British History: Monarchy ; Politics

During the 1530s England saw a great deal of change. Henry’s desire to seek a divorce with Catherine of Aragon led to a break with the Church in Rome through a series of Acts in 1533-34. These changes were met with opposition and the dissolution of the monasteries was one of the many reasons why some people opposed Henry’s actions. The change in religion was one of the main reasons why people disliked Henry’s new proposals. Up until the 16th century the Catholic Church had been universal and greatly involved with people’s daily lives.

But as the Pope, despite increasing pressure, would not grant Henry the divorce he wanted with Catherine of Aragon, Henry took matters into his own hands. With the help of the reformists, especially Cromwell and Cranmer and his love at the time, Anne Boleyn, Acts were passed weakening the Pope’s position in England. The whole clergy in England was accused of praemunire in 1530 and in the following year the convocation of Canterbury accepted Henry as Supreme Head of the Church.

When the divorce case still wasn’t going Henry’s way in 1532 and it was found that Anne had become pregnant, radical changes were made so that the child would be legitimate. The first Act of Annates and Dispensations Act suspended all payments to Rome and the Supplication of the Ordinances meant all churchmen were subject to common law instead of canon law. Finally in the Submission of the Clergy the Church accepted Henry instead of the Pope as the law maker in England. In 1533 Cranmer, as Archbishop of Canterbury, declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine as invalid and married him to Anne Boleyn.

However, the pull away from Rome continued with the Act of Restraint of Appeals, making Henry the highest law in the land and the whole church recognised Henry as Supreme Head. Throughout 1534 Henry gained more and more control of the church, stopping all the money sent to Rome and eventually all the old papal taxes were given to the crown instead. The Act of Succession was also passed declaring Mary, the daughter Henry had with Catherine, as illegitimate and that any children he has with Anne would be the heir to the throne.

The Treason Act finalised the break with it being crime to criticise the new change in the Church and any of the King’s other actions. With the break complete, further reforms took place, pushed by Cromwell, Cranmer, and Boleyn faction of the council. Cromwell’s injunction in 1536 led to the clergy being educated to preach Henry’s status as Head of the Church and another injunction in 1538 reduced the number of Holy Days as well as lessening the significance of candles and relics. The Ten Articles in 1536 reduced the number Sacraments from 7 to 3 and declared that faith was needed as well as good works in order to receive salvation.

The Bishop’s Book in 1537 was less radical and restored the Sacraments, but the Protestant characteristics of Henry’s new religion was clear. The Bible was published in English in 1539 and Henry sent a copy of this ‘Great Bible’ to every church parish in England. This was reflective of the Protestant belief of ‘priesthood for all believers’ as until then Bibles and services were in Latin which few people could understand. These changes were made against Catholic traditions that had been around for many generations and naturally led to feelings of uneasiness and of course opposition.

At the same time as these changes were being enforced, Henry also took practical measures in persecuting the Catholic Church by beginning to dissolve the monasteries in 1536. The monasteries were the heartbeat of Catholicism in England and had held most of the Church’s wealth through rent, tithes, land, and possessions. Dissolving them would give Henry vast sums of money which would have been very beneficial for him. It which made them Henry’s bitterest critics and the perfect organisation for Henry to act against in order to show people his new powers as Head of the Church.

The dissolution began with visitations and each monastery in the country was valued. An act to dissolve the monasteries was then brought before Parliament, which was little more than a public gesture for Henry to show that he had support in doing so. There were in fact some valid reasons for dissolving the monasteries due to the corrupt state of the pre-reformation church, and the Act of Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries in 1535 emphasised the wrongdoings of the churches. Source 1 is an extract from this act clearly shows this.

It states that ‘sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living is daily used and committed among the little and small abbeys’ which ultimately led to ‘the high displeasure of Almighty God’ and ‘the great ill repute of the king’s highness’. The wording of this Act was designed to justify Henry’s move to dissolve the church but was to some extent true about a number of church organisations at the time. Clerical abuses had been common knowledge for some time, with churchmen practicing things like pluralism, nepotism, simony, absenteeism, moral laxity and driven by greed.

Many people were unhappy with the state of the church and Henry made sure that he used the discontentment to his advantage. Parliament passed the Act and small monasteries worth i?? 200 or less plus any which voiced opposition it were dissolved first. The results were more positive for Henry and less so for the people. With huge amounts of land and possessions being put under Henry’s control, the crown income doubled, giving the King vast quantities of wealth. He also achieved his aim in weakening the Catholic Church, which lost support after this persecution.

For the common people however, the loss of monasteries meant a greater social change rather than religious. Monasteries had been what they relied on for anything resembling a welfare system. As the government did not take part in helping the poor, the monasteries were the only places providing health care, education and support for the disadvantaged. The dissolution of the monasteries thus led to increased vandalism and plight of the poor. These negative effects on society naturally led to opposition from the people who lost their only source of welfare with the dissolution.

The divorce itself was also a cause of opposition. There was widespread sympathy for Catherine, who was determined to oppose the divorce and defend her position. She was careful never to criticise Henry in public and emphasised how she had been a faithful and dutiful wife. This made her seem like the victim to Henry and Anne Boleyn as the cause of all the trouble. When Henry went ahead with the divorce and married Anne at the same time, the marriage was very much against public feelings. The Catholic people continued to regard Catherine as the Queen and Mary as the rightful heir, which was very against what Henry wanted.

Several significant people became martyrs whilst opposing Henry and they became the inspiration of many. The most famous was Thomas More who was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1529 after the fall of Wolsey. He was devout Catholic, opposed the divorce and resigned in 1532 after the Submission of the Clergy. Henry demanded for him to take the Oath of Succession in the Act of Succession, but he refused and was imprisoned in the Tower. Alleged accusations were made and he was executed in 1535. Elizabeth Barton was a 16 year old girl who became known as the Holy Maid of Kent.

She spoke openly against Henry’s divorce and became a serious threat as others used her as a force for opposing Henry. She was arrested and executed in 1534. Another martyr was John Fisher who was Bishop of Rochester. He was also openly opposed to the divorce and refused to swear the Oath of Succession which led to his arrest and eventually execution in 1535. The most direct opposition came from the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. There were many causes for this event, dissolution and reformation being part of them.

People also had a hatred for Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister at the time, because of his methods of suppression and the economic grievances he caused through heavy taxes. Bad harvests, enclosures and rent increases all added to the bitterness of the people. Nobles such as Lord Darcy and Hussey were also involved as they opposed the divorce, thus highlighting there was opposition from all classes of society. The Lincolnshire Rising happened first with fears of new taxes and the arrival of Cromwell’s commissioners. Some gentry were involved as well as the people and 10,000 gathered to produce a list of grievances.

The rebels were scattered with the arrival of the Duke of Suffolk and his army and Henry was not put under any threat. The Pilgrimage of Grace occurred a few days later led by Robert Aske. Men were called to defend the Church and by late October the rebels effectively controlled the north of England. The York Articles stated the rebel’s demands and source 2 shows part of them. It mentions ‘The suppression of so many religious houses’ which suggests that the dissolution of monasteries had a big effect on the people and was an important reason for this rebellion.

The rebels had also been wearing badges bearing the Five Wounds of Christ, showing the religious importance of this rising. After being offered pardons and the specific promise to stop the dissolutions, the rebels were disbanded. However at the beginning of the following year the Bigod’s Revolt took place as people distrusted the government’s promises to Aske. Sir Francis Bigod and the people of Cumberland staged a futile rising with little effect. Rebel leaders were executed and Henry did little to fulfil his promises.

Although the risings were crushed, quiet resentment existed amongst the people who saw the promises made by the government broken but were also too afraid to rebel. Many also anticipated that the changes would not last and Henry would remain, since his stand in religion was never clear. Despite dissolving the monasteries, he was never committed to a full reform towards Protestantism which meant some people remained unaware of the changes which helped to lessen opposition. Henry executed both Catholic and Protestant extremists, hanging Catholics for treason and burning Protestants as heretics.

These actions meant that radicals from both sides of religion were discontent with Henry’s policies. His ‘Middle Way’ seeked to compromise the who population but in fact failed to full satisfy either faction. Overall, opposition to Henry had many causes and one major outcome was the Pilgrimage of Grace. As R. Rex states in source 3, the Articles had consisted of a ‘list of social, economic, political and religious grievances’. He says that ‘the Pilgrimage was more social than religious, but it could not have held together or spread so far without the ideology of religion’.

This statements shows that social difficulties caused more opposition, but religion kept the rebels united. Since dissolving the monasteries had religious and social impacts, the dissolution was one of the major factors of opposition to Henry. However it was by no means the only or even most important cause, as other events such as the divorce triggered the whole change and to me seems the most important. The execution of martyrs and the changes in tradition also played major parts in putting people against Henry so the opposition was very much multicausal.

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