Edward Vi The Enforcement Of Protestantism

Henry VIII died on January 26, 1547. Under the terms of his will, his successor was beyond dispute: the nine-year-old Prince Edward, Henry's son by his third wife, Jane Seymour, was the only male Tudor heir to the throne after the death of his father. There was no question of the legitimacy of the succession. It is, however, a moot point whether one can really speak of Edward exercising kingship in either a personal or possessive sense during his brief reign.18 Power would lie in the hands of those who advised and protected him, above all John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and the king's "protector," Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.19 The religious changes unleashed during Edward's brief reign would have a formative impact on the shaping of the Church of England, and through it, on determining the contours of the English-speaking Protestant world.

From the outset, it was clear that Edward's reign would mark a radical break with the past. There would be no continuation of the theological ambiguities of the closing years of Henry's reign, which had left the devotional life of the English people relatively unchanged. Mass was still celebrated, and many ceremonies continued. Even where some of these were now forbidden—such as the burning of lights before images—people found convenient ways of bypassing the rules. The diocesan and parish structures of England had been left virtually as they were, particularly in relation to their forms of worship. Thomas Cran-mer, Archbishop of Canterbury, might well have had ambitious ideas for the reform of the liturgy and theology of the English church, but Henry VIII gave him no opportunity to pursue them.

In marked contrast, the new king would preside over a thoroughgoing reformation of the church, modeled along the lines of continental Protestantism. As Cranmer declared at his coronation, Edward would be a Josiah, a reforming king, who would purge his kingdom of all remaining forms of idolatry.20 Such powerful Old Testament imagery was taken further, with Edward also being portrayed as a Solomon who would build a new church. Although Cranmer and other Protestant bishops—above all, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer—are often seen as providing the driving vision for forcing through the Edwardian reforms, it must be noted that Edward himself was no passive, if approving, spectator of such developments. In 1550 Edward made his own religious views known when he personally deleted any reference to the invocation of saints in the oath of royal supremacy.

It was soon clear that Edward and his advisers were moving the English church far from the relatively modest reforms introduced under Henry. Evangelicals became Protestants and increasingly identified themselves with the narrative of events—in their view, divinely guided—already taking place on the continent of Europe. Edwardian preachers and writers were aware of the potential difficulties this might create, especially from those who might wish to present Edward as reversing his father's religious policies. The apologists for the Edwardian Reformation were careful to depict their king as the godly son of a godly father, personally and valiantly moving his nation into the natural second stage of the Reformation begun by Henry VIII. The Edwardian Reformation was simply a continuation of what had gone before, consolidating the legacy of the late monarch.

The king's Protestant Reformation—a "top-down" restructuring of the church that was generally imposed upon the English church—was in line with his vision of the godly monarch. If at times it is difficult to discern a continuous, consistent program of Protestantization during these six years of active, unsettling, and controversial Protestant Reformation, the difficulties arising from the king's youth may well be responsible. Sovereign power had to be exercised collaboratively, in the light of rival Protestant visions and aspirations associated with those who advised the new Josiah.21

Of these aspirations, the most important is thought to have been the revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and again in 1552. The use of an "authorized" prayer book for public worship proved to be a highly significant method of social and intellectual control.22 Moreover, Cranmer's revisions would be of considerable importance, particularly in relation to eucharistic theology.23 Although Cranmer's 1549 liturgy showed a calculated, if ultimately vague, alignment with Luther's un derstanding of the "real presence," by 1552 he had shifted his position and now identified with Zwingli's rather different approach. Cranmer's mature eucharistic views are best studied from his Defense of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament, first published in 1550. Cranmer here argues that the eucharist represents a memorial of Christ's saving death in which believers "do spiritually eat his body, and [are] spiritually fed and nourished by him." There was, however, no mystical transformation of the bread or the wine. "The bread remains still there, as a sacrament to signify."

Cranmer was also responsible for a series of further developments designed to consolidate Protestantism in England as a long-term presence on account of its intellectual excellence rather than merely because it was enforced by royal authority and command. Recognizing that the reforms introduced to date needed firmer theological grounding, Cranmer invited leading established Protestant theologians from continental Europe to settle in England and lend a new theological direction and foundation to the English Reformation. Peter Martyr Vermigli was appointed as Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, and Martin Bucer as Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. Their arrival pointed to a new determination to align the English Reformation with its European counterpart, particularly its Reformed constituency.24

The "Forty-two Articles" (1553) drawn up by Cranmer were strongly Protestant in orientation, as was the Book of Homilies (a set of approved sermons for delivery in parish churches).

The clergy would now be required to affirm their allegiance to what was clearly and emphatically a Protestant statement of faith and to preach predetermined sermons of unquestionable Protestant provenance. A close scrutiny of both the articles and the homilies suggests that the Edwardian Reformation was being positioned midway between the two visions of Protestantism then achieving dominance in Germany and Switzerland. Visitation programs led to the practical enforcement of the Protestant Reformation at the parish level, typically expressed in the destruction of images. This highly visible change to churches and worship, often enforced by vigilantes, was one of the more distinctive aspects of the emerging Reformed tradition. Its appearance in England at this time is a telling indication of the changing trajectories of theological allegiance then taking place.25 The English church's flirtation with Lutheranism, begun largely for reasons of political expediency in the 1530s, was not yet over; however, England now began to align itself increasingly with the ideas associated with the Reformed wing of the Reformation.

So how did the English people react to such reforms, which were imposed upon them without consultation and without much obvious demand for such drastic, wholesale reform at the grassroots level? The evidence is ambivalent. There was unquestionably popular discontent during Edward's reign, but it seems to have been particularly directed against agrarian reform, above all the unpopular enclosure of vast tracts of land. With the possible exception of the "Western" or "Prayer Book" rebellion of 1549—which had to be suppressed forcibly using foreign mercenaries—there was little open public criticism of the reform measures. Yet signs of discontent were nevertheless evident. Non-attendance at church became a problem; some of those who did attend public worship were known to shun their own Reformed parishes and to frequent those offering more traditionalist forms of worship.

Edward's early death in 1553 put an abrupt end to this state-sponsored Protestantization of the English national church. To bring about a total religious conversion of England was the work of a generation, not a mere seven years. The measures, never entirely popular, had not been consolidated and could easily be reversed. Mary Tudor, who succeeded to the throne, immediately began to put in place a series of measures designed to bring about a restoration of Catholicism in England.26 Although it can be difficult to discern the strategic goals of these moves, their object appears to have been to return England's religious life to what it had been before Henry's breach with Rome over the divorce issue. In 1554 Parliament agreed to declare void all religious legislation passed after 1529.

Protestant bishops were arrested and deposed. Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were arrested. The mass and clerical celibacy were restored. Married clergy would gradually be removed from office. Mary refused to accept the title of "supreme head" of the church, adopted by her father, arguing that this title properly belonged to the pope. With relations with the papacy now restored, Reginald Pole—a loyal Catholic bishop deposed under Henry VIII—was installed as Archbishop of

Canterbury. England was once more a Catholic nation. The clock had been turned back by twenty-five years.

Yet Mary's attempt to reimpose the traditional religion suffered a series of setbacks. In 1556 Pole and the pope became embroiled in controversy, souring relations between England and the papacy. The reversionary measures became particularly unpopular when Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were publicly burned at Oxford. Mary's diplomatic flirtations with Spain created the impression that Catholicism was a foreign religion, imposed by foreign influence.27 Cranmer and his unfortunate colleagues were easily depicted as English patriots, murdered by a queen with Spanish sympathies.

Cranmer's fate confirmed the worst fears of many English people: it was no longer safe to be known as a committed Protestant in England. By early 1554, realizing the gravity of their situation, most Protestants with the ability and means to do so had fled England to seek refuge in Europe.28 According to John Foxe, "Well near to 800 persons, students and others together" fled England for refuge in the Protestant havens of Europe in the first few years of Mary's turbulent reign. The favored cities of exile were Aarau, Basel, and Zurich in Switzerland; the German cities of Emden, Frankfurt, and Strasbourg; and the independent city of Geneva. Some refugees were wealthy enough to support themselves in exile; others received discreet financial support from well-wishers back home, particularly from wealthy Protestant merchants who already had extensive trading links with the cities where their protégés sought refuge. It proved to be a relatively easy matter to arrange covert support for their exiled colleagues through, for example, business deals with merchants in Strasbourg.

The Marian exiles seem to have regarded their time in the cities of Europe as paralleling a biblical event that took place two thousand years earlier—the exile of Jerusalem in Babylon. Was not this period of exile to be a time of purification and preparation for a return to their native land? And would not the returning exiles bring a purer form of religion with them? In the event, the period of the Marian exile was a mere six years, in comparison with the fifty of the biblical counterpart. Yet the exiles saw it as a period of schooling, in preparation for their return. Their time of exile allowed them firsthand experience of successful, working Protestant churches and communities and provided them with role models that would shape their vision of the new reformed Church of England they proposed to establish on their return.

The period of exile was difficult for many reasons, not least because nobody had any real idea how long it would last. Economic hardship was widespread within the small English communities, which were often treated with disinterest or hostility by their host cities. Serious divisions arose in the exiled English Protestant communities in Basel, Emden, and Frankfurt over issues of liturgy and theology, causing em-bitterment and demoralization. An exception to this was the English community in Geneva, which attracted approximately one-quarter of the émigrés; it was hailed by John Knox as "the most perfect school of Christ," the finest embodiment of a Christian society since the time of the New Testament. The English community in Geneva proved to be especially important in forging attitudes among the exiles that would shape the debates and tensions of Elizabethan Protestantism. The anticipation of a new era of Protestant renewal and reform in England sustained the English Protestant communities during their exile as they waited for the right time to return home.

That time came, unexpectedly and suddenly, on November 17, 1558. Mary Tudor and Reginald Pole died within hours of each other. The royal and ecclesiastical power base of the re-Catholicization program lay in ruins. Everything now depended on the religious beliefs of the remaining daughter of Henry VIII, who was the only obvious successor to Mary. But which way would Elizabeth face?

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  • graziella
    What person close to edward gave him fits about the new protestant rules?
    2 months ago

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