In England, the Reformation was prepared by the national and political opposition against Rome and the social resistance of secular classes against the clergy. At the same time, the religious discontent with Catholicism was weak at the first stages in England. The dislocation towards the government of the papal curia and the rule of the clergy were manifested in parliament yet were restrained by the royal authority, which wanted to remain in union with the church. While various persons such as Thomas Cromwell, Queen Elizabeth I, William Tyndale, and others significantly promoted the English Reformation, the paramount contribution was made by Henry VIII, who secured England as a Protestant nation.
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When the Reformation began, Henry VIII, who was distinguished by great self-will and cruelly in punishing people he disliked, reigned in England. His marriage with Catherine of Aragon was concluded in the era of the union of England with Spain against France. However, the English king had no male children and was in love with the maid of his wife, Anne Boleyn, whom he wanted to marry.
The papal refusal to allow divorce and remarriage irritated Henry VIII, and he expressed displeasure against the papacy and the clergy both in parliament and the nation. The English clergy divorced the king with his first wife and allowed his marriage to Anna Boleyn.1 This was followed by a number of parliamentary statutes, which partially abolished the rights of the pope in England, and the king was declared the head of the English (or Anglican) church according to a special Act of Supremacy.
As the king, Henry VIII had several cardinals whose advice and actions largely affected the Reformation. Thomas Woolsey became his secretary and manager of cardinal estates, whose most famous deed in this capacity was the abolition of small monasteries. After the death of Woolsey, Thomas More, who was far from seeing the papal throne as the only authoritative organ of the universal church, became the key adviser. He understood that an ecumenical council with the power to displace and appoint the pope if necessary was the most adequate expression of the church community, by which all Christians were meant.2
More did not oppose the higher organs of the church to each other and argued that the church needed both of them. The mentioned person considered the supreme authority of the Church through the prism of a more general idea characteristic of the political and religious idea of the unity and harmony of the whole Christian world. Thus, the motivation of both Woolsey and More was associated with humanism and the unity of Christendom.
Disappointed in More, Henry VIII found Thomas Cromwell, who helped him to resist the pope more effectively. Cromwell had his own interests in the evolution of the Reformation. He was a Protestant and saw in the king’s desire to cancel marriage the key to ending the primacy of the pope over England. Cromwell regarded the mentioned opportunity as the only way to break with Rome. To King Henry, this idea seemed rather tempting since then he would have become the head of the independent church in England and also would have received lands formerly owned by the church. Many people from parliament also supported this idea: someone did not want to pay taxes, while others considered Luther’s ideas as the most appropriate ones.
Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, was distinguished by great intelligence, humanistic education, and, at the same time, remarkable self-discipline along with a lust for power. As a woman, she refused the hierarchical title of head of the church and assumed the equivalent title of the supreme ruler of church and secular affairs. Upon accession to the throne, she restored the Anglican Church by issuing parliamentary acts.
For example, the Act of Uniformity issued by the Parliament ordered to perform of a divine service in accordance with the new English treasure. The entire creed of the Anglican Church described in the 39 Articles of Faith was also approved by Parliament.3 It should be stressed that Elizabeth’s position forced her to defend the Reformation. Catholics did not recognize the marriage of her mother with Henry VIII for the legitimate and, therefore, rejected her rights to the throne. More to the point, her father looked at her differently, and her older sister, known as Bloody Mary, hated her.
In the 14th century, the Bible was translated into English by John Wycliffe, and his followers secretly continued to exist on the island and lead their sermons. In 1525, William Tyndale, motivated by scholar and religious interests, published his translation of the New Testament, which allowed many people to read the text of the Bible in English.4 This scholar believed that Christians should be able to read the Word of God in their native language so that they can grow spiritually.
Tyndale’s sermons aroused great interest, and many accepted them appropriately.5 However, the priests were alert and, as soon as he left the field of this activity, they tried to destroy what he had created. There were many proponents of the Reformation in the city of Worms, and Tyndall continued his work without interference there. Soon, three thousand copies of the New Testament were printed, and, in the same year, another edition was required.
In the view of the above discussion, one may suggest that the main contribution to the Reformation in England was made by Henry VIII. In particular, the liberation from the Vatican and the direct subordination of the English church to the king were two prominent events that promoted the further formation of Protestantism. The king’s desire to secularize the monastic lands along with the English bourgeoisie’s interest in the comprehensible church served as the main stimulus.
The time of Elizabeth I was the culmination of the development of absolutism in England and the period of finalization of the English national church. The creation of 39 articles finally formed the creed of the Anglican Church, which is still in use without significant changes. On the one hand, there was a complete break with Rome, the supremacy of secular royal power over the church. On the other hand, the church hierarchy and the subordination of the lower clergy were protected.
In conclusion, the Reformation in the period from 1527 to 1625 led to the formation of the Anglican Church in England based on the separation from Rome. In collaboration with Chancellor Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII secularized all the monastic estates, which constituted one-third of the lands of England. In her turn, Elizabeth I created parliamentary documents to structure the new relationships between the Church and the Crown. Thus, a set of events and several persons’ decisions and actions determined the evolution of the English Reformation.
Galli, Mark. “What the English Bible Cost One Man.” Christian History 13, no. 3 (1994): 12-16.
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Hamrick, Stephen. The Catholic Imaginary and the Cults of Elizabeth, 1558–1582. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Ng, Su Fang. “Translation, Interpretation, and Heresy: The Wycliffite Bible, Tyndale’s Bible, and the Contested Origin.” Studies in Philology, (2001): 315-338.
Rockett, William. “Wolsey, More, and the Unity of Christendom.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, no. 1 (2004): 133-153.
Vella, John M. “The Centralization of Power in Reformation England.” Modern Age 51, no. 3 (2009): 288-296.
- John M. Vella, “The Centralization of Power in Reformation England,” Modern Age 51, no. 3 (2009): 288.
- William Rockett, “Wolsey, More, and the Unity of Christendom,” The Sixteenth Century Journal, no. 1 (2004): 138.
- Stephen Hamrick, The Catholic Imaginary and the Cults of Elizabeth, 1558–1582 (New York: Routledge, 2016), 38.
- Su Fang Ng, “Translation, Interpretation, and Heresy: The Wycliffite Bible, Tyndale’s Bible, and the Contested Origin,” Studies in Philology, (2001): 320.
- Mark Galli, “What the English Bible Cost One Man,” Christian History 13, no. 3 (1994): 13.