English Reformation: Blog Assignment #1
For centuries, the Catholic Church ruled ideologically over much of the Western world, with the pope holding supreme power as the ambassador from God. Discontent swelled as bishops and priests became corrupt in their lust for political power and personal gain. A number of unsuccessful reformations were attempted until Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517. Luther’s Protestant Reformation quickly spread across the water to influence King Henry VIII of England. King Henry was somewhat forced in to marrying Queen Catherine of Aragon, with the pope’s written approval, after his older brother passed away leaving the throne and a widow. Henry and Catherine were married seemingly happily for over 20 years until Henry became frustrated with Catherine’s inability to bear a healthy male offspring to continue his namesake. Almost desperate, Henry wrote the pope for an annulment, but was refused this wish, not just for biblical reasons, but because Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Catherine’s Nephew, surrounded Rome with his armies. Throughout this ordeal, members of Henry’s inner circle attempted to sway him toward a break with the church by presenting documents stating the King of England had “power similar to that of Holy Roman Emperors”, and was therefore above the pope’s rule. All of these factors culminated in King Henry VIII officially breaking ties with the Roman Catholic Church, and naming himself the head of the new Church of England.
The break from the Roman Catholic Church prompted a major shift in the political structure of England. The once powerful bishops and priests were instantly stripped of power and influence. Clergy members were once tried in a separate court of law, but had this privilege revoked by the nicknamed, Reformation Parliament. At the time, the Catholic Church owned 20 percent of all land in England, so the Reformation Parliament passed legislation dissolving all monasteries. King Henry confiscated the monasteries and redistributed much of the land to poor farmers. Because the lower classes were benefitting from the change, they were much less likely to oppose it. In addition to the land, King Henry seized all the great riches of the Church and restocked his coffer and rewarded his inner circle. Henry grew even wealthier by redirecting all taxes previously sent to Rome to the head of the Church of England, himself. And to further strip the Catholic Church of power, King Henry declared it an act of treason for anyone to request the pope to overturn any of his royal decisions.
Although King Henry VIII may have been somewhat inspired by the Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, his church reform only occurred to benefit himself. With the break from the Catholic Church complete, Henry was now able to divorce his wife while also growing his own wealth and influence in his kingdom. Henry, not the pope, was now the ultimate authority of the land.
- http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/henry81540c.jpg (picture)