The Reformation

While the English Reformation was caused by reasons of dynastic succession, it impacted upon religious life, foreign policy and the centralisation of the English state. On the surface the Reformation was a purely top-down act by a monarch, Henry VIII, who was forced to break with Rome to divorce Catherine of Aragon, but in order to justify this split to the people popular religious changes were neccessary as decided in theReformation Parliament. However the movement for Church reform had historical origins in Britain with the Lollards and on the continent with the Protestant Reformation. These ideas provided an intellectual base for the ideas that would become the Reformation in practice to be developed during Henry’s ‘Great Matter’.

Intellectual Origins of the English Reformation

In England demands for church reform had been made since Fourteenth Century when John Wycliffe, a theologian at Oxford, publicised ideas that the church should return to its humble origins. This would mirror the poverty endured by the aposles and thus can be seen as a reaction to the wealth the Catholic church and its monastries had accumulated. Wycliffe also believed adherance to the scripture to be of greater value than obedience to the Church, and sought to increase the ability of the people in England to be able to understand the Bible by translating it from Latin into English. Combined with the growth in literacy in the period in part due to increase in trade, this led to a movement in his footsteps known as the Lollards. The reaction to this movement from the state was strong: the religious heirarchy was an essential tool for central control over the regions and subjects and many rebellions in this period were headed by those who esposed Lollard ideas. While the number of convinced Lollards may have remained small, it’s ideas can be seen in the anti-clericalism of the Reformation Parliament.

Paragraph on Luther and Protestant Reformation. Henry VIII was certainly not supportive of Luther’s ideas, and had been awarded the title of Fidei Defensor (translated as Defender of the Faith) by Pope Leo X in October 1521 for a work attacking the theological basis of Luther, entitled The Defence of the Seven Sacraments.


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