policy before the break with Rome:


Henry VIII joined the Pope's Holy League against France
Not for religious reasons - Henry wanted an excuse to invade France


Henry VIII joined the Pope's Treaty of Universal Peace
Partly religious - Henry wanted to be granted a title like the Spanish and French kings
Also lacked money for war - peace seemed a good option


Henry given title "Defender of the Faith" by the Pope
Given by Leo X, a little grudgingly; Henry asked for the title repeatedly

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Henry's Break with Rome

Henry wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon:

  • no male heir
  • fading attractions
  • diplomatic liability - after Spain's failure to help the English after Pavia Henry no longer wanted a tie to the Anglo-Spanish alliance

Henry's argument:

  • a man should not marry his brother's wife
  • the Pope could not dispense with the will of God
  • Papacy had overstepped its power when it granted a dispensation

At a time when the Papacy was being criticised in Germany, Clement VII could not accept that they had exceeded their authority!

1527 - Sack of Rome

1528 - War declared on Charles V

1529 - Fall of Wolsey

1533 - Appointment of Cramner as Archbishop of Canterbury

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Religious Isolation

In the 1530s there was a very real fear of religious isolation and that a Catholic invasion, headed by Charles V and Francis I, would come to England. This may well have been the reason why England became more Protestant in later years, to find an ally in the Protestants of Germany.


Dissolution of the Monastries


Charles V and Francis I put aside their differences to ally at the Treaty of Aigues-Mortes. This was particularly worrying for England as Aigues-Mortes was associated with religious crusades.


Henry married Anne of Cleves for a Protestant aliance

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Religion under Edward VI

Edward VI was a Protestant and the religious feeling of the time was very much towards the Protestant ideal. However, Northumberland - unlike Somerset - understood the necessity for gradual, peaceful change.

Somerset's fixation with Scotland led to:


Garrisoning introduced to spread Protestant propaganda and preaching

Northumberland was less fixated, however still attempted to pervert the succession to avoid the Catholic Mary I from ruling

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Mary I

Religion was extremely important to Mary, in particular her desire to marry the Catholc Philip II of Spain.

"[Mary] thinks nothing of Englishmen, only Spaniards and bishops"

Renard, Spanish ambassador


Marriage to Philip of Spain

Her Catholicism caused religious divison in England, particularly with the burning of Protestants.

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Wars of Religion in France

Elizabeth twice intervented in the French Wars of Religion on the side of the Huguenots (Protestants)


Treaty of Hampton Court - Elizabeth promised £30,000 and 6,000 troops
religious motivated? attempt to recover Calais? anti-Guise?

Cecil: "[a Guise victory would] put us here in danger for our religion"

Following suspicions of a Catholic plot (Treaty of Joinville, 1584) Elizabeth again offered support to the Huguenots


4,000 troops and subsidies sent to Henry IV
religious motivated? supporting the rightful monarch? anti-Spain?

English clerk: "if the king of Spayne were dead, we are lyke enough to care little for France" 

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Elizabeth I and Scotland


Revolt by Protestant Lords of the Congregation, led by John Knox


Treaty of Berwick; Elizabeth promised to support Protestants

Despite the French support of Scottish Catholics, the Lords of the Congregation won, leading to:


Treaty of Edinburgh; Lords of the Congregation to rule as a Council, all foreign troops to leave Scotland, MQS to recognise Elizabeth as Queen of England

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Anglo-Spanish War

Religion and the religious divide became more important as time went on. Although Philip organised a fightback against the reformation (1563) at first he was busy with the Ottoman threat and the Dutch revolt.


Secret Catholic Treaty of Joinville - Philip promised to support the Catholics in the Netherlands and France


Treaty of Nonsuch - Elizabeth pledged to support the Dutch

Although Elizabeth's attack on Spain was a strategic need to defend her country rather than a religious war, as Philip'sattack was fundamentally a religious question, the Anglo-Spanish War and Elizabeth's support of Dutch rebels must be considered religious in basis.

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