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Abandoning the traditional narrative approach to the subject, Richard Rex presents an analytical account which sets out the logic of Henry VIII's short-lived Reformation. Starting with the fundamental matter of the royal supremacy, Rex goes on to investigate the application of this principle to the English ecclesiastical establishment and to the traditional religion of the people. He then examines the extra impetus and the new direction which Henry's regime gave to the development of a vernacular and literate devotional culture, and shows how, despite Henry's best intentions, serious religious divisions had emerged in England by the end of his reign. The study emphasises the personal role of Henry VIII in driving the Reformation process and how this process, in turn, considerably reinforced the monarch's power.

This updated edition of a powerful interpretation of Henry VIII's Reformation retains the analytical edge and stylish lucidity of the original text while taking full account of the latest research. An important new chapter elucidates the way in which 'politics' and 'religion' interacted in early Tudor England.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Divorce and Supremacy

Abstract
Sixteenth-century Catholic historians of the English Reformation were convinced that its cause was Henry VIII’s decision to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Their Protestant opponents were happy to acclaim Henry’s decision as the instrument of divine providence, resulting as it did not only in the abrogation of papal jurisdiction but also in the birth of the Protestant heroine and deliverer of the Anglican Church, Queen Elizabeth. More recent historians, preferring to ‘assign deep causes for great events’, have been reluctant to attach such importance to Henry’s attempt to resolve the problem of the succession. Yet it can scarcely be denied that had Pope Clement VII agreed to annul the king’s marriage to Catherine (or had the crisis been resolved in some uncontroversial way), the Act of Supremacy would not have been needed and there would have been no subsequent royal toleration of evangelical clergy (in the interests of supporting the divorce and the supremacy) to foster new doctrines at the highest levels in both the English church and the royal court. The divorce alone does not account for the ultimate triumph of Protestantism over Catholicism in England. But it was of the utmost importance in securing a foothold for evangelical preachers and their doctrines, and the idiosyncratic Reformation of Henry’s reign is inconceivable without it. It is therefore essential to gain a clear idea of how personal and political relationships combined to induce the ‘Defender of the Faith’ to overthrow the authority which had granted him his title, and to transform himself into the ‘Supreme Head of the Church’.
Richard Rex

Chapter 2. Church and Crown

Abstract
The royal supremacy represented the extension of full royal authority over the church. Its most immediate application was in relation to the administration, finances and personnel of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The influence of the king over the church in this restricted sense (which will remain its this sense throughout this chapter) had already been considerable even before the break with Rome. The king had wide powers of patronage within the church, and was accustomed to rely on it as a source of revenue. Through the common law, the kings of England had in addition established some control over the temporalities of the church, and had set limits on papal intervention in matters of patronage. But they could not touch the endowments of the church, which were sacrosanct, and the internal government of the church continued to enjoy the autonomy guaranteed under Magna Carta.
Richard Rex

Chapter 3. Popular Religion

Abstract
For the majority of his people, Henry’s Reformation was notable chiefly for its effect upon their parish religious life. They were far from unmoved by the break with Rome, as Cromwell’s papers show, although perhaps neither this nor the subordination of the clergy to the crown made much practical difference. The dissolution of the monasteries, though resented, probably made less of a mark upon mental than upon physical horizons. But Henry’s elimination of much of the traditional fabric of popular devotion brought change home to every man, woman and child in unmistakeable fashion. Shrines, relics, images, indulgences and pilgrimages, together with a host of liturgical and ‘para-liturgical’ practices, fell victim to the reforming zeal of the supreme head and his ministers. Most of this activity was concentrated in the later 1530s, the period of Cromwell’s vicegerency, with its leanings towards Protestant evangelicalism. Yet even in the 1540s, after the ‘conservative reaction’ had set in, there was no official retreat from the positions adopted during that more radical phase. In place of traditional popular piety, Henry’s church offered a religion of ‘God’s word’, an affair of the printed page rather than the painted picture. There was in effect a shift from a ritually and visually rich religious culture to something more spartan and cerebral. The exploration of this new culture of the word which Henry tried to impose will be reserved for the next chapter. This chapter will confine itself to the attack on traditional popular religion, first sketching the religion of Tudor England in the first third of the sixteenth century, then looking at the development and justification of the attack on popular religion by the Henrician regime.1
Richard Rex

Chapter 4. Vernacular Religious Culture

Abstract
The most lasting positive contribution of Henry VIII’s Reformation to the popular religion of England was the official sanctioning of the English Bible. ‘The BIBLE, I say, The BIBLE only is the Religion of Protestants!’, William Chillingworth was to proclaim emphatically in 1638, a hundred years after royal injunctions first ordered that a copy of the English Bible should be purchased by every parish church in the realm.1 And the particular version of the Bible which shaped the religion of English Protestants, the Authorised Version, was little more than a rehash of that which Henry had sanctioned — in turn essentially that begun by William Tyndale in the 1520s and brought to completion by Miles Coverdale in the 1530s. Henry not only introduced England to its Bible but also encouraged in many other ways the development of a popular religious culture that was literate and vernacular. This was something of a contrast with the visual and ritual past, although the novelty has been exaggerated by some historians. To some extent the Henrician changes merely amplified and redirected currents which had already been flowing in the late medieval church. The increasing sophistication and uniformity of the English language in the later middle ages, together with the marked rise in lay literacy and the introduction of printing, had already stimulated demand for vernacular religious literature and perhaps even for vernacular scripture — to which the opposition of the early Tudor clergy was by no means unyielding.
Richard Rex

Chapter 5. Doctrinal Division

Abstract
Whatever the doubts about the precise doctrinal affiliation of Henry VIII at different stages of his career, one thing is certain. He was as committed in 1547 as he had been in 1509 to maintaining religious uniformity within his domains. His efforts against Luther in 1521 earned him the title ‘Defender of the Faith’, and later, as supreme head, he assumed powers not merely to defend but in effect to define that faith. But for all his efforts, religious uniformity was never total. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that when he came to the throne in 1509, his territories were almost entirely Catholic. By 1547 these territories were still predominantly Catholic, but to the pockets of Lollardy, the native English heresy, which were still to be found in 1509 had been added new and more appealing heresies imported from abroad — Lutheranism, Zwinglianism (or ‘Sacramentarianism’) and Anabaptism. These had attracted recruits from beyond the limited social sphere of Lollardy, from the clergy, the gentry, the lawyers, the wealthy merchants and above all the royal court. Doctrinal division was now an unavoidable fact of life, and this was reflected in the various official formulations and statements of religious belief published in England after the break with Rome. While the relationship between the native heresy and its newer rivals or allies from abroad will be debated as long as historians remain interested in the English Reformation, it is certain that both the quantity and the quality of articulate religious dissent were higher at the end of Henry’s reign than at the beginning. The spread of dissent sharpened royal concern for uniformity, and thus helped to necessitate and to justify the extension of royal power into the field of religious belief.
Richard Rex

Chapter 6. The Politics of Religion

Abstract
In the later Middle Ages, the Christian basis of European society was so widely assumed and enforced that, notwithstanding the rise in academic circles of naturalist and Aristotelian thinking about politics since the thirteenth century, in practice it was difficult for European Christians to imagine that stable societies could exist on any other foundation than the Catholic faith. One of the main long-term outcomes of the changes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the spreading realisation that societies could not only exist but even flourish on radically different theological or ideological foundations. The possibility of such a shift in thinking was evident even before Henry VIII’s Reformation, in the alternative worlds presented respectively by Thomas More and Niccolo Machiavelli in the sixteenth century’s two most original works of political thought, Utopia and the Prince. But the fact that these texts were seen by most readers as exercises in, respectively, light-hearted satire and satanic depravity shows just how far away that possibility still was. Those long processes of change which we call the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, with their manifold political consequences for the internal arrangements and the external relations of European kingdoms and republics, were central to the gradual shifts in thinking which took place over those centuries, culminating in the radically different understanding of the place of religion in society which dominated the thought of the Enlightenment and of the American and French Revolutions.
Richard Rex

Conclusion

Abstract
If the Reformation was, in the words of the late Professor A.G. Dickens, ‘a process of Protestantisation’,1 then how far was there really an English Reformation in the reign of Henry VIII? By the time of the king’s death, the process of Protestantisation had barely begun, and it still lacked the official support which alone could effectively advance it. Henry himself had no intention of initiating such a process. The religious changes he introduced were invariably decked out in the rhetoric of ‘Reformation’, but they were undertaken chiefly with a view to increasing his power, filling his coffers, and exacting stricter obedience from his subjects. Nevertheless, despite the intentions of the king, these changes contributed to the rise of English Protestantism. At almost every stage of its development, the fortunes of English Protestantism were dependent on the attitudes of the king and his close advisers. The alliance between crown and Reformers forged during the divorce controversy was decisive for the survival of the evangelical movement. Without royal protection in the 1530s, Latimer might well have gone the way of Bilney. And with Bilney and Frith dead, and Barnes and Tyndale in exile, Latimer was the towering figure among the early Reformers, exercising a preaching ministry whose contribution to the English Reformation is incalculable.2
Richard Rex
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