Was England Torn Apart by Religious Revolution in the Years 1547-1559?

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The short yet significant reign of Edward bought with it a series of severe changes to England and all those within it, many of them taking a religious nature. As the once unquestionable authority of the church became challenged by both critics and affiliates alike, England witnessed an almost inevitable reformation. However, the impact on the majority was not necessarily beneficial- as Duffy wrote, the Reformation bought with it an ‘assault on traditional religion’, leaving many men that ‘breathed easier for the accession of a Catholic queen’.

It is possible to perceive that England was torn apart by religious revolution as a consequence of the public risings in the response to the changes. After their introduction, the country suffered from a number of rebellions, most significantly the Western rebellion- also known as the Prayer Book rebellion. During the Somerset protectorate of Edward’s rule, the Act of Uniformity was introduced and consequently the English version of the Common Prayer Book as opposed to the Latin variant- an act that proved to be the primary cause of the Western rebellion. The dispute was then antagonised by the harsh enforcement of religious changes by William Body and the demands from the rebels to reintroduce Catholicism and its rituals, such as the use of Latin in services. However, although this uprising resulted in a 3000 strong protest, it only occurred in the South of the country, suggesting that support for the rebellion wasn’t national. Other negative responses to the introduction of the Common Prayer book include non-attendance at church services- an act sufficient enough for it to be noted and to prompt government action.

Further evidence to support that England was torn apart by religious revolution is shown through the act of iconoclasm. Catholic citizens lived in fear throughout Edward’s reign regarding having their religious items confiscated, along with religious images being removed by the Crown. This caused the feeling of division to arise as a result of the Catholic populous within the country becoming isolated and having aspects that defined their religion removed from their lives. Some historians view Edward as a committed Protestant reformer, in favour of ‘religious revolution’ and therefore willing to introduce acts of Protestant radicalism affecting local communities. This event in the religious revolution literally ‘tore’ the Catholics from their religion.

The divide was also present after Edward’s reign, when Mary came to power. Her revival of the heresy laws in 1555 resulted in the burning of 300 people at the stake would undoubtedly have created a climate of terror and uncertainty for the populous of England. Mary’s obsession with religion led to this being one of her main aims, rather than that such as financial reform. Consequently, it could be argued that England was ‘torn apart’ due to the divide that was created between it’s population- the Protestants found themselves living in fear of being burnt at the stake, whilst the Catholic’s lived with a feeling of superiority over them. However, many people had stayed Catholic throughout Edward’s reign- Melton Mowbray, for example, rebuilt it’s altar as soon as Mary became Queen. Also, the number of heretic burnings weren’t significant w hen compared to Europe, meaning opposition to them was decreased.

Religious revolution not only impacted England, but the rest of Europe as well. The once unified structure of the church under the undisputed power of the Pope collapsed, dividing Europe into a number of hostile sects. Whilst England adopted Protestantism before returning to Catholicism under Mary, Scandinavian countries and Germany became Lutheran, and Holland and Scotland turned to Calvinism. The vast domination that once owed allegiance to the Pope now only consisted of countries such as Italy, Austria, France and Spain, and even in these, Protestant minorities existed. This shows that the continent was...
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