Henrician Reformation: An Agenda

Old question: Could you have had Reformation without the divorce? (NB does not exclude crown action – already precipitated over fall of Wolsey, heresy law, and spotlight thrown on Convocation by resistance to 1529 acts… ) Well you certainly couldn’t have had the royal supremacy…

New question: Why is the Henrician Reformation schizophrenic? Why is it sometimes JUST the royal supremacy and essentially Catholic theology, and at other times has genuine Protestant elements?

1. Origins of royal supremacy

‘Whereas by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an empire…’ (Act of Appeals, 1533). Henry VIII stood for the thesis of “imperial” kingship as set out in Collectanea satis copiosa (see Nicholas, Murphy, Guy in Tudor England)

2. Cromwell becomes vicegerent, but does not agree with full extent of Henry VIII’s reading of supremacy…

Cromwell’s creed was centred on the model of “king-in-Parliament”. NB Contrast between the “official” thesis of “imperial” kingship and the “counter-thesis” of “king-in-Parliament” (cf. views of Cranmer, Stephen Gardiner, St German, William Cecil). Genuine debate on this until 1688. In his first draft of bills for the Submission of the Clergy (1532), Cromwell had wanted a parliamentary statute for the submission, subordinating the clergy to Parliament, but Henry overruled him, making the clergy subject to the Crown alone – the Supreme Head.

Explore such tensions further:

3. Henry VIII and Cromwell dissolved the monasteries.

  1. Cromwell investigated the condition of the monasteries and dissolved them.Responsible for ensuring that all the ex-religious assets came to the king and were accounted for. (NB 3 stages: 1536 [smaller], 1537-40 [larger], 1540 [Ireland].
  2. But Henry VIII and Cromwell have different “slants”. Henry VIII not opposed to monasteries as such, but anti-papal and “imperial”. He sees monasteries as foci of papal jurisdiction and resistance to break with Rome. And wants money and power. But Henry NOT anti-monastic. He founds monasteries in 1530s and is largely Catholic in theology. Whereas Cromwell IS anti-monastic, and wants abolition on grounds of superstition (monasteries, shrines, veneration of saints and images, pilgrimages, purgatory).

4. Henry and Cromwell issue religious formularies and injunctions in 1530s.

  1. Religious policy was Henry VIII’s policy in 1530s, but Cromwell brings an evangelical and providential edge.
  2. Henry VIII has largely orthodox views on sacraments (cf. Act of Six Articles), apart perhaps from baptism and auricular confession. Focus is on Bible as the Word of God, i.e. “efficacious Word” which is itself a sacrament and doesn’t need the clergy to mediate or do a miracle. Cf Holbein title page where Henry VIII appears as Christ. Overall Henry wants Catholic doctrine BUT without a mediating clergy, and therefore although Catholic he is against cults of saints, intercessions to saints and therefore images and pilgrimages for the people at large (not chapels royal).
  3. Cromwell also wants Bible, but wants it as the supreme authority by which the church and clergy should be judged. Wants abolition of superstition. Against oral tradition. NB Vicegerential synod (1537) in run up to Bishops’ Book: the church should be judged by scripture, not vice-versa. Cromwell reformed on issue of authority, but he did not deny real presence in the Eucharist nor teach “justification by faith alone”. His emphasis on faith, the Bible, and preaching put him in the “reformed” camp. Best term is “EVANGELICAL”.
  4. So Cromwell’s injunctions (1536, 1538) attacked images idolatrously abused and the vicegerent attacked shrines, cults of saints, pilgrimages, doctrine of purgatory etc. There can be no holiness in stones, wells, shrines, relics. But Henry attacked them because they were foci of pro-papal opposition to the royal supremacy.
  5. Cromwell and printing: Richard Taverner and others…. Unofficial actions: Cromwell and the printers and translators (Richard Taverner, William Marshall), printing context of Ten Articles (1536), impresario of evangelical books.
  6. English Bible, 1539, repr. 1540. In every church by the death of Henry VIII. Henry wants supreme head to be the direct intermediary between God and the people, but Cromwell is ideologically committed. Puts up £400 of his own cash for printing Bible.
  7. Cromwell shared Luther’s social gospel: “kingdom of God in this world”, not secular model. Anne Boleyn interested, but not Henry VIII.
  8. Cromwell’s household (cf More).

5. Henry and Cromwell pursue a pro-German European diplomacy in 1530s.

  1. Foreign policy was Henry’s policy (even Cleves marriage), but Cromwell added an evangelical “slant”. Keystone is diplomacy with Schmalkaldic League (Charles V will not risk religious war in Germany) which is cemented by Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. Important continental “reformed” connections built up here (Alesius, Taviner, Mont). Cf. 1550s and Walsingham in 1570s.
  2. Cleves alliance needed in 1538-9 (France and Spain at peace). BUT Cromwell is seen to have trapped Henry in an unfruitful marriage: can’t release him without catapulting the Howards into power. But France and Spain fall out again over Milan and northern Italy in 1540 and Henry VIII doesn’t need Schmalkaldic League or Cleves any more.
  3. Henry VIII wants French and Scottish conquests in 1540s. NB Wolsey was a war minister, Cromwell was a peace minister (“ungracious dogholes” in France).

6. Henry VIII and Cromwell working together at the same time, but they occupy DIFFERENT CONCEPTUAL SPACE.

  1. Henry wants break with Rome but wants obedience and is conservative in theology, Cromwell wants break with Rome but wants an evangelical polity in which superstition as well as pope is extirpated.
  2. Cromwell wrote his own epitaph when he said that he saw himself as God’s “instrument” (letter to Bishop Shaxton, 1538). “My prayer is, that God give me no longer life, than I shall be glad to use mine office in edification, and not in destruction”. NB “edification” is an evangelical buzzword.

In many respects, Henry VIII saw himself as a latter-day Solomon (e.g. Holbein) and David: as judge and arbitrator between the conservative and evangelical positions!

Insights into Henry VIII’s mind and self-perception can be derived from his personal psalter. Three historians — Prof John King, Dr Pamela Tudor-Craig, and Prof MacCulloch — have investigated this topic, but each has had particular preoccupations, which need to be brought together.

For a multiplicity of reasons, David was a potent image for the first supreme head of the Church of England:

  1. David had been the first convincing king of Israel, and was recognized in the sixteenth century as the leading prototype of the theocratic model of kingship. (Francis I also had himself represented as David, and Philip II as Solomon).
  2. David had been a famous warrior. He had slain Goliath and routed the Philistines (i.e. Not only had Henry VIII defeated the French (in his opinion!), but he had confounded the pope and the enemies of the God’s Word). Moreover, David had captured Jerusalem which he established as his capital;
  3. David had restored the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and planned the building of the Temple (i.e. founded the Church of England) which was carried out by Solomon, his son;
  4. David was an author (he was reputed to have composed the Psalms; Henry VIII had written the “king’s books”), and David was a musician (he had played the lyre; Henry VIII played the lute and composed a number of instrumental and choral pieces);
  5. David showed magnanimity to his enemies (Henry VIII believed he did so too!);
  6. In the Hebrew tradition, David was the king whose house and dominion were to stand for ever. He had delivered his nation from tyranny (i.e. the pope and popish clergy), and the re-establishment of the full sovereignty of the “house of David” was to be accomplished through a future prince of that house (i.e. Edward VI!);
  7. David had attacked false worship and idols (i.e. in Henry’s case by means of the Ten Articles, dissolution of the monasteries and attacks on pilgrimages and purgatory);
  8. David had sinned: e.g. Bathsheba, Uriah (NB Henry emphatically did not like to be reminded of this, but his subjects understood the comparison very well).

Henry’s psalter began with Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly nor stand in the way of sinners … his delight is in the law of the Lord”. To this Henry added the marginal annotation, “Note who is blessed”. And the nearby illustration shows the royal bedroom, with a king meditating on a book; a king who is both an Old Testament theocrat and a Tudor monarch and supreme head, clad in the clothes worn by Henry VIII!

The illustration to Psalm 27 depicts Henry VIII as David slaying Goliath. That to Psalm 53 depicts Henry VIII playing the lyre in the guise of David. It also portrays the king’s fool, Will Somers, who stands at the king’s left and provides the link with the text: “The fool hath said in his heart, ‘There is no God'”.

Henry saw himself as David, and read the Psalms as a commentary on his own divine mission and regality. In the Middle Ages the Psalms were conventionally read as a speculum principis or Mirror (i.e. advice book) for Princes. By those verses that seemed to offer him personal advice, Henry scribbled comments such as: “the king’s office”, “concerning the king”, “about kings”, “bene nota” and “nota bene” etc!

Why is the Henrician Reformation schizophrenic? why does is it sometimes JUST the royal supremacy and essentially Catholic theology, and at other times has genuine Protestant elements? Possible answer: both were present in official policy in the 1530s and heading in different directions.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes