The Reformation

Henry VIII’s break with Rome during the 1530s meant  momentous changes in the nation’s religious affairs. It also placed Parliament in a pre-eminent position in relation to the new Church of England.

The break with Rome

From now on no change in the Church’s organisation, or in its system of belief, could be made without Parliament’s approval.

The initial step of severing the English Church’s tie with Rome was achieved through a series of Acts steered through Parliament between 1533 and 1536 by the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell.  

The most important of these, the Act of Supremacy of 1534, declared the King supreme head of the English Church in place of the Pope, who had opposed his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn.  

Dissolution of the Monasteries

Under Henry VIII many features of the old Church were retained, for instance the authority of bishops and the division of Church administration into dioceses or districts, each presided over by a bishop. 

Although cathedrals were retained, most of the monasteries – in which monks lived and worked, often supporting local communities – were closed down and their lands sold as laid down in Acts passed in 1535 and 1539.  

Book of Common Prayer

Despite these sweeping changes, there remained much confusion and uncertainty among parish priests about which aspects of Catholic worship had been abolished, and which were still in force. 

During Edward VI’s reign, the Act of Uniformity, approved by Parliament in 1549, took the reformation forward by establishing a Book of Common Prayer.   

This contained the wording of prayers and the order of service to be used throughout the kingdom in place of the old Catholic practices.  

The Elizabethan settlement

In the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign Parliament passed further laws to restore and strengthen the Protestant Church after the brief return to Catholicism during the reign of Mary I (1553-58).  

In 1559 by way of compromise a new Act of Uniformity enforced the use of a modified prayer book which retained various Catholic practices. 

Later in Elizabeth’s reign, however, several Catholic conspiracies against her led to the view that many Catholics were a serious danger to the state.

 In the 1580s and early 1590s Elizabeth prevailed on Parliament to pass harsh laws fining and imprisoning those who persisted in Catholic worship.  

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Henry VIII
Thomas Cromwell
Catherine of Aragon
Anne Boleyn
Edward VI
Elizabeth I
Mary I

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.