Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

Donald Tilton


The Roman Catholic Church, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, waa an international organization that was suffering from the problems of abuses and formalism. Some of the most prominent abuses that existed within the Church were the evils of simony, pluralism, indulgences, dispensations, the immorality of the clergy, and the worshipping of relics and images. Also, a conflict had developed between the temporal and spiritual authorities over matters of jurisdiction, especially as concerned benefit of clergy. However, the most serious fault that existed within the Church was, perhaps, the formalism of ritual that had developed. Forms and pageantry had oftentimes replaced worship and belief. The common people came to believe more in the forms of worship than in the principles of religion upon which they were based. Within this framework of religion, the English Reformation took place.

Henry VIII assumed the practices of the Church of Rome and defended them against the innovations of Martin Luther in his book, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, which earned the king the title of Defender of the Faith . Nevertheless, Henry's desire to secure a divorce from Catherine of Aragon (because of the need for a male heir to the throne and the king's wishes to possess Anne Boleyn) resulted in the break between England and the Church of Rome, for the Pope, Clement VII, refused to grant Henry the necessary divorce. In 1533, Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, separated Henry from Catherine. The king developed the principle of the royal supremacy , and, through this doctrine, he subordinated the ecclesiastical jurisdiction to the civil authority. The religious houses in England were dissolved, to quell possible opposition and to ensure the loyalty of the new ruling class to the crown through their possession of Church lands. However, during the reign of Henry VIII, the Church of England maintained national Catholicism, the major difference being that the royal authority replaced that of the Pope. Through the Ten Articles and the Six Articles, the major points of Catholic dogma were retained in the English Church.

During the brief reign of Edward VI, the Church of England embraced Protestantism, following the lead of the continental reformers. Although the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 was reconcilable with Catholicism, the second Edwardine prayer book of 1552 end the Forty- two Articles of Religion of 1553 rejected the old traditions, especially the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation. However, there was not enough time in Edward 's reign to make these Protestant innovations of lasting effect.

The reign of Queen Mary witnessed the restoration of Roman Catholicism, through the two Marian acts or repeal and the absolution from schism granted by the papal legate, Cardinal Pole. With the revival of the former heresy acts used against the Lollards, Mary set out to enforce the restored religion upon the realm. The deaths of some 300 martyrs attested to the queen's steadfast purpose, but the people were more appalled than convinced, and the persecutions proved to be advantageous to the Protestant cause.

In 1559, Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England, and, during her reign, the Elizabethan settlement ended the religious controversy that had plagued England since the reign of Henry VIII. Both the Marian restoration and the national Catholicism of Henry were rejected, as the Church of England modified the innovations of the reign of Edward VI. The royal supremacy was restored over the spiritual jurisdiction by the Act of Supremacy of 1559. The Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-nine Articles established a middle way for the doctrine and ritual of the Church of England. Thus, the Elizabethan settlement climaxed the English Reformation and opened the way for the greater glories of the British Empire.



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