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How far was England a Protestant nation on the death of Henry VIII in 1547

On the death of Henry VIII, England seemed to be far from being a Protestant nation. However, there were quite a few changes which could suggest that England was going towards Protestantism or perhaps had already adapted it, although the adoption of Protestantism in most cases could be argued as more political moves then religious.There were quite a few cases which were moves towards Protestantism. In 1546, Henry named his Regency Council, which put England in the direction of Protestantism. The Council Henry chose for Edward was heavily Protestant and therefore gave the potential for Protestantism to triumph after the death of the King. Furthermore, two years before, in 1544 Henry appointed the Protestant John Cheke as six year old Prince Edward’s tutor. John Cheke’s ideas would obviously have influence over Edward. However, in the same month, Anne Askew was burned for denying transubstantiation, which showed Henry’s commitment to parts of Catholicism. Therefore, right before Henry’s death, the nation was moderately Catholic and moderately Protestant. However, Henry was willing to tolerate reformist ideas, even making sure they would last after his death, through Edward.In addition, Cromwell’s injunctions of 1536 and 1538 were also moves towards Protestantism. The 1536 set placed emphasis on reform via education. The clergy were ordered by Cromwell to teach the ‘Pater Noster’ (Our Father), the Articles of Faith and the Ten Commandments to congregations and young people. Wealthy clergy were supposed to support scholars at schools and universities, while parents were urged to educate their children. There was nothing unCatholic about this, but the injunctions went onto declare that clergy were to publicise and show approval of the Ten Articles (rejection of the ‘Seven Sacraments’ of Catholic doctrine) and the Supremacy (Henry as the Head of the Church, not the Pope).The Act of Supremacy, passed in 1534, came with an oath of supremacy delivered to all religious houses. The oath declared Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church of England, not the Pope.Two more injunctions which had a big impact on the nation were the reduction of Holy days (or holidays), Protestants thought they were superstitious and had sought to end them; and the command for Bibles in English for people to read in Church. The publication of the Great Bible in 1939, eight years before Henry’s death, the Bible was available in English to everyone; therefore all would be able to interpret the message, not just the priests.However, access to the Bible was restricted as individuals who wished to possess their own Bible had to have a license. Furthermore, in 1943 Parliament bought in an Act for the Advancement of True Religion which condemned ‘crafty, false and untrue’ translations of the Bible and limited Bible reading to the politically powerful. This was a move to Catholicism and shows that England wasn’t reformed.However, the injunctions in 1538 favoured the reformers again. The suppression of the larger monasteries was taking place and Henry was in the company of German Lutheran princes. Therefore Cromwell published a second set of inunctions. The majority were extensions of the first set from 1536; images that were the object of pilgrimage, mainly Catholic concepts, were taken down. Also, candles before images were prohibited and sermons were to be preached. These factors were all for Protestantism and against Catholicism. The Ten Articles of 1536 and the Bishop’s Book of 1537 didn’t introduce Lutheran ideas on the Eucharist, sacraments and justification, but did leave these important issues open to uncertainty and debate. Even attempts to join England in alliance with Lutheran states – most notably Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves in January 1540 revealed the extent to which Henry was willing to tolerate reformist ideas.Conversely, such reforms didn’t last. Henry’s toleration of reform was mainly for financial gain, such as the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry believed that the Church of England had never left the Catholic Church at all, and he was just rejecting Papal supremacy. The Six Articles of 1539 and the King’s Book of 1543 reinforced and reaffirmed the doctrines of transubstantiation, communion, clerical celibacy, private masses, the seven sacraments, the place of images, and the centrality of justification through faith and works. The Act of Six Articles marked a radical shift in doctrine. It confirmed transubstantiation, private Masses and hearings of confessions by the priests.Furthermore, it banned the marriage of priests or anybody who had taken a vow of chastity, the taking of communion (in both bread and wine) by lay people. There were severe penalties for those who went against the Act, the denial of transubstantiation led to automatic burning. The King’s book (‘The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition of a Christian Man’) revised the Bishop’s Book (the rediscovery of the four ‘lost’ sacraments), the defence of transubstantiation and the Six Articles. Henry had written it himself and this showed the country was towards Catholicism, not Protestantism.Carrying on, a further symbol of Henry’s commitment to the Catholic belief in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist was the trial and execution of John Lambert for his denial of transubstantiation, in 1538. It showed that Henry was still a Catholic. He also showed his loyalty to Catholicism by marrying Catherine Howard, the daughter of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, in July 1540. The basic elements of Catholic belief were still in place in 1547.There is little evidence to suggest the Reformation had spread far to the localities other than the removal of monastic charity and the preaching campaign to enforce the supremacy. Cromwell’s injunctions had had only a limited impact. Important shrines had been removed and important relics destroyed, but on the whole in the parishes worship and maintenance of images and relics continued as before, often being quickly replaced once visitations had passed. Furthermore, the absence of opposition to the reforms was limited, but not because of popular acceptance but more a fear of punishment or hopes for a reversal of the reforms in the future.The spread of the Reformation amongst the population by 1547 was limited; nevertheless there was in several places a Protestant minority capable of dividing the community. The establishment of royal supremacy over the Church of England had given rise to demands for reform as a result of Henry’s forged alliance between himself and reformers, but Henry died a confirmed Catholic, bringing back important Catholic doctrines, leaving money to the poor and endowing priests to say prayers for his soul after his death.

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