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How far was England Protestant by 1553?

March 29th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

When Henry VIII died in 1547, England was more Catholic than Protestant. Although Henry had tried to introduce Protestantism when in July 1536 the Act of Ten Articles was introduced, which saw a clear move towards Protestantism, and when in July 1546 Henry named heavily Protestant council of Regency for his heir. However, Henry wrote The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition of a Christian Man in May 1543. This book defended transubstantiation, a Catholic belief, defended the Six Articles, and it also encouraged preaching. These showed Henry to be defending some of the practices of the Catholic faith. When in 1546 Anne Askew was burned for denying transubstantiation, this showed Henry’s continued commitment to parts of Catholicism. These all mean that by the end of Henry’s reign in 1547 England was more Catholic than Protestant. However by the time of the death of Edward VI in 1553, England seemed to be more Protestant. This was mostly true however, the majority of people were moderate in their religious ideas and remained neither Catholic nor Protestant in their views.

There is some evidence to say that by 1553 England was not very Protestant but still Catholic or just moderate. When Henry died in 1547, the Eucharist was defined in the Catholic form of transubstantiation; this was the belief that the sacramental bread and wine were transformed at consecration into the body and blood of Christ. The Catholic rites of transubstantiation, private masses and hearing of confession by priests had been re-introduced as well as penance and baptism. Many Catholic rituals were also still practised in the churches because it was thought that they gave the congregation a good religious frame of mind. Even though the majority of elites in England were in favour of religious change, in general, the lower clergy appeared to be opposed to religious change. This was mainly because they wanted to keep their traditional way of life. The same was true for most of the population who were also conservative in their views on religion. Even though anti-Catholic riots were breaking out in London at the time, this was not true for the whole country, which was far away from the capital, London, where there were Protestant extremists demonstrating. Discontent grew in Cornwall when in 1547, the local archdeacon, William Body, began to try and introduce religious reforms. William Body was disliked in Cornwall for his Protestant beliefs and his own greed. A mob at Penryn attacked him and he then fled to London. When in April 1548 he returned to Cornwall to supervise the destruction of Catholic images in the churches, he was attacked and killed by a mob, which was led by local priests. This shows us that even though Protestantism may have been wanted in London, outside the city in the West Country, there were demonstrators who were pro-Catholic and who were prepared to kill for their religion. Later rebels drew up a set of demands, fearing that the Act of Uniformity would be imposed upon them, which showed their continued support for the Catholic faith; they said they would keep their Catholic faith, they would regard the Six Articles put about by king Henry VIII, they would have the mass in Latin, hang the Sacrament above the high altar where they would worship it as they used to, and they would continue to practise transubstantiation.

However, when the Edwardian church came about in 1550, the Catholic rites and practises were thoroughly wiped out. But when Edward made his last rites regarding the succession he left Lady Jane Grey as the next heir to the throne. This was to prevent the Catholic Mary from having the throne next. However, after Edward died this rite to succession was rejected by the public who wanted the Tudor family to continue to reign and so wanted the Catholic Mary to take the throne. If England was so Protestant by 1553, then why did the public reject Edward’s demands of a Protestant to be next to the throne, and want a Catholic to have rule over them. It would suggest that England was not as Protestant as people over the years believed if the public were prepared to have Mary Tudor to the throne next and so allow the Catholics to regain power over England.

Contextually, however, it is clear that by 1553 England was very Protestant. Although the Church of England remained quite Catholic in its teachings, by 1547 it had taken up a number of Protestant practises. Even though the services were still done in Latin, Cranmer’s English Litany was authorised in 1545. In 1539 there was the publication of the ‘Great Bible’, which was an English translation, and this replaced the previous Latin bible. Even though this bible did not tackle the subject of transubstantiation, later The Book of Common Prayer of 1552 did. The upper clergy were allowed to read this new ‘Great Bible’ in their homes, and were forbidden to make pilgrimages to shrine or saints or offer gifts to them. The reason for this is because Protestants believed that your sins could only be forgiven by God himself. These were all firm indications that England was becoming more Protestant.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, Edward VI, a firm Protestant, was next in line to the throne. He was too young at the time to become king, so Somerset, his uncle, was appointed Lord Protector in 1547. Somerset brought with him the reform party firmly into power over England. Somerset was only a moderate Protestant, and so took a cautious approach towards the reform. The majority of elites, who were outside the immediate government, were in favour of reform. The lower clergy were not in favour of the reform, however it is said that the reason for this was because the parish clergy were not very well educated, and just wanted their traditional way of life with no complications. In London, there were better educated clergy, who voiced their demands which were more radical in regards to religious change. The Privy Council instructed for there to be a report made on the state of the clergy and all other practises in every diocese by autumn in 1547. At the same time that this was happening a copy of Cranmer’s Book of Homilies and Paraphrases by Erasmus were to be in every parish. These spread the ideals and teachings of Protestantism. Bishops were also to create libraries full of Protestant literature, and the bishops were also to take down any statues and images from their churches. These were all not drastic moves towards Protestantism, but they showed that Protestantism was beginning to tale over England.

Anti-Catholic protests were increased because Protestant exiles had returned to England after Henry VIII had died. These reformers launched attacks using pamphlets on the bishops and wealth of the church. The more radical reformers took matters into their own hands when they realised that the government was refusing to take a firm lead. In places such as London, Essex and East Anglia where there were large numbers of these Protestant refugees, riots broke out. They broke stained glass windows, statues, and other images. Any gold or silver, such as candlesticks and plates, were taken and sold. The Chantries Act was passed which closed down the Chantries were songs were sung for the dead souls to help them get into heaven. This was a Catholic ritual and so by closing these down, the Catholic faith had yet another rite taken away. At the same time as this, English translations of the European reformists, Martin Luther and Calvin, were being circulated around England.

The indecisiveness of the government in the past (they had not given any firm indication as to religious reform) was now set to change. They had had a successful campaign in Scotland and therefore no they felt sure and secure enough to take a more active approach to religious reform. To start they issued the Edwardian Act of Uniformity in January 1549. This ordered all clergy to use some Protestant practises. Holy communion, matins and evensong were to be conducted in English, many of the Catholic rituals were taken away and the removal of images, statues and paintings were encouraged. At this time also, Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer was introduced, which denied transubstantiation, and other Catholic rituals. The government educated the laity about Protestant ideas, and bishops were instructed to carry out visitations to make sure the new practises and services had been adopted, and to test whether the parishioners could say the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in English. Most of the country seemed to accept this new Protestantism, although there was opposition in Cornwall, Devon and other counties in the South.

The Western Rebellion began because they were opposing the new Act of Uniformity. It started when in 1547 the local archdeacon in Cornwall, William Body, began to try to introduce religious reform. However, a hostile crowd mobbed him and so he fled to London. He later returned in April 1548 to supervise the destruction of Catholic images in churches. This did not go well either because he was killed by a mob led by a local priest. The anti-reformists in Cornwall were afraid that they would have the Act of Uniformity imposed upon them and so they started to rebel and put together a list of demands. These demands were in favour of the traditional Catholic practises, which they wanted to remain. These demands however used words such as ‘we will have’, which the government found offensive because it was demanding. These rebels also showed little knowledge of Protestant of Catholic doctrines and so their demands were rejected. Even though these rebels wee rebelling against the Protestant religion, they were not well educated and wanted to keep the old faith because it was what they were used to and made them feel secure. Since their demands were dismissed it was made clear the Protestantism was going to eventually going to take over England.

More radical religious reform was adopted when John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, gained power in 1550. In December 1549, parliament confirmed demands to speed up the removal of images and old service books from the churches. In January 1550, Dudley was in control of the Privy Council and all Catholics were driven out of it. He put Gardiner, a strong pro-Catholic, in the Tower of London, and he put active reformers as bishops. All altars in London were instructed by Ridley to be replaced by wooden tables, and the first Act of Uniformity was enforced. In January 1552, parliament met and a new Treason Act was passed. This made it an offence to question royal supremacy or anything to do with the English church. In March the second Act of Uniformity was passed and this made it and offence for clergy and laity not to attend the Church of England services. Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer was now used as the official basis for the church services. This removed all traces of the Catholic Church. This meant that now all churches had to practise the Protestant faith. There was then a further attack on the church wealth, which would thoroughly transform the Church of England from Catholicism to Protestantism, however, king Edward VI died before this finished and before his reforms, such as the Forty-two Articles, could take place.

Ultimately, therefore, England was very Protestant by 1553. However a lot of the riots and radicals were in London, and so these extreme pro-Protestants were not the case in many English towns away from the capital, London, where many people were indifferent to the religious change.

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