HENRY VIII AND THE REFORMATION
PRESENTED, ROBERT BARNETT Ph.D.
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR HIST485: MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
ANDREW H. DAVIDSON
15 JULY 2010
KING HENRY VIII AND THE REFORMATION
For many years leading up to the reign of King Henry VIII, zealous souls were searching more than ever for a meaningful faith-based life for themselves and all of society. The people of England were becoming more and more confused about what the Church actually taught and were developing skeptical feelings towards the spiritual and physical power used and displayed by the clergy. These feelings of the English people were reaching an all time high around the time that Henry VIII had succeeded his father’s throne in 1509. King Henry VIII had mostly selfish and prideful incentives to separate from the Roman Catholic Church. He had no religious intent in mind, but little did he know that he would contribute to the rise of the Protestant Reformation and a long-term religious change in England that would eventually spread to the rest of the world.
The dissatisfaction with the corruption of the Church and hunger for change led to the ideas of Christian humanism and the influence of Greek learning. This idea portrayed an order of peace, justice, and humanity that could be taught and advanced through education. The humanist with the greatest influence of the time was Erasmus of Rotterdam who favored simple biblical piety founded on textual scholarship and study of the Greek New Testament over scholasticism and elaborate ritualism. Erasmus believed in studying and understanding the scriptures for oneself and wanted to reveal the extreme hypocrisies of the Church. Erasmus’ radical writings and teachings began to spread, and soon after the writings and teachings of Thomas More and Martin Luther arose. More wrote the book Utopia which described an idealized society that lived in an uncorrupted world in perfect accordance with the principles of natural virtue. This was a completely unrealistic idea, but it still gave hope to the people for a reform and a better society. Around 1517, Martin Luther created a real reaction and uproar from the people as his ideas rapidly spread against the practices and underlying rationale of the Church. This created an uprising and following of Luther’s teachings as his ideas and books quickly spread throughout England. Luther’s ground breaking concepts encouraged “new learning” and it soon took hold on the University of Cambridge. When word of the vastness of Luther’s teachings and all of the new ideas of change and reform against the church reached King Henry the VIII, he was livid. In 1521, he excommunicated Luther and ordered all Christian princes to “suppress his errors” that Luther and others had spread. Sermons were preached all across Europe denouncing Luther and many of his books were burned. King Henry went as far as to write an essay opposing Luther and his views on the Eucharist and the pope awarded him with the great title “Defender of the Faith.” Even though King Henry tried his best to stop Luther and his ideas, Luther soon earned his voice in Germany and hundreds of his books and pamphlets poured back into England with even more criticisms of the Church’s practices and leaders. Soon many revolts broke out between 1524 and 1526 dubbed the Peasants’ War, and the Protestant Reformation was flooding in. This was the start to a violent political, spiritual, and social struggle between the advocates and the enemies of change in England that lasted for many years. English men and women began to think of themselves as “Catholic” or “Protestant” and separated themselves accordingly. Catholics and evangelicals protested and condemned each other from the pulpit and through printed writings. Change was definitely in the air. In the midst of all of the uprisings...
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