English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors
by Christopher Haigh
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars England’s ‘interrupted and difficult’ Reformation, 15 Aug. 2008
This review is from: English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Paperback)
Haigh argues there were Reformations rather than one Reformation and that the process was interrupted and difficult. That implies that the populace held to Catholicism – which Haigh argues was a functioning framework – through choice. England already had an anti-Catholic underground in the form of the Lollards but they lacked credibility after the Oldcastle Rebellion (1414).
English Lollardy and imported Lutheranism came out of the closet under the protection of Cromwell, Crammer and Anne Boleyn. The two Universities did most of the legwork through Cardinal’s College in Oxford and the White Horse Tavern in Cambridge. The arrival of Bucer from Strasburg and Martyr from Italy (a defender of Zwingli) accentuated this. Stereotyping early critics of the religious regime helped to unify opposition. Bilney was characterised by the authorities as `Lutheran’ whilst only sharing some common ground with them such as the prohibition of veneration of images. Although found guilty, Tunstall kept the case open as Wolsey wanted a repentant conformer not a martyr. Facts about his relapse and subsequent burning in 1531 are confused.
Haigh argues that the preaching of Protestantism remained `limited and patchy’. We need to deal with one of the most contentious claims head-on. According to Haigh, Protestantism did not appeal to women. 30% of men could read but only 10% of women. Why should it be a surprise that there were more male Protestants than female? Certainly, Protestantism had a spatial bias, being concentrated in the Kent, London, Essex and around the Universities. Haigh claims that even in Colchester in 1553, Protestants were a minority.
England’s `Reformation’ began in Henry VIII’s reign through political accident. The fall of More in 1532 was followed by the release of people formerly considered heretics. In 1538 injunctions ordered the destruction of devotional images. But Henry was responsible for stopping his own Reformation, starting with the case of Lambert. The Act of Six Articles was a personal disaster for Cranmer and Cromwell – particularly as Cranmer had a wife who had to be packed off to Germany. It made denial of transubstantiation a burning issue. Cromwell was executed in 1540 and Barnes, Garrett and Jerome also died at the stake. After Cromwell’s fall, the Reformation was not only stoppable but reversible. The revision of the Bishops’ Bible demonstrated no `justification by faith’, the central tenet of Lutheranism. Cranmer tried to salvage faith even if it would not be `faith alone’ but the final Act restricted even the reading of Bibles. Only the break with Rome and suppression of monasteries survived.
Henry might have died in 1546 but over 4 months everything changed. His unsigned will was probably doctored by Paget as Protestants tried to push through their plans for Lady Gray. Elsewhere in the book, Haigh rubbishes the importance of will preambles but here he suggests that Henry’s is essentially Catholic. Recent scholarship challenging the assumption that Edward VI was a sickly child is not incorporated. Over the next 6 years church images were ripped down, Protestant Prayer Books were enforced, clergy married and English prayers were introduced. Haigh argues that this march of Protestantism is an illusion. The 1549 Prayer Book was a compromise pleasing neither side. However, the 1552 Act of Uniformity made a decisive break with the past being essentially Calvinist in outlook. The new Book of Common Prayer that year was designed to exclude Papist errors but also responded to the threat of Anabaptism. Its position on predestination was also deliberately vague.
Edward died on 6th July 1553. Six days later there were reports that Mary had been proclaimed Queen in Suffolk. Haigh claims that she had overwhelming support in the country and was swept to power in a revolution. Under Mary, Protestants tried to present a `united credal front’. However, there were separate Zurich and Lutheran camps – amongst others. Henry Hart, an old Lollard from Kent, turned up in Essex preaching that salvation is available to all not just an elect – a thoroughly anti-Calvinist message. According to Haigh, Mary never intended the brutal holocaust she instigated. She wanted to act `without rashness’ but there were major miscalculations on Gardiner’s part in his choice of burnings.
Mary died in November 1558 by which time it seemed certain that Elizabeth would be Queen as Mary Queen of Scots, the most likely Catholic contender, was married to the French Dauphin. Policy advisers warned Elizabeth that anything other than gradual reform carried severe risks but she threw her lot in with the Protestants. The Parliamentary struggles of 1559 not only produced another ambiguous Book of Common Prayer, they frightened Elizabeth into a conciliatory position. However, the Royal Visitation proceeded along Cranmer’s example of 1548. Elizabeth was outraged at the results and quickly moved to restore roods in churches. Yet she was forced to agree to another phase of official iconoclasm.
Nearly all early Elizabethan parish clergy were recruited as Catholic priests. Gradually this Catholic-rooted old guard died off and was replaced by Protestants. Catholicism became either a religion in exile as at Louvain or an underground, `country house’ religion at home. Critical to this was Pius V’s hard line on Catholics attending church services in England. By the middle of Elizabeth’s reign there is mounting evidence of Protestant breakthroughs. By the end, Catholicism had disintegrated into a small sect.
Under pre-Reformation Catholicism, both thinking and unthinking Christians were all Catholics. But Protestantism had an exclusivist model with a single route to salvation. Yet, in spite of all the legislative changes, the new service acquired the appeal of the old; the Book of Prayer took on the role of the mass. England after the Reformation had 4 types of Christian: godly Protestants, recusant Catholics, Old Catholics and `parish anglicans’. The last of these were despised by both sides and were seen as potential Papists by the Protestants. For Catholics several decades had changed everything. Many Protestants wondered how so little could have changed.