The reign of Edward VI saw great religious upheaval from a Protestantreligion that was Catholic in nature to a more clearly defined and radicalquasi-Calvinism. In that sense religious policy hardened. But the policies andideal never became deeply entrenched and accepted throughout the country andoften only existed to serve the interests of those who enacted them, and not thefuture stance of the church. Under Somerset the changes involved merely creatinga Protestant facelift, and only under Northumberland did sweeping radicalchanges emerge. However, policy never hardened enough, or became accepted enough,to prevent it being disintegrated when Mary came to power in 1553.
The religious situation was highly unstable at the time of Edward’sascendance. Although Henry had allowed Protestant leaning clerics to predominatein the later year of his reign, most religious statutes remained orthodox, andconservative. But under Somerset Protestants who had previously fled to Europeafter the six articles, such as Hooper, Becon, and Turner, all returned. Manywere writers banned under Henry VIII, along with Luther and other EuropeanProtestants.
Guy points out that 159 out of 394 new books printed during theProtectorate were written by Protestant reformers.
Reformers predominated the Privy council under Somerset, and reform waspopular amongst the gentry of the time. But outside London and East AngliaProtestantism was not a major force. In terms of religious hardening, it isunlikely that the surge of Protestantism had any particular long term impactoutside these areas. It was only in these areas that violent iconoclasm tookplace. Elsewhere far more moderate reforms such as vernacular Bibles andservices were introduced.
The legislation of the Somerset era also did little to aid a definitehardening of religious policy. The Privy council remained reluctant to make anyradical moves. The Council, parliament, and the convocation all wanted reform,but not of the type that would firmly thrust the country into radicalProtestantism. Moderate leanings were all that was desired, and this wasreflected in the two major pieces of legislation, the Chantries Act and theTreason Act, which both did little to resolve doctrinal uncertainties. The newbook of common prayer also trod a careful path between Protestantism andCatholicism.
Jordan states that These years … were characterised by patience withthe bishops, almost half of whom were conservative in their views and Catholicin their doctrinal sympathies, though all, trained as they were in the reign ofHenry VIII, lent complete support to the Act Supremacy in all its constitutionaland political implications … the lesser clergy and the laity were with fewexceptions under no considerable pressure to conform, even after the passage ofthe Act establishing the first Book of Common Prayer.
Guy suggests that the Protestant stance was only ever introduced bySomerset to promote his own interests. Although accurate figures are lacking,roughly one fifth of Londoners were Protestant by 1547 … but elsewhereProtestantism had barely progressed. Yet London activists had a disproportionateinfluence on official policy … secret cells of Christian brethren’ existed tospread the word; links were forged with Lollard congregations , the Protestantbook trade established … Since so many of Somerset’s supporters were radical,he had an incentive to assimilate the supremacy to their interests. The dangerwas that religious opinion would polarise and lead to civil discord; uniformitywas the linchpin of order.
Bush argues that due to the political motivation behind reform, realreligious zeal was not apparent, the apparent hardening Protestantism only atoken gesture. The outstanding characteristic of the settlement was itsmoderate enforcement. Victims were relatively few, martyrs at the stake werenon-existent, and the conservative bishops tumbled from office in any numberonly after Somerset’s fall … the regime certainly showed a noticeable leniencyin the persecution of religious dissent within the context of the age.
Northumberland presided over moves to a far more radical religion.
Ridley was appointed Bishop of London and Hooper Bishop of Gloucester.
Protestantism had already been hardened through doctrine and procedural changes.
By Northumberland’s fall, communion tables had been moved into the centre of thechurch, and second new prayer book was issued in 1552. Communion no longerresembled mass. Only plain surpluses were allowed, and the 1553 42 articlesproduced far more Protestant doctrinal changes than had been seen before. Thenew vernacular bible was reinforced by the new style of service. Also, thenumber of priests marrying under the new Protestant rule created a vestedinterest within the church for the prolongment of Protestantism. In the longterm, this undoubtedly helped harden Protestant values at the grass roots levelwithin the church.
Such changes enacted a hardening of Protestantism in statute only.
Throughout the country many middle class and gentry resented the stricter brandof Protestantism, and the erosion of Catholicism.
The balance of the Privy council swung far more heavily to radicalreformers under Northumberland, and this is probably reflected n the hardeningof religious policy seen. Conservatives were quickly driven from office.
Gairdiner was imprisoned in the Tower of London, Bishop Bonner of London wasretired and deprived of his diocese, to be replaced by reformer Ridley.
Reformers were subsequently installed into the bishoprics of Rochester,Chichester, Norwich, Exeter and Durham.
Parliament was recalled in January 1552 and presented with a substantialprogram or religious reform. The new Treason Act, the Act of Uniformity, thelimiting of Holy days to 25, the new and almost Calvinist Book of Common Prayer,the redefining of the Eucharist and a vestments ban were all introduced.
However, it is unclear as to whether the intention was to secure ahardening of Protestantism. If it was, it didn’t succeed. At the fall ofNorthumberland Protestantism was accepted but not widely supported. In thecountry Catholicism was still somewhat endearing. Certainly, there was littleevidence that Protestantism was increasing in popularity in the country, or anyevidence of a long term appeal. Jordan states that: the thrust ofNorthumberland’s policy had been n the direction of an evangelical Protestantparty … whose theological preferences were Zwinglian or Calvinistic, whoseview of faith and worship displayed no nostalgia whatever for the ancient church,and whose principle interest it was that all remaining Roman survivals be sweptaway and that a pure, an undefiled, Protestantism be vigorously preached andenforced throughout the realm. That is what Northumberland preached, but italso poses significant doctrinal problems. Calvinism and Zwinglism wereintrinsically different and could not be merged into some Protestant cocktail,yet Northumberland allowed both views to predominate. And more alarmingly, asJordan reveals, Northumberland died in 1553 a professed and a communicatingRoman Catholic, making the staggering statement that his sympathies had beensecretly Catholic during the whole of the Edwardian era.
The government’s subsequent pillaging of church wealth thereforepresents a more likely incentive for religious zeal. In 1552 an exhaustivesurvey of church wealth was conducted, estimating a total value of over 1m.
Northumberland then attacked the church to gain control of as much of thiswealth as possible. For example the Bishopric of Durham was halved, inventoriesof gold and silver plate were conducted and removed.
There is however, much evidence that Protestant religious policy washardened during Edward’s reign. In 1547 Somerset succeeded in making Parliamentpermit communion of both kinds, and to repeal the heresy laws, including the Actof Six Articles. The new Injunctions also strengthened the Protestant stance ofthe church.In 1549 the new Protestant prayer book merged traditional catholicideal with more radical Lutheran notions, and by the time of the prayer book of1552 Protestantism was even more evident. Priests were subsequently allowed tomarry. The new prayer book was declared a monopoly, all previous edition wereordered to be destroyed. A new ordination rite was created that denied the fullpriesthood to ministers. Mass was reduced to little more than a token procedureand church monasteries and chapels were all dissolved during Edward’s reign. Theprayer book of 1552 was enforced by a new Act of Uniformity and the Forty TwoArticles of 1553. At this stage religious policy had been hardened in that therewas a distinct policy – the country was officially Protestant, in doctrine andin law. Previously there had been no such clear policy and the country as awhole had not known definitively where it stood.
Only the appearances were beginning to change considerably. Catholicreligious groups, chantries, educational establishments such as chantry schoolsseemed to remain untouched, except for their now increasing Protestant teaching.
Such was the hardening of Protestantism in England, moderate Lutheraninfluences had given way to the more radical church-state ideals of Calvin andZwingli by the end of the reign, ideals that would never have been toleratedunder Henry VIII.
Dickens suggests this led to the reorientation from the Saxon to theSwiss emphasis becoming decisive. He continues, claiming, when Cranmer soughtto call a conference to unite European Protestants he was rebuffed by theunimaginative Lutherans. On the other hand, thousands of religious refugees, thegreat majority of them owing no direct allegiance to Luther’s Wittenburg, cameto settle in England. Martin Bucer and several other eminent foreign theologiansoccupied key posts in the universities, while the great company of foreigners inLondon were given the Austin Friars and there allowed by Cranmer to organisetheir congregations along Swiss lines.
One way in which religious policy was arguably hardened was the way inwhich personal supremacy was undermined. Elton claims that in the first place,the Edwardian Acts of Uniformity went a long way towards resting the liturgy andceremonial of the church on the authority of Parliament; the second act couldspeak of the first Prayer Book as a very godly order set forth by authority ofParliament’ and the second as annexed to the act. Instead of merely enforcing,by penalties, personal decree of the supreme head, Parliament thus fullyparticipated in the ultimate exercise of his power, the definition of true faith.
It could be argued that the hardened religious position was not a resultof Protestantism but simply to strengthen the power of factions at court. Loadessuggest: the Edwardian church was every bit as much an instrument of governmentpropaganda as that of Henry had been. Sermons, homilies and exhortation of everykind urged the sacred duty of obedience to the Prince, terming rebellion .
..the puddle and sink of all sins against God and man.’ So obvious was thealliance of convenience between the Protestant divines and the secularpoliticians that the conservative regarded the reservations of the former withpardonable suspicion … the sincerity and religious conviction which actuallyinspired them became evident only when political power had been stripped away.
In conclusion, the reign of Edward VI did see a hardening of religiouspolicy in that such policy was clearly defined. Protestant ideals and ideas werestrengthened, but not necessarily for devotional or theological motives. The keyprotagonist of radical change, Northumberland, still proclaimed his Catholisismon his death-bed. Also, the country as a whole did not view Protestantism as agreat religious advancement, and only in London and East Anglia can local levelreligious policy be said to have hardened. Another factor is that none of thereligious policy became steadfast or hardened to the extent that it could not beswept away even more quickly than it had been enacted.
BibliographyGuy, J. Tudor England, Oxford (1988), p203Jordan. W, Edward VI, the Threshold of Power, George Allen ; Unwin 1970, p240.
Guy. J, Tudor England, Oxford 1988, p 204.
Bush M., The Government Policy of Protector Somerset, Arnold 1975, p101.
Jordan. W, Edward VI, the Threshold of Power, George Allen and Unwin 1970,p362.
Jordan. W, Edward VI, the Threshold of Power, George Allen and Unwin 1970,p363.
Dickens. A.G., The Reformation Crisis, Ed Joel Hurstfield, Edward Arnold 1965,p 53.
Elton. G.R., The Tudor Constitution, Cambridge 1962, p335.
Loades. D, Politics and the Nation, Fontana 1980, p200The reign of Edward VI saw a definite hardening of religious policy. Do youagree?
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