When Henry VIII died in 1547, his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, inherited the throne. Because Edward was given a Protestant humanist education, Protestants held high expectations that he would push forward further reforms. However, with Edward in his minority, he was of little political account initially. Real power was in the hands of the regency council, which elected Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, to be Lord Protector. Seymour and the council were themselves in a delicate position and therefore they were hesitant to pursue radical change at first.
Nevertheless, Seymour and Thomas Cranmer did plan to further the reformation of religion. In July 1547, a Book of Homilies was published, from which all clergy were to preach from on Sundays. The homilies were explicitly Protestant in their content, condemning relics, images, rosary beads, holy water, palms, and other "papistical superstitions". It also directly contradicted the King's Book by teaching "we be justified by faith only, freely, and without works". Despite objections from Gardiner, who questioned the legality of bypassing both Parliament and Convocation, justification by faith had been made a central teaching of the English Church.
In August, thirty commissioners - nearly all Protestants - were appointed to carry out a royal visitation of England's churches. The Royal Injunctions of 1547 issued to guide the commissioners were borrowed from Thomas Cromwell's 1538 injunctions but revised to be more radical. Church processions - one of the most dramatic and public aspects of the traditional liturgy - were banned. The injunctions also attacked the use of sacramentals, such as holy water, while Reciting the rosary was also condemned. The injunctions set off a wave of iconoclasm with stained glass, shrines, statues, and roods defaced or destroyed. Church walls were whitewashed and covered with biblical texts condemning idolatry.
When a new Parliament met in November 1547, it began to dismantle the laws passed during Henry VIII's reign to protect traditional religion:
Perhaps more significantly, a new prayer Book of Common Prayer was authorised by the Act of Uniformity 1549, replacing several regional Latin rites then in use with English-language liturgy. However it offered a compromise to conservatives, providing Protestants with a service free from what they considered superstition, while maintaining the traditional structure of the mass.
Nevertheless, the first Book of Common Prayer was a "radical" departure from traditional worship and it’s enforcement did not take place without a struggle. In the West Country, the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer was the catalyst for a series of uprisings through the summer of 1549. There were smaller upheavals elsewhere from the West Midlands to Yorkshire. The Prayer Book Rebellion was not only in reaction to the prayer book; the rebels demanded a full restoration of pre-Reformation Catholicism. They were also motivated by economic concerns, such as enclosure. In East Anglia, however, the rebellions lacked a Roman Catholic character. Kett's Rebellion in Norwich blended Protestant piety with demands for economic reforms and social justice.
The insurrections were put down only after considerable loss of life. Somerset was blamed and was removed from power in October. It was wrongly believed by both conservatives and reformers that the Reformation would be overturned. Succeeding Somerset as de facto regent was John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, newly appointed Lord President of the Privy Council. Warwick saw further implementation of the reforming policy as a means of gaining Protestant support and defeating his conservative rivals.
From that point on, the Reformation proceeded apace. Between 1550 and 1551 the episcopate was purged of conservative bishops who were replaced by Protestants. The enlarged and emboldend Protestant episcopate were then able to push forward further actions to stamp out conservative practices, including wiping out compromises that had been written into the Book of Common Prayer. In April 1552, a new Act of Uniformity authorised a revised Book of Common Prayer to be used in worship by November 1st. Changes were made to the communion service and many traditional sacramentals and observances were removed.
Throughout Edward's reign, inventories of parish valuables, ostensibly for preventing embezzlement, convinced many the government planned to seize parish property, just as was done to the chantries. These fears were confirmed in March 1551 when the Privy Council ordered the confiscation of church plate and vestments. No action was taken until 1552–1553 when commissioners were appointed. They were instructed to leave only the "bare essentials" required by the 1552 Book of Common Prayer - a surplice, tablecloths, communion cup and a bell. Items to be seized included copes, chalices, chrismatories, patens, monstrances and candlesticks. Many parishes sold their valuables rather than have them confiscated at a later date and the money was used to fundparish projects that could not be challenged by the crown. The money funded parish projects that could not be challenged by royal authorities.
The confiscations caused tensions between Protestant church leaders and Warwick, now Duke of Northumberland. Cranmer, Ridley and other Protestant leaders did not fully trust Northumberland. Northumberland in turn sought to undermine these bishops by promoting their critics, such as Jan Laski and John Knox. Cranmer's plan for a revision of English canon law, the Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum, failed in Parliament due to Northumberland's opposition. Despite such tensions, a new doctrinal statement to replace the King's Book was issued on royal authority in May 1553. The Forty-two Articles reflected the Reformed theology and practice taking shape during Edward's reign, which historian Christopher Haigh describes as a "restrained Calvinism". It affirmed predestination and that the King of England was Supreme Head of the Church of England under Christ.
King Edward became seriously ill in February and died in July 1553. Before his death, Edward was concerned that Mary, his devoutly Catholic sister, would overturn his religious reforms. A new plan of succession was created in which both of Edward's sisters Mary and Elizabeth were bypassed on account of illegitimacy in favour of the Protestant Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Edward's aunt Mary Tudor and daughter in law of the Duke of Northumberland. This new succession violated the "Third" Succession Act of 1544 and was widely seen as an attempt by Northumberland to stay in power. Northumberland was unpopular due to the church confiscations, and support for Jane collapsed. So on July 19th, the Privy Council proclaimed Mary queen to the acclamation of the crowds in London and a new chapter in England’s relationship with the church began.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models on English Reformation. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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