24 January 2013 - 20:00
5 Moments That Defined The British Monarchy: #2 – Henry VIII’s Religious Reformations


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As we announced on Twitter (& Facebook) yesterday, we have come up with a brilliant one-off event for the next few days. We will be picking 5 defining events in the history of the British Monarchy and writing a new article about them each over the next 5 days. This is the second one. Yesterday’s was on King John and the Magna Carta (c. 1215) (click here to see that) – today, we’re looking at the reign of King Henry VIII and his enormous reformations and differences to other Monarchs.

There’s no doubt that King Henry VIII reformed the Monarchy and its purpose significantly during his reign. From reforms in the Royal Court to church reforms, he had it all under his control.

What many people don’t really know is that there has almost always been a Church Of England. Henry VIII did not in fact begin the Church, but actually remodelled it into its own faith, with him as the Head.

In 1534, Henry VIII separated the Church Of England from Roman Catholicism. A separation had been mentioned before, but for different reasons. The English Reformation gained political support when Henry VIII wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

Pope Clement VII, considering that the earlier marriage had been entered under a papal dispensation and how Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V, might react to such a move, refused the annulment. Eventually, King Henry, although theologically opposed to Protestantism, took the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage. He was excommunicated by Pope Paul III.

Despite this separation from the Church, Henry VIII and future British Monarchs continue to use a title granted to Henry VIII for his [ironically] good work in promoting the Catholic church – ‘Defender Of The Faith’. It is even borne on British Coinage. Elizabeth II D.G Reg F.D – Elizabeth II, By The Grace Of God, Queen, Defender Of The Faith. This has sometimes now been taken to mean the defence of the English Church rather than its original meaning of defence of the Catholic church.

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After Henry VIII’s separation from The Catholic Church, British Monarchs had been more free to perform more acts of free will, divorce and sometimes manipulate the Church to their own means, unlike before where they were almost at the mercy of the Pope.

Under Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI, more Protestant-influenced forms of worship were adopted, whereas Henry VIII had been less inclined to move towards a Protestant church. Under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, a more radical reformation proceeded. A new pattern of worship was set out in the Book of Common Prayer. These were based on the older liturgy but influenced by Protestant principles.

The confession of the reformed Church of England was set out in the Forty-two Articles (later thirty-nine). The reformation however was cut short by the death of King Edward.

Queen Mary I, who succeeded him, returned England again to the authority of the Pope, thereby ending the first attempt at an independent Church of England. During Mary’s reign, many leaders and common people were burnt for their refusal to recant of their reformed faith. These are known as the Marian martyrs and the persecution has led to her nickname of “Bloody Mary”.

Mary also died childless and so it was left to the new regime of her half-sister Elizabeth to resolve the direction of the church. The settlement under Elizabeth I, known as the Elizabethan Settlement, developed the character of the Church of England, a church moderately reformed in doctrine, as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, but also emphasising continuity with the Catholic and Apostolic traditions of the Church Fathers.

Nowadays, the Church Of England is at the centre of the Monarchy. It is a requirement for the Monarch to be in communion with the Church Of England in order to reign and Her present Majesty regards her faith very highly. The Church also plays an important part in the investing of the Monarch. Monarchs are crowned by the Archbishop Of Canterbury (head of the Church) and it’s done in a religious Church Of England ceremony.








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