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The 1485–1603 Reformation Under The Tudors

Updated on April 14, 2018

The Reformation

The Reformation

The chiasm between the church and English royalty consecrated by the Act of Supremacy in 1534 that inaugurated a breach of the medieval principle of three unities (unity of political rule, unity of faith and unity of culture) and led to a total emancipation of the English church from Rome; in return, Henry VIII (r. 1509- 1547) was proclaimed supreme head of the Church of England. Henry needed the Parliament to pass law that would support his just cause and the MPs voted many parliamentary Acts in relation to the the dissolution of monasteries and the creation of the Church of England.

Roots of the Reformation

Corruption of the Catholic Church: anticlericalism and the debate on theology. The Roman Catholic Church was reproached with selling their service in case of marriage, burial; all this made the Church rich and revolted the poor brethrens. Some members of the clergy were accused of disrespecting the vow of celibacy. The richest places were the monasteries: they were houses containing expensive vestiges, silver and gold. Even the monks were accused of being contaminated by vice. The populations saw monks and nuns as rich people who did not work but lived at the expenses of the rest of society: this general feeling was called anticlericalism In addition, with the discovery of the printing press and the return of many churchmen from the ruins of Constantinople, laymen and scholars now have access to ancient books and could read and understand some of the ideas that used to be the monopoly of monasteries; John Wyclif, an Oxford academic produced the first English Bible, and anticipated the arguments of Martin Luther. Wyclif's supporters killed after a silenced rebellion in 1414. Humanists, like Colet, Thomas More and Erasmus studied the Scriptures and criticized the church and their arguments were taken up by Martin Luther who called for reform based on the belief that salvation is a personal matter between God and man.

Scriptural grounds for divorce

Leviticus 20:21 'If a man takes his brother's wife, it is an impurity: he has uncovered his brother's nakedness; they shall be childless”.
Henry III did not have any male successor since 1509 and Catherine of Aragon was getting too old; he became convinced that God was punishing him for getting married with his brother’s wife even though it was authorized by the pope. He decided to divorce with her and marry Ann Boleyn. He wrote in 1527 to Pope Clement VII to have heir marital relation annulled; what is more, Catherine was a very powerful woman: she was the daughter of King Ferdinand and queen Isabella of Aragon who financed the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Americas and leaders of one of the most vigorous armies of Europe and ally of the Roman Emperor and of the Pope.
Legal grounds for Divorce The “Collectanea satis copiosa” asserted the spiritual and judicial independence of England; the country was autonomous and Parliament adopted the Act of Supremacy signed by the King in 1534, rather than the Pope enjoyed supremacy in England. The marriage with Ann was celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury after much pressure.
The Reformation is more than a spiritual problem for it is a defense of the political/spiritual independence of the English from the dictates of the Pope and Rome: it helped the English Monarch realize that they had the same supremacist rights as church Roman and other emperor; the Renaissance humanism (and the dissolution of monasteries) eases the dissemination of the belief that the Bible, not tradition, should be the sole source of spiritual authority; it was Elisabeth that encouraged Thomas.

Cranmer’s initiative of the revised Book of Common Prayer. When she died, her successor James I (Stuart) commissioned a new translation of the Bible, known as the King James Version.


The attempt of the Catholic King, Charles I (second Stuart King of Great Britain), to arrest within Parliament five MPs in January 1642 is indicative of his difficult relationship with that institution. It appears that by entering the place to lay hand on them, King Charles I is trespassing the immunity they have been claiming for so long. The Parliament resisted his attempt and became very critical of his approach to political and economic governance. He tried many times to rule without parliament and some noblemen were afraid Charles wanted to destroy the Protestant religion in England. John Pym and four other members of the Commons drafted the Grand demonstrance: it is a list of Parliament’s grievances. The Remonstrance was passed by the Commons in November 1641. It was the first time the Parliament had so openly challenged a monarch. Charles considered this to be treasonous. Accompanied by soldiers, the King entered the Commons chamber to arrest Pym and his four supporters but they had gone into hiding. The Speaker of the House, William Lenthall, refused to reveal their presence. This demonstrates that House of Commons claims its autonomy and independence from the Monarchy. The conflict between the Commons and the King resulted in civil war, which led to the execution of Charles I in 1649 and Britain being declared a republic. The monarchy was restored in 1660 but the King and Parliament continued to clash. In 1689 King William and Queen Mary took the throne and agreed to the Bill of Rights, which acknowledged Parliament’s sovereignty, including its right to free speech and to meet frequently.


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