The English Reformation

One stage of the Protestant Reformation was the English Reformation, which began with the famous Henry VIII. He was King of England during the fifteen-hundreds, that century of drastic change.

King Henry’s amusing ‘marry-go-round’ began when his wife, Catherine of Aragon, did not give him a male heir. Their only child was Mary Tudor, later to be known as Bloody Mary, Queen of England. Henry, having fallen in love with the beautiful Anne Boleyn and having married her secretly, strongly wanted to have his marriage with Catherine annulled. However, this annulment was strictly against Catholic law and the pope forbade it.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII

Thomas Crammer was Henry’s close friend and Archbishop of Canterbury (1532). He had a strong interest in spreading Protestantism in Catholic England. He felt that in order to win the King’s confidence he would help him in getting his marriage annulled. So Crammer convinced Parliament to legalize the king’s divorce. This would, in Crammer’s favor, separate England from the Catholic Church, effectively opening England’s doors to Protestantism.

Later, in 1534, the Act of Supremacy was passed. This stated that the King was head of the English Church. The Treason Act, passed simultaneously, said that all who refused to sign the Act of Supremacy would be killed. One of the victims of this murderous act was Chancellor Thomas More, who stood firm in his Catholic beliefs even in the face of death.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

When Henry VIII declared Anne Boleyn Queen of England in 1533, their child turned out to be a girl (later Queen Elizabeth I). Henry, the epitome of an unfaithful lover, had Anne beheaded for treason. One reason behind this was that Henry had fallen for Jane Seymour. Finally, in 1537, as his third wife, Jane Seymour bore him a son: Edward VI. Unluckily however, for the king would not have killed her, Jane died two weeks after the birth.

When another of the king’s advisers proposed him the marriage to the German princess Anne of Cleves, Henry accepted. This marriage, solely for political reasons, was then annulled by the king because Anne was physically unattractive.

Next in line for the king’s unmerciful love was Catherine Howard, who was executed in 1542. Finally, perhaps out of loneliness, the king let his last wife live. This woman was Catherine Paar, who outlived her husband, the luckiest of them all.

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard

When Henry VIII died, his only male heir took over the throne. However, because Edward VI was too young, regents ruled in his stead. Because these regents were Protestant, it was under Edward’s rule that Protestantism took hold over England. This Protestant regency wrote two documents in 1549 and 1552, which effectively yet subtly changed the Catholic liturgy. They removed key prayers and altered rituals.

Edward’s successor was Mary Tudor, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon. She desperately wanted to bring back to England her native faith. She ordered the execution of Protestants and those who had helped Henry in his separation from the Catholic Church. For this reason, she earned the nickname Bloody Mary. Mary’s half-sister, Elizabeth, was her successor. (To read more about Bloody Mary click here)

Thus, it was through the family line of Henry VIII that the majority of England became Protestant.


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