The Protestant Reformation in England

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Have you ever thought of how many churches are in the city you live? There are probably many different churches with different denominations that could be found where you live. Most of these churches would be classified as either Protestant or Catholic. With all these different types of churches, have you ever thought of where they all came from? The answer is that most of the churches you find in your city are a result of the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was an effort to separate from the Roman Catholics and the Pope. The effort was a success in the long term, but resulted with persecution in England during the 15th century.

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In 1501 King Arthur rose the throne of England and married Catherine of Aragon (Lambert). When Arthur died in 1502, his brother Henry became king and married his wife Catherine with special permission from the Pope (Lambert). However, the marriage did not go as planned when Catherine had four miscarriages and their only son died at seven weeks (Lambert). After Henry failed to have a male heir with Catherine, he began to think that God was punishing for marrying his brother’s wife (Lambert).  Since Catherine was opposed to divorcing Henry, he pursued the help of the Pope (Lambert). However, the Pope refused to help Henry divorce his wife (Lambert). This was just the beginning of the problems. In Leviticus 20:21 it says, If there is a man who takes his brother’s wife, it is abhorrent; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. They will be childless (NASB, Leviticus 20:21).

If the Pope was following what the Bible teaches, there would not have been this issue regarding the royal marriage. The Bible is very clear that it is against the law to marry your brother’s wife. The Pope should have never allowed Henry to marry Catherine. By allowing the marriage occur, the Pope was promoting immorality. Since the Pope is head of the Roman Catholic Church, he basically telling every Catholic person that he is above the law and has the power to change the law. At this point when Catholics listen the Pope even when he blatantly disregarding the Bible, they are treating him as god. The Pope is under the God’s law. After the Pope would not allow Henry to divorce Catherine, he took matters into his own hands (Church of England). In 1534 Henry passed the Act of Succession and the Act of Supremacy (Church of England).  This made Henry the head of the Church of England and cut the ties with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope (Lambert).

Henry quickly rose to power over the Church of England and approved the divorce between him and Catherine (Pettegree). The acts Henry took after establishing the Church of England show he wasn’t invested in it. All Henry wanted was to divorce Catherine. By establishing the Church of England it gave him the platform to gain more power to do what he pleased. Henry was trying to gain enough power so he could be above the law and make his own laws and choices just like the Pope. The actions of Henry show he only cared about himself and the power he could have. This makes Henry in my mind a dictator. When King Henry died in 1547, his nine year old son, Edward, rose to the throne (Lambert). Since Edward was only nine and too young to rule, Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset, became the Lord Protector (Lambert). During the reign of Edward the Protestant Church was fully introduced to England (Pettegree). The push for Protestantism across England was partially due to the strong friendship between Archbishop Cranmer and the Lord Protector (Pettegree). During Edward’s reign a lot was done to remove Catholicism from England (Pettegree). They published new prayer books and removed the Catholic paraphernalia from the churches (Pettegree).

However, there was not enough time for the changes in the church to take root before Edward died 1533 (Pettegree). The reign of Edward was good for England. He began to lead England in the right direction. If Edward would had lived longer, the history of England would be completely different. When Edward died, Lady Jane Gray became queen since Edward had altered the succession order (Mary I). After Jane became queen, Mary, the daughter of Henry and Catherine, made proclamations and gathered up an army at her Norfolk estate (Mary I). Nine days after Jane became queen, the Privy Council reversed its decision and crowned Mary as the queen of England (Mary I). The rise to power by Mary brings to light who she really is. Just like King Henry, she was only concerned about herself and the power she could gain. When she wasn’t crowned queen, she did everything in her power to reverse the decision. Unfortunately for the Protestants, Mary’s plan worked. After Mary was crowned queen, she was very quick to reinstate the marriage of Henry and Catherine as just (Mary I). Since Mary was a Catholic, she hated the laws that had been put in place under Henry and Edward (Lambert). In her efforts to restore Catholicism to England, Mary restored Catholic mass and repealed the Act of Supremacy (Lambert). She also ordered that all married clergy leave their wives or their posts (Lambert). In 1554 Mary announced her decision to marry Prince Phillip of Spain who was very unpopular among the English Protestants (Mary I). After promising to allow Mary to keep control over England and to keep England in English hands, Parliament approved of the marriage (Mary I). Up to this point Mary had been peaceful and had only made policy changes, but this was about to change (Mary I).

In 1555 Mary revived the English heresy charges and began to persecute the offenders (Mary I). This marked the beginning of the persecutions against Protestants. Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, and a longtime advisor to King Henry was one of the first people to be burned at the stake under the rule of Queen Mary (Mary I). Over the span of the next couple of years, around three hundred Protestants were burned at the stake under the heresy laws (Mary I). Some even died in prison and approximately eight hundred Protestants fled England to Germany and Geneva where they knew they were safe (Mary I). The persecutions under Mary drew sympathy for Protestants and alienated people from the Catholic Church (Lambert).

In 2 Corinthians 12:10 it says, Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (NASB, 2 Corinthians 12:10).  The Protestants did not buckle under the pressure the Mary. Even though they were persecuted, it made them stronger. While it appeared from the outside and to Mary that the Protestants were becoming weaker with the persecution, it was really creating a stronger bond between the Protestant community and made it even harder to get rid of the Protestants and establish Roman Catholicism. Also in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 it says, For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds (NASB, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

These verses describe the reign of Queen Mary perfectly. She used the cover of Catholicism to secure her reign. All Mary was concerned about was gaining and keeping power in England. In order for her to do that, she murdered hundreds of people that were opposed to her. She is not worried about being a good Christian and following the Bible. A real Christian would not murder three hundred people because of some differences between the denominations. The sole purpose of Mary was to keep the throne no matter what it took and it is no surprise she earned the nickname Bloody Mary for all the blood she was responsible for shedding. In 1558 Elizabeth took the throne following the death of Mary (Pettegree). After a long five years under the reign of Mary in which Catholicism had been reestablished in England, it was time for another change (Pettegree). Under the reign of Elizabeth, the changes made during the Mary’s reign were reversed including the reinstatement of the Act of Supremacy (Lambert). After the changes it remained obvious to Elizabeth and her councilors that some subjects remained attached to Catholicism (Pettegree).

One bishop was removed after he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and about a third of the parish clergy was removed because of their ties to Roman Catholicism (Lambert). The approach Elizabeth takes after people refuse to take the oath spreads light on the way of leadership in that time. If you disagreed with the queen then you were forced out of your position. It didn’t matter whether what you did was a crime or not. If you were viewed as a threat to the throne you were eliminated. That is just how it was in that time. After Elizabeth reestablished Protestantism, most people accepted the religion (Lambert).  However, Catholics could still be found around England practicing their religion in secret (Lambert). In 1569 the Catholics in northern England rebelled against Elizabeth (Lambert). They planned to replace Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots, who was being held prisoner by Elizabeth (Lambert). The rebellion was quickly brought down and many of the rebels were hanged in 1570 (Lambert). In 1570 the Pope formally excommunicated Elizabeth and told Catholics they no longer needed to obey Elizabeth (Lambert). Starting in 1581 Elizabeth began to fine people for not attending the Church of England (Lambert). Later in 1585 all Catholic Priests were ordered to leave England in forty days or face treason charges (Lambert). This was to help crack down and try to weed out Catholicism in England.

The Protestant Reformation in England during the 15th century was a roller coaster ride. You never could be safe being practicing either Protestantism or Catholicism because the religion in power was constantly changing. During the reign of Henry, England officially broke from Rome and the Pope, but the motive for the separation was questionable. The Church of England was established by Henry so he could gain more power and become above the law and divorce his wife, Catherine. He completely disregarded the covenant he made with her before God. Edward’s reign started setting the roots for Protestantism, but he died too soon and his work faded quickly under Mary. Mary despised Protestants and undid all the work done by Henry and Edward to separate from Catholicism. She murdered hundreds or innocent people at the stake to advance her own church denomination and secure her spot on the throne. However, it back fired on her when it made the Protestant movement stronger. This rolled right into the time of Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth worked to clean up the bloodbath that was left from Mary. She reinstated the Protestant laws of Henry and Edward. She slowly weeded out Catholics by making fines for those who did not attend the Church of England and eventually forced all Catholic priests leave the country. While this move helped save the country of England, the fines and exiling the priests were not the best way to promote Protestantism. In the end hundreds of people die in the Protestant Reformation. A lot of lives could have been saved if people weren’t more worried about power and fame. Rather than excluding all Catholics, there should have been a push to preach to the Catholics and show them what the Bible really says. Everything would have been different if instead of focusing on power and control of the throne, people showed God’s love and focused on what the Bible said and lived by it.

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The Protestant Reformation in England. (2019, Dec 10). Retrieved January 31, 2023 , from
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