Reformation Parliament

Henry VIII's Reformation Parliament, which sat from 1529 to 1536, fundamentally changed the nature of Parliament and of English government. The King summoned it in order to settle what was called his 'great matter', his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which the Papacy in Rome was blocking.

Power shift

In only a few short years, Parliament - under the direction and impetus of the King - made laws affecting all aspects of national life, especially in religious practice and doctrine, which had previously been under the authority of the Church alone. With the ground-breaking statutes of the 1530s Parliament became omnicompetent, that is, no area involved in the government of the realm was outside its authority.

Pope to the English Crown

It passed laws which transferred religious authority from the Pope to the English Crown, gave the Crown control over the wealth and buildings of the old Church, settled official religious doctrine, altered the succession by declaring various of the King's children illegitimate, and inaugurated a wider programme of social, religious and economic reform. Henry VIII's successors all equally used Parliament to pass their own legislation changing the nature, doctrine and authority of the Church in England.

Constitutional change

The Reformation Parliament thus asserted the supreme authority, or sovereignty, of Parliament in making statute, or more precisely the sovereignty of Crown-in-Parliament, the royal authority embodied in law passed by the monarch, Lords and Commons. As Henry VIII himself told the Parliament:  "We be informed by our judges that we at no time stand so highly in our estate royal as in the time of parliament". He realised that royal power was at its strongest when it was expressed through parliamentary statute.

Crown and Parliament

Parliament still existed only by the monarch's will, but Henry VIII and his immediate successors knew that they could best effect their will through the assent of Parliament in statute. A century later the country was thrown into turmoil when the co-operation between the King and the other two parts of Parliament catastrophically broke down.

Did you know?

Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia, was Speaker of the Commons in 1523. He had to return to Westminster Hall in 1535 for the trial which led to his execution.

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Henry VIII

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