Making sense of the English Reformation

One of the joys of studying at College is, from time to time you have to write essays on topics you know nothing about. I mean it. Nothing. Due to a clerical (deliberately ambiguous, do I mean administrative staff or clergy?) error, our Church History 2 essays, of which all the questions are about the English reformation, have been set to be due before we start that bit of the course.

So I thought I might put together a (very) basic overview that shamelessly links to wikipedia but gives everyone an idea of what was going on in the period, and some mental hooks to hang new knowledge on. I should say, I’m not going to interact with all the fancy shmancy historical theories, I’m just giving a brief overview. It’ll come over a few posts.

Ok. Firstly, what’s a Tudor or a Stewart etc.?

Where you and I have last names, Kings and Queens and their royal families are in houses (like at Hogwarts). Elizabeth II, the current monarch is in the house of Windsor. Henry VIII was the son of Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings. The house of Stewart followed the House of Tudor after Elizabeth I didn’t make any babies, but we’ll get to that later. We’ll start our story with Henry VIII

Well for starters he was never meant to be king. His older brother Authur was meant to be king. But with his premature death, the young Henry was required to take his brothers widow, the Spanish Catherine of Aragon to be his wife.

Henry VIII was at some level a religious man, brought up a good Catholic as you’d expect him to be. In fact to look at him in the early years of his reign you’d never think that he was in some way a reformer. He even wrote a treatise against the Lutheran threat on the continent. This little tract earned him the title “Defender of the Faith”, which he kept, even after he separated from the Pope who gave it to him.

But then there was a problem. No male heir. Catherine and Henry did have a child, Mary, but (and remember we are traversing culture here) a male heir preserved the House’s claim to the throne. When a female gets married she changes houses and thus the house in charge changes.

Henry, being an amateur theologian, was reading through Leviticus one day and came across Leviticus 20:21 (not 19 as it says in Heinze). Henry freaked out (and seemingly forgot that he wasn’t childless, Mary just wasn’t a boy). So he planned to annul his marriage with Catherine. Ordinarily the Pope would’ve been only too happy to ablidge, but he had just been invaded by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V Catherine’s nephew. Awkward!

How’d he sort it out? Next post.



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2 responses to “Making sense of the English Reformation

  1. Do you guys start earlier in the Reformation like with Zwingli or the anabaptists?

  2. Ohh yeah, so the course is broken up into two bits – first semester is the continental reformation and the second is the english reformation.

    In the not too distant future I’ll review our textbook, (Heinze, Reform and Conflict) which is an outstanding overview (though granted a few more words than I’m using) for this period.

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