Religion, Ideas and Reform - Henry VIII


Renaissance Ideas:

These ideas have made tentative appearances in intellectual life and culture during the reign of Henry VII. However, it was in the reign of Henry VIII that Renaissance ideas began to flourish among some of the elite groups within society. This can be attributed to Henry himself to some extent – encouraging thinkers like More and Erasmus and some of his cultural patronage, particularly the commissioning of the effigies on his parents` tomb, showing the influence of fashionable artistic trends which had arrived in England from Italy.

Humanism and Education:

The most significant humanist voice in English education was John Colet. In his refoundation of St Paul`s School, London, he showed his initiative in two respects – 1) he appointed members drawn from a city guild rather than clergymen to be school governors, and 2) the school`s statutes laid down a curriculum which included some works from Erasmus, and teaching methods derived from humanist principles. Colet reinforced the type of school he envisaged by appointing as head, William Lily – a humanist.

Schools like St Paul`s and Magdalen College School in Oxford were at the forefront of educational reform, and firmly adopted Platonist educational principles, teaching many boys who would later become prominent in the religion and politics of Tudor England, and their influence steadily grew. Similar concepts influenced the foundation of Corpus Christi and Cardinal Colleges in Oxford and St John`s College in Cambridge. Cardinal Wolsey, much praised by Erasmus, gave his personal commitment to educational improvement by founding his college and also a school in his home town of Ipswich, as well as endowing a professorship in Greek at Oxford. By the end of Henry VIII`s reign, humanist influences gained a lasting hold on university curriculum.

Erasmus was received with enthusiasm in English intellectual circles – he was a friend of Thomas More and Fisher and had some influence on a younger generation of English humanists. More showed his support for Erasmus in 1518 when there was controversy over the Greek New Testament at Oxford University, which led to some condemning the study of Greek.

It is important not to exaggerate the importance of Erasmian humanism – it had a limited scope and much of the change that occurred stemmed from the influence of new religious thinkers rather than simply scholarly Renaissance humanism.

Renaissance ideas and English Culture:

Before Henry VIII came to the throne there were few signs of the influence of Renaissance ideas on English culture. The reasons that this situation changed over the course of his reign were:

·         Knowledge of classical learning increased amongst the elite groups in society

·         A growing number of schools became influenced by humanist approaches to education

·         Henry VIII saw himself as a promoter of new ideas and of humanism

·         The Crown needed well educated diplomats who could communicate with their counterparts on other countries in a fashionably elegant fashion

Thomas More was the most important English humanist writer – he…


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