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The History of Henrician Reformation

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Henrician Reformation
  3. Main Feature of Henrician Reformation
    Reasons for Decisive Feature
  4. Conclusion


The Henrician Reformation is a phenomenon that followed the Europe Reformation and Protestant Reformation. This led to the severing in the relationships between England and Rome. The purpose of this article is to highlight the most decisive feature of the Henrician reformation. In addition, the article outlines the reasons giving this feature being considered as the landmark of the religious revolution. First, the article shades light onto the events that led the reformation under the stewardship of King Henry VIII. Secondly, this paper explains the main feature of the reformation and why it is considered as such.

The Henrician Reformation

In 1515, Henry VIII managed to convince Rome to elevate Thomas Wolsey to Cardinal. In 1518, the office of papal legate was granted to him giving him more authority to practice papal authority over English church. This included the archbishops of York and Canterbury. However, Wolsey was driven by wild ambitions and power-hunger. Additionally, he ensured that his successes pleased the king so as to maintain power. In this context, the laity, clergy, commoners and the nobles disliked Wolsey due to the fact that he made many decisions on behalf of the king (Wooding, 2009, pp. 25-78).

Henry VIII had developed staunch support of Catholicism. In 1520, Luther published his Babylonian Captivity of the Church that pointed fingers towards papacy. Henry VIII was enraged by this publication and showed extreme antipathy towards Luther. He even went further to personally publish a response Defense of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther. In his writing, Luther had held onto three sacraments namely baptism and the Mass. On the contrary, Henry VIII supported all the seven sacraments and dedicated his publication to Pope Leo X. In return; the pope gratified Henry VIII with the “Defender of the Faith “title (Wooding, 2009, pp. 101-159).

After petitioning and negotiating for several months, a legatine court was set up in Blackfriars. Catherine continued to appeal against being cast out of the marriage. The case was transferred to Rome where the legal term came to a close and the court never reconvened in time. Henry VIII spent three years pressurizing Rome to return the case to England. This had cost Wolsey his job and powers. The king appointed Thomas More without the knowledge that he was opposed to the divorce. The king threatened the pope not to work under him and went further to invoke the three-centuries-old privilegium Angliae. He was enraged because, as a prince and king, the divorce case was being taken outside his control (Lake and Dowling, 1987, pp.36-77).

In 1531, he amended a clerical grant adding clauses that he was the protector and only supreme head of the English church. He assumed the responsibilities of appointing bishops and abbots, administering clerical goods, overseeing ecclesiastical courts, and punishing adulterous and insolent clergy. He attacked the independence of the church courts by assenting to “The Commons’ Supplication against the Ordinaries.” The Convocation had initiated a program of reform and looked onto the king for support. He encouraged them to continue their offensive. The Convocation submitted to the clergy recognizing him as the supreme legislator of the church as opposed to the pope. This is how England declared its independence from Rome and the pope (Haigh, 1993, pp.71-131).

Henry VIII was finally divorced from Catherine but the damage had been done on its ties with Rome. Pope Clement was enraged with the divorce ruling and called on Henry VIII to rescind the decision. However, the king terminated ties with Rome by denouncing the pope and asked the peoples to ignore Rome. England enacted laws that reduced its tax returns to Rome and halted ecclesiastical dispensations to the city. The act of Supremacy declared Henry VIII to be the earthly head of the English Church. The king dissolved monasteries, abbeys and friaries within the country (MacCulloh, 1995, pp.159-180).

Main Feature of Henrician Reformation

The English Reformation under the mastermind of Henry VIII led to the separation from Rome. There ensued subsequent political and ecclesiastical measures. These prove that this movement was of an entirely different nature. The England reform was forced down to the masses from above. This is unlike the other reforms in the world such as the Europe reform which was initiated by the peoples. This resulted in the reform taking longer to take hold among the peoples. In this regard, it can be said that it came about as a result of personal and political grievances by the king as opposed to the theological conviction of the masses. The resultant Church of England was and continues to be a Protestant church; it is neither Reformed nor Lutheran (Rex, 1993, pp.8-24).

The meaning and the importance of the dissolution of the monasteries elicits many questions. It is observed that it was a capital event that affected daily lives in wide and deep terms. It was more than the breach with Rome and its repair proved difficult. England had rejected its past that was full of beautifully-crafted abbeys and pious monks. On the other side of the coin, the dissolution is considered significant. It was the least part of the revolution and does not merit being at the center of attraction. The attacks on the monasteries are not considered as a reformation novelty. They were self-governing and not as pervasive as the regular churches (Rosman, 2003, pp.687-707).

These monasteries expressed strong papal loyalty. Therefore, the most zealous resistance to royalty would emanate from orders. Likewise, the monasticism was facing a decline in England due to rampant cases of corruption. This had robbed them of their meaning. They had been left subjected to the derision of the laity. Most monks were seeking out due to this damaged reputation. They had lost prestige and respect with the people. The dissolution of the monasteries was clearly a distinguished landmark event in the reformation of the English church. The establishment of the royal supremacy over the church necessitated the downfall of the monasteries (Scarisbrick, 1968, 49-81).

Reasons for Decisive Feature

King Henry VIII was not the chosen heir to the throne because he was the second son of his father, Henry VII. In this regard, he was afforded first-rate education in Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, mathematics, astronomy, and theology. He had vast talents in sports and music to the amusement of his tutors and Artists. Arthur married Catherine the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. This was meant to cement strong political ties between the two monarchs. Yet, Arthur died five months after marrying Catherine. This led to the idea that Henry VIII to marry Catherine so as to avert extensive and expensive dowry refund to Spain (Shagan, 2003, pp.82-113).

The papal dispensation to allow the marriage came on June 11, 1509, after Henry VII had passed on. Henry’s family was fervently Roman Catholic during this time. He had married a Roman Catholic and his loyal advisors were an ardent defender of the Pope. However, Henry VIII had developed innate desire to see church reform in England. It is important to note that, his motives were not similar to those of Martin Luther. In many instances, he had argued with Luther and William Tyndale over their actions and remarks with regard to Roman Catholic (Bernard, 2000, pp.321-349).

It can be observed from the aforementioned events that Henry VIII had developed limitless support of the pope. This was a common practice of the English monarch to support the church when its interests were adhered to. In contrast, the monarch developed stubborn independence every time it wanted to execute the king’s purpose. Henry VIII found himself in this predicament when his strong desire to have a male heir to the throne developed incessantly. This was due to the fact that he wanted to prevent royal instabilities that had occurred in 1453 and 1461 regarding succession. Catherine was experiencing persistent miscarriages after bearing Mary. This made Henry VIII develop affection towards Anne Boleyn, the daughter of the Earl of Wiltshire. A battle of divorce followed between Henry VIII and the church (Field, 2002, pp.6-22).

In this regard, Henry VIII looked for biblical reasons that would grant him divorce wishes. Firstly, he argued that their marriage was illegitimate according to Leviticus 20:21. The sharpest ecclesiastical minds in the church including Cajetan, Vives and Fisher were against the king’s reign. This made them dispel his argument of declaring the marriage null and void. They presented to him Deuteronomy 25:5 that allow one to take his brother’s wife if he died childless. In addition, the pope would not grant a divorce since Rome was being controlled by Emperor Charles V, who was Catherine’s nephew (Field, 2002, pp.6-22).


King Henry VIII orchestrated the Henrician Reformation that led to fray ties between England and Rome. This reformation, unlike the others such as the Protestant Reformation, was started by the king himself. This was due to personal reasons as he sought a divorce from his aging queen. When the efforts to have his wishes granted hit the snug, the king started going against the provisions that defined England’s relationship with Rome. He forced the Convocations to submit to him. He undertook the control of the England Church by dismissing papal jurisdiction. The king refused to apologize for his actions when the pope found out the events. The king cut all links and agreements that had been hitherto entered in with Rome. Furthermore, he ordered the demolition of the monasteries which were the central support bases of the pope.

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