The Reign of Edward Vi

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The Reign of Edward VI

The reign of Edward VI saw great religious upheaval from a Protestant religion that was Catholic in nature to a more clearly defined and radical quasi-Calvinism. In that sense religious policy hardened. But the policies and ideal never became deeply entrenched and accepted throughout the country and often only existed to serve the interests of those who enacted them, and not the future stance of the church. Under Somerset the changes involved merely creating a Protestant facelift, and only under Northumberland did sweeping radical changes 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's ascendance. Although Henry had allowed Protestant leaning clerics to predominate in the later year of his reign, most religious statutes remained orthodox, and conservative. But under Somerset Protestants who had previously fled to Europe after the six articles, such as Hooper, Becon, and Turner, all returned. Many were writers banned under Henry VIII, along with Luther and other European Protestants. Guy points out that 159 out of 394 new books printed during the Protectorate were written by Protestant reformers.

Reformers predominated the Privy council under Somerset, and reform was popular amongst the gentry of the time. But outside London and East Anglia Protestantism was not a major force. In terms of religious hardening, it is unlikely that the surge of Protestantism had any particular long term impact outside these areas. It was only in these areas that violent iconoclasm took place. Elsewhere far more moderate reforms such as vernacular Bibles and services were introduced.

The legislation of the Somerset era also did little to aid a definite hardening of religious policy. The Privy council remained reluctant to make any radical moves. The Council, parliament, and the convocation all wanted reform, but not of the type that would firmly thrust the country into radical Protestantism. Moderate leanings were all that was desired, and this was reflected in the two major pieces of legislation, the Chantries Act and the Treason Act, which both did little to resolve doctrinal uncertainties. The new book of common prayer also trod a careful path between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Jordan states that "These years ... were characterised by patience with the bishops, almost half of whom were conservative in their views and Catholic in their doctrinal sympathies, though all, trained as they were in the reign of Henry VIII, lent complete support to the Act Supremacy in all its constitutional and political implications ... the lesser clergy and the laity were with few exceptions under no considerable pressure to conform, even after the passage of the Act establishing the first Book of Common Prayer."

Guy suggests that the Protestant stance was only ever introduced by Somerset to promote his own interests. "Although accurate figures are lacking, roughly one fifth of Londoners were Protestant by 1547 ... but elsewhere Protestantism had barely progressed. Yet London activists had a disproportionate influence on official policy ... secret cells of ‘Christian brethren' existed to spread the word; links were forged with Lollard congregations , the Protestant book trade established ... Since so many of Somerset's supporters were radical, he had an incentive to assimilate the supremacy to their interests. The danger was that religious opinion would polarise and lead to civil discord; uniformity was the linchpin of order."

Bush argues that due to the political motivation behind reform, real religious zeal was not apparent, the apparent hardening Protestantism only a token gesture. "The outstanding characteristic of the settlement was its moderate enforcement. Victims were relatively few, martyrs at the stake were non-existent, and the conservative...
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