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Q: english reformation ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: english reformation
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: face69-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 22 Nov 2006 03:18 PST
Expires: 22 Dec 2006 03:18 PST
Question ID: 784762
How popular were the religious changes of Tudor England? How much
popular backing did the English Reformation have?
Subject: Re: english reformation
Answered By: keystroke-ga on 23 Nov 2006 23:32 PST
Hello face69,

Thank you for your very interesting question.

A definitive answer cannot be given, because scholars disagree on this
subject and complete evidence from this period is hard to come by
(especially since much Catholic paraphernalia was suppressed and
destroyed).  The Catholic Church was very popular, but the English
people seemed to let go of it without much of a fight, which creates
quite a dichotomy for historians to study.  I have given you summaries
of the many different scholarly opinions on the subject.

As far as the popular reaction goes, scholars differ on how the
so-called peasants reacted to the government's decision-making at this
time.  The Reformation turned England from a group of pious Catholics
to a group of rather indifferent Protestants, but the debated question
is what role the ordinary folk played in sparking the Restoration.
According to Robin Whiting's book "The Blind Devotion of the People: 
Popular Religion and the English Reformation", the Reformation for the
average person was "less a transition from one form of religious
commitment to another than a descent from a relatively high level of
devotion into conformism, inactivity, and disinterest."  But did the
people bring this on themselves or did they disagree with the
reformations?  The historian Ethan Shagan believes that the people
stirred the changes-- they wanted the change from Catholicism and this
is why there was not too much popular revolt.  In his book "Popular
Politics and the English Reformation", Shagan claims that to have
written "a narrative which acknowledges for the first time that the
Reformation was necessarily based, like all aspects of Tudor
government, on the collaboration of the governed."

However, other scholars believe that English citizens preferred
Catholicism and saw no real change as they continued practising their
own avowed faith, disputing Shagan's findings.  Catholics were not
ostracized or forced to change religions in order to prevent a severe
consequence, so many citizens went on as if nothing had changed.  The
changes were in effect political rather than religious changes-- the
Church of England of the day differed only slightly from the prior
Catholic religion and employed most, if not almost all, of the same
tenets as the previous Church.  Most observers would have called the
Church of England of that time more Catholic than Protestant in
nature.  Pilgrimages and saints' days were done away with, but the Six
Articles passed by Parliament confirmed the Catholic theology of the
Church of England.

Still other historians, such as A.G. Dickens, believed that
Protestantism was already gaining steam in England, which allowed
Henry to enable the change in the first place.  "He took this familiar
story but broke new ground by using local archives - originally those
of York - to highlight both the independent contribution of specific
reformers and the power of Protestantism to convert people before and
against official government policy. The Reformation was sought after
and well-received by an England ready and willing to embrace the new
religion."  (8)

In 1975, Christopher Haigh came forward with revisionist evidence he
had found which implied that Catholicism was held onto by parishioners
well into Queen Elizabeth's reign, views which went against Dickens'
accepted writings.  "Despite some murmurs in the wings, the Catholic
Church in England was alive and well and the Reformation was forced
onto the country from above, by Henry and Parliament. This fitted with
the pioneering work of Sir Geoffrey Elton, who studied Thomas Cromwell
and his use of Parliament and statute. He had concluded that, in
executing the Reformation in the country, Thomas Cromwell modernised
government to a quite revolutionary extent." (8)

Later historians such as J.J. Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy agreed with
Haigh's assessment.
"'on the whole, English men and women did not want the Reformation and
most of them were slow to accept it when it came' (The Reformation and
the English People, J.J. Scarisbrick)" (8)

"The Dissolution of the Monasteries"

"The English Reformation was slow to gather steam. Catholics were not
mistreated (at least not at first), and in many parts of the country
religious life went on unchanged. Catholic rites and symbols remained
in use for many years."

The English people did not seem incredibly upset to see their Catholic
religion go, although many continued practicing with little recourse,
and in fact a few of them supported the moves due to the Catholic
church's perceived immense wealth.  Henry VIII disbanded the
monasteries and sold the lands, which pleased the gentry who could
purchase the land at a cheap price, pleased Parliament which could
make money from the deal, and pleased the merchant middle class who
could purchase land and become gentry themselves.  However, those who
did not benefit from the disbanding were shocked and horrified at the
methods used against these workers of God.  The policy "confused and
angered most Englishmen." (1)  30,000 protesters gathered in Louth to
protest in the biggest uprising of Henry VIII's reign.  The king could
do little since there was no English standing army and popular
sympathy lay with those who led the uprising.  The rebel leader,
Robert Aske, declared, "In all parts of the realm men's hearts much
grudged with the suppression of abbeys, and the first fruits, by
reason the same would be the destruction of the whole religion in
England." (2)  The rebels simply could not be contained, to the extent
that Henry acceded to all their demands and promised to call a new
Parliament to address their wishes.  As soon as the rebel army
disbanded peacefully, Henry declared martial law and executed many of
those who had begun the uprising.  Understandably, the English were
loathe to stand against the king after that episode and many hid their
sympathy to Catholicism.

Catholicism was undermined in the course of a few incidents, including
that of Elizabeth Barton, a young nun who claimed to have received
supernatural visions from God that portended the dire consequences if
Henry VIII was allowed to marry Anne Boleyn.  She had many Catholic
backers but a successful royal propaganda campaign to undermine her
accusations resulted in her execution and the death of the Catholic
movement's central figure.  "Once Barton's reputation for holiness was
undermined by the government's successful propaganda campaign
(resulting in her execution in 1534), her allies were left not only
vulnerable, but unable to mount a coordinated defense on behalf of the
Catholic cause." (6)

Those who continued to practice Catholicism in private met little
resistance; few chose to do so in public after the Pilgrimage of Grace
fiasco.  Treason laws were strengthened to further prevent action on
the part of Catholics.  In effect, "few were prepared to defy the King
to defend the threatened institutions of the old church", even though
they may have agreed with those tenets (3).

'Despite a sweeping program of cultural iconoclasm, many individuals
in early modern England still observed the traditional practices of
Catholicism, which were increasingly curtailed from the late 1530s and
outlawed in 1559, but never entirely eradicated. The Puritan preacher
and writer William Perkins, in his highly popular A Golden Chain ...
Containing the Order of the Causes of Salvation and Damnation (1558),
describes such practices as the "Popish superstitions in sacrifices,
meates, holydayes, apparell, temporarie and beadridden prayers,
indulgences, auster[e] life, whippings, ceremonies, gestures, gate,
conversation, pilgrimage, building of Altars, pictures, Churches, and
all other of that rabble."' (4)

"Despite all this storm of activity, the English church didn't really
change. The average person going to church would see almost no change
in the practices or dogma of the church. It was still for all
practical purposes a Catholic church; the only real difference that
anybody would notice was the use of English Bibles in the church." (5)

The fact that many citizens had no major problem with papacy was
confirmed when "Bloody Mary" came to power and restored Catholicism
for her five-year reign to little protest.  After Queen Elizabeth I
re-established Protestantism, another 20 years lapsed before she could
be sure that Protestantism had firmly taken hold of her citizens in a
process known as "settlement". (4)  This was able to happen because
Elizabeth presented a compromise form of Protestantism which was very
similar to Catholicism.  England infuriated reformers who found "the
apparent indifference of broad sections of the population to the call
to a godlier lifestyle". (3)  Protestantism was spread "horizontally
by conversions among the people." (7)


I would like to refer you to a few books on this subject:

Ethan H. Shagan
Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History
"Popular Politics and the English Reformation"

"The Blind Devotion of the People: Popular Religion and the English
Reformation" by Robin Whiting


Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 314-316
Robin B. Barnes

Wikipedia Entry-- History of the Church of England

Canadian Journal of History
"Popular Politics and the English Reformation"

1. 1536: The Pilgrimage of Grace

2. Catholic Enyclopedia

3.  BBC History
"Initially, Henry defends the faith"

4. " Tottel's Miscellany and the English Reformation."

5.  Protestant England

6.  Humanities and Social Science Net Online
"The People and Post-Revisionist Reform"

7.  The Recent Historiography of the English Reformation
Christopher Haigh
Historical Journal, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Dec., 1982), pp. 995-1007

8. BBC

Search terms:
english reformation popular response
dissolution monasteries
pilgrimage of grace
english reformation religious commitment
ordinary english reformation
elton collinson popular reformation

If you need any additional clarification, let me know and I'll be glad
to assist you.

Subject: Re: english reformation
From: omnivorous-ga on 22 Nov 2006 03:30 PST
Face69 --

You may have a hard time assessing "popular" reaction to the Tudor
period.  Indeed, a notable biography of William Shakespeare, "Will in
the World" by Stephen Greenblatt tries to do precisely that -- and
contends that Shakespeare himself was a "closet Catholic" forced to
hide his faith because failure to follow the Tudor religion was
regarded as treason:
"Will in the World"

For a good review of the issues, see also Adam Gopnik's review of
"Will in the World" --
The New Yorker
"Will Power," (Gopnik, Sept. 13, 2004)

Best regards,


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