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

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.

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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 considerably divided and even ‘torn apart’ by the religious revolution. Religious intolerance came as a result of the split in Western Christendom, with both Catholic leaders and Protestant supporters justifying it.Catholic leaders believed they were defending traditional Christian civilization against rebellions and anarchical forces, whilst the latter argued they were restoring pure religion and defending against corruption and superstition.

To them, the Pope was anti-Christ, whilst to the Catholics, Luther, Alvin and all other ‘reformers’ were heretics. Consequently, the secular rulers sought to base their political unity upon that of a religious nature, using their authority to compel their subjects into adopting one form of Christianity.In contrast to Pope Leo X, who face the Lutheran revolt, who urged secular leaders to suppress Protestant heretics by force, Luther appealed for this same force to be used against Catholics, and even Calvin, considered to be an apostle of religious tolerance didn’t permit Catholics to reside in Geneva.

Meanwhile, Spain, Portugal and Italy all used methods such as the Inquisition and the Index to eliminate religious dissent and persecute Protestant subjects. Therefore, this shows that despite the argument regarding whether England was ‘torn apart’, the rest of Europe was considerably so, which could subsequently have impacted England.However, religious revolution in England could also be viewed as beneficial, in particular to the economy. Throughout Europe, Princes and landlords, eager to the receive sources of new wealth, adopted the argument of Luther that church property should be confiscated. During Edward’s reign, the religious changes introduced resulted in the dissolution of the monasteries and chantries, which impacted the county’s economy as more money was made available to both the crown and the people.The Reformation decreased both the importance and power of the church in an economic sense, whilst creating better conditions for economic development and the growth of capitalism.

Similarly the reinstatement of Catholicism during Mary’s reign created an influx of money for the English economy. Despite religious differences, the majority of the population saw trade as a mutual interest and key to economic stability. Manufacturers, bankers and traders, whose primary aim was to increase profitability, accepted the Calvin interpretation that the Catholic church had unjustly condemned charging interest.This therefore suggests that England was not torn apart by religious revolution- or at least, not the economy.

The poor could also be seen as having benefited through the religious changes, 1547 saw the removal of the church as the providers of poor relief to the population, as it was instead placed under government control. Subsequently, in 1553, after an increase in economic stability the town councils were given more power in order to aid the poor. This resulted in a larger amount of the communities receiving aid- regardless of religion and the changes implemented due to it.In contrast to the poor within England, absolutist aspirations both within the country and the rest of Europe were largely advanced by the Reformation and religious revolution. The confiscation of church lands combined with effective control over local clergy and the repudiation of Papal authority meant that rulers of Protestant countries, such as Edward, were able to enhance their political power. Even in Catholic countries, rulers took advantage of difficulties encountered by the Pope and secured concessions, allowing them to increase their power at the expense of the church.

As the once undisputable power of the church and Pope was denied, the power and rights of the King was asserted, both in England and other European countries. This suggests that England wasn’t torn apart by religious revolution- it’s leadership benefited from it. The impact of the religious revolution can also be determined by the enforcement of the changes. Although religious houses and most shrines were destroyed, Mass was still celebrated along with ceremonies such as Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday.Burning lights before statues and relics were prohibited, yet many people simply did so privately, or in the sanctuary rather than the main part of the church itself. Also, works produced in this time period were influential in many years to come. The Book of Common Prayers, introduced in 1552 for example, was restored in 1559 with only minor modifications, by the Act of Uniformity, with similar happenings to reissue the Forty Two Articles as the Thirty Nine Articles. Furthermore, the Book oh Homilies was reintroduced during Elizabeth’s reign, and commonly used until the 1640’s.

Therefore, this suggests that the religious revolution didn’t tear apart England- many stayed faithful to their religion throughout the changes, some of which were implemented during later reigns. Along with the enforcement of the religious changes, the adaptation and survival of them is also significant. The strength of the revolution under Edward was asserted during Elizabeth’s reign, who adopted all of the major aspects that had been implemented previously- with minor, largely insignificant changes.Although Elizabeth did not appear to advance the reform any further, key policies throughout her reign and in particular at the start were adapted from the reign of her half-brother. This implies that the religious reforms imposed on England under Edward’s rule did not tear apart the country and those within it, as they were then reintroduced at a later time.

A further positive implication of the ‘religious revolution’ in England was the development of individualism that occurred as a result.Assertion of the right of an individual to have their own judgement, along with the simplification of rituals meant that the leaders of the Protestant revolution consequently liberated the people of England from the control of the church. Although not necessarily believing in the idea of religious freedom, Lutherans, Calvinists and Anglicans allowed the introduction of a precedent that challenged the ideas and authority of the church. Education was also furthered as a result of the changes, with Calvin making Geneva a centre of education and learning, for example.Closer associated to England was John Knox in Scotland, who introduced the idea of ‘an elementary school for every city’. Therefore although the religious revolution may have had negative short term impacts upon the people of England, it the long term they were largely positive in terms of education and learning. Despite the rebellions of 1549, the impact on the government’s power was not overly significant.

Mainly based in the South of the country, those involved had the primary aim of demanding reform, rather than actually opposing the King and government.Also, the cause of rebellions such as the Kett’s was primarily due to agrarian reasons, including enclosure, rather than religious changes. Similarly, although the Wyatt rebellion during Mary’s reign may have included religious factors in the cause of it, the primary one was her marriage to Phillip of Spain. Whilst the rebellions of 1547-59 challenged the authority of the crown and aimed to demand some reforms, the majority did not arise only or even primarily from disputes over religion, but instead were associated with social, economic and political concerns.No rebellion discussed would have been considered significant enough to threaten either Edward or Mary’s power, and due to the causes of them, it cannot be claimed that their religious impact ‘tore apart’ England. To conclude, I believe that although the religious revolution and reforms heavily impacted England and all those within it, as well as the surrounding countries in Europe, the country was not ‘torn apart’ by the changes and conflicts.Although the upheaval during both Edward and Mary’s reign appears to contrast the stability and prosperity of under Elizabeth, their father Henry faced more serious threats to his authority.

Whilst the interpretation that ‘England was torn apart by religious revolution’ can be supported by the large divisions between the Catholics and Protestants during 1547-59, the validity of the statement can be considerably decreased, as despite religious differences and ideal, England remained as one nation throughout.


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