Protestant Reformation Under Edward VI: An Agenda

Question: what happens when the strands of unofficial, autonomous religious Reformation encounter top-down attempts at official Reformation?

1. Making of the Protestant tradition

  1. The official Reformation under Henry VIII is largely the royal supremacy, plus Cromwell’s Injunctions, plus Bible reading – with backtrack by Henry VIII in 1543.
  2. Protestant tradition has two strands: eirenic and sacramentarian (or moderate and radical, or conformist and puritan ….). These known (MacCulloch) to go back to Edward VI, but in fact go back to Henry VIII.

    • eirenic-evangelical (Bible + justification + rejects images + obedience + real presence + rejects sacramentaries). In 1540s, evangelical willing to compromise on all except Bible access, will keep ceremonies for educational purposes (Skip, Anne Boleyn)
    • fully reformed (memorialist) Bible + rejects real presence + rejects images + unquestioning obedience. The fully reformed prefer to go into exile abroad to compromising in 1540s. More important than Marian exiles in some ways.
  3. How can we see the 2 camps?
    1. Catherine Parr is patron of evangelicals: Cambridge connection; she was Matthew Parker’s patron (he was her tenant) – Parker is Vice-chancellor
    2. Bale, exile, Image of Both Churches: true and corrupt = Antichrist (not just anti-Catholic), and perception of history as a struggle between a true, persecuted Christian Church and an oppressive, tyrannous Roman Antichrist.


    NB Split within the evangelicals, as Chantries Act (first Henry VIII, 1545) directed against Oxford and Cambridge colleges as well -clause against colleges that didn’t pay first fruits. Weakens evangelicals, as around 40% join the fully reformed.
  4. Who is in these camps?
    • eirenic-evangelical: followers of Luther, Melanchton, + Nicodemites (dissimulation, recantation – maybe Lollard influence here with tradition of dissimulation and recantation = leads to conformism). Cranmer, Parker, Barnes, Thomas Becon, Thomas Brinklow, Richard Taviner (who turns Erasmus into a fully fledged evangelical author in his translations for Catherine Parr …); their printers are Grafton and Whitchurch (make money as legal printers …)
    • reformed: followers of Zwingli, Oecolampadius + Frith, George Joye, William Turner, Bale, Hooper, Foxe; increasingly Calvin WHO IS ANTI-Nicodemite (= leads to nonconformity and puritanism). Print in exile -Turner, Hunting of the Romish Fox, which Gardiner refutes

2. By the end of reign of Henry VIII

  1. Royal supremacy stranded mid-way between the competing belief systems of Catholicism and reform: had abandoned mediation of saints and purgatory but also rejected Lutheran justification by faith. Trent sharpened the lines between Catholics and reformers.
  2. Split in strands of Protestantism…
  3. Influence of Europe: war between Charles V and the Schmalkaldic League – Protestants looking for boltholes.
  4. Precedents for Prayer book and Act of Uniformity: Act of Six Articles, and Primer of 1545 – too many different primers caused confusion of feast days, which are feasts and which not. Unity and obedience requires uniformity. Single book: royal power over ritual.

3. Reign of Edward VI: Somerset

  1. Somerset tries a bipartisan approach: leads an evangelical clique some of whom adopted the more radical alternatives (has Becon and Turner and Hooper in his household; reprints books by Wyclif, Tyndale, Barnes and Frith – omnibus approach), BUT forced for political reasons to attack sacramentaries to keep the centre on board while advancing Protestantism by stealth. (Problem of Princess Mary… and Charles V)
  2. Royal supremacy remodelled: King is Josiah purifying by stealth:
    • succeeded to the throne at the age of eight. Josiah had purged Judah and Jerusalem of the ‘carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baal in his presence’ (II Kings, 22-23). It was in his reign that ‘the book of the law’ had been rediscovered by the high priest of the temple at Jerusalem, which provided a model for the Edwardian Prayer Books and policy of ‘official’ Reformation.
    • royal supremacy became a trojan horse for Protestantism: the model of Josiah made it imaginatively feasible for the councillors of a ‘godly king’ to undertake a programme of fast reformation on their own initiative
    • ‘imperial’ status redefined as inclusive of Privy Council and Parliament – Elizabeth hated this
    • Edward educated to this: Cheke, Cranmer (rise of Cecil – Parr circle, Cambridge connection), protect colleges from dissolution in Chantries Act
    • no definitive statement was issued on Eucharist until it was safe to do so. Schizophrenia in Somerset’s approach to rites and doctrine explained by politics and diplomacy.
    • 1549 is stopgap Prayer Book. Gardiner’s cryptic approval from the Tower damns it.

4. Reign of Edward VI: Northumberland

  1. Northumberland is a soldier not a thinker. Believes Protestantism is the ticket. Carries on evangelical Reformation by fair means or foul, but prone to intervene, e.g. on reform of canon law: accepts leadership of Cranmer, who also has a great hold on the King: Edward is Protestant – royal supremacy will be Protestant.
  2. Reform has its own momentum: Eucharistic process 1548-53 is seamless (Cranmer has shifted to a Swiss reformed position in 1546-7). No definitive statement on Eucharist until 1550, and process of definition not complete until 1553.
  3. 2 traditions working side by side (despite some rows): Cranmer (order and decency); Hooper (strip away vestments and bishops), Knox – covenant theology… Cecil linked to KNOX (although Cecil carefully keeps a foot in both camps)
  4. Role of European exiles:
    • Consensus Tigurinus (1549), which resolves struggle between Swiss and German doctrines over the Eucharist, when leaders of church in Zurich and Geneva found a compromise over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist – affirmed a doctrine of real spiritual (but not corporeal) presence, a position more usually associated with Calvin – published in England in 1552 as an appendix to a set of lecture by Jan Laski. Without the consensus, Protestant cause would have fallen apart. More or less settles doctrinal issues – but not vestiarian ones (see N Pocock in EHR 1886)
    • Bucer, one of closest friends of Cranmer since 1531, whom he backs on clerical dress – has ‘commonwealth’ aspirations: ‘kingdom of God in this world’ is a fundamental Reformation critique of the old-style ‘works theology’. Spilled over into the socio-political sphere and underpinned popular politics.
    • Laski (knew Turner well) – head of Stranger Church in London, treated as an outside ambassadorial household. Laski is the model for a church superintendent, but backed Hooper in struggle with Cranmer over clerical dress and other ceremonial issues. Laski involved in work of canon law revision. Knox takes up these cudgels.
    • Peter Martyr Vermigli: Bucer’s colleague in Strassburg from 1542, and so linked to Cranmer. Influence on predestination on which he was an expert. More reformed on the Eucharist than Bucer, and Cranmer follows this. Supplied Cranmer with research papers. Took on Oxford conservatives, and was the source of the research for Cranmer’s major 1550 statement on the Eucharist that underpinned Prayer Book of 1552.
  5. 3 basic elements of official Protestant Reformation delayed under Northumberland because of partial split between Cranmer and others:
    1. doctrinal statement. 42 Articles delayed. Issue of Protestant General Council (Cranmer).
    2. revised liturgy. Northumberland delayed issue of 1552 book because of row over kneeling. Cranmer defeated Knox.
    3. New scheme of canon law vetoed by Northumberland.

5. Wider aspects of Edwardian Reformation

  1. Large-scale absenteeism in Edwardian churches (but who were they and why were they absent?)
  2. Regional variations and polarities: progress of Protestantism in localities?
  3. Commonwealth aspirations: climax of 1549: populist evangelical reform turns into fiestas and camping revolts: the triumph of carnival over Lent (romantic notion).
  4. Ordinary people (Kett’s followers) believe they could influence the future, and when the government (Somerset) appeared to agree, a time of infinite possibilities seemed to have arrived.
  5. Focus on ‘liberty’ in Christ, but has subversive social implications: clerical marriage and divorce too on cards (by 1548). If marriage was not a sacrament, then divorce feasible.
  6. Radicalism leads to emphasis on discipline: popular activism besmirched the cause. Cranmer sticks to vestments and ‘order and decency’.
  7. Edwardian evangelicals were prophets trying to recall a nation to godliness, but the story is still pretty negative.

In Edward’s reign, a fusion between the royal supremacy and strands of autonomous Protestant Reformation is surprisingly fast and smooth. The gap between mainstream evangelicals and reformers, previously marked, is largely, if not entirely, closed – to reopen in Elizabeth’s reign.

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