Acts of the Henrican Reformation

Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, and hence started the Reformation. He dumped poor Catherine, got married and made his own church with the help of Anne, and had Elizabeth who went on to become the greatest queen evah! And then he executed poor Anne and broke all the monasteries. This is the Reformation. Alright, I am simplifying it, but after hearing so many versions of the above, I am often left pulling out my hair. There are just so many things wrong with this.

Without the divorce there would therefore have been no Reformation, which is not at all the same thing as to say that there was nothing to the Reformation but the divorce.

There were many different reasons and stages of the Reformation, and not much of it had anything to do with Anne Boleyn. She certainly was a catalyst and there is no denying that she was a devoted and dedicated reformer. However, the Reformation does not begin and end with Anne or Henry’s “lust” for her. Henry’s divorce and remarriage, the Royal Supremacy & the split from Rome, the Dissolution and the Acts of Succession were very different things and, though they took place at the same period of time and were intertwined, happened for different reasons.

Cuius regio eius religio, implying that there could be no reformation without the reigning monarch’s support was a byword and a practicality of the sixteenth century in Europe. There has been a lot of flak given to Henry on how he never wanted a Reformation and only did it for selfish ends. I agree with G.R. Elton in this matter.

Princes and governments, no more than the governed, do not act from unmixed motives, and to ignore the spiritual factor in the conversion of at least some princes is as false as to see nothing but purity in the desires of the populace. The Reformation was successful beyond the dreams of earlier, potentially similar, movements not so much because the time was ripe for it, but rather because it found favour with the secular arm.

Here we go with a brief timeline of the Reformation, as it happened. Of course, a lot more things happened in between like the Acts of Succession and the Act of Treason, but I have left those out and concentrated on the acts related solely to the Reformation as such.

1517 – Martin Luther nailed his ninety five theses protesting against the corruption and bias of the Catholic Church on the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, and kicked off the Reformation.

1520 – Luther published a 3 part treatise against the Catholic Church, pillorying its practices. This generated a huge positive response.

1521 – Henry VIII wrote the Defence of the Seven Sacraments in response to Luther. At this stage, Henry was definitely in the Papal side of the schism. But let us not forget that while reforms to the Roman church were often talked about, such a large – scale movement away from its doctrines had not yet taken place.

1528 – William Tyndale wrote the Obedience of the Christian Man, which advocated Royal Supremacy over the church and claimed that the king is the true leader of the church in his own country. Anne Boleyn showed this book to Henry who was deeply influenced by it. The book spoke at length on how a king is beholden to his subjects to guide them in spiritual matters, and that the Pope had no role to play in this.

1529 – The Reformation Parliament was called. This refers to the Parliamentary sessions between 1529 to 1536. This was so called because a major act was passed after which the clergy could no longer appeal to ecclesiastical courts. This put them on par with the civilians and took away all the privileges that the clergy had, forcing them to obey the law of the land rather than the laws of the Church. Also, Thomas Wolsey fell, and Thomas Cromwell rose high.

1531 – The clergy acknowledged that they had committed praemunire and paid up £118000 in return for a pardon and admitted that Henry was “only and supreme lord and, as far as the law of Christ allows, even supreme head”. This was a major breakthrough because for the first time, the Bishops accepted to being guilty of obeying a foreign head, and promised to obey the King instead, in all matters concerned with the Church and spirituality.

1532 – The Acts of Submission of the Clergy was passed. The former related to all the clergy of England accepting the King and his lawful heirs as their true head of the Church. [I am not sure whether this Act was passed in 1532 or 1534. According to The Tudor Revolution and Reform and Reformation, both by G.R. Elton, the given year is 1534, whereas Letters & Papers and Cambridge Modern History 1520-1559, also by Elton, gives 1532. I am going with 1532 for now until I am corrected by some foolproof evidence to the contrary.]

1533 – Act in Restraint of Appeals was passed, prohibiting any appeals from courts within England to any courts outside it. This effectively nullified the Papal authority of being able to excommunicate English citizens, and also provided the facility for matrimonial and other matters to be resolved within the country itself, by a secular court.

1534 – The Act in First Fruit and Tenths was also passed this year. The Act of First Fruit and Tenths prohibited the customary taxes of ten percent being sent to Rome, and it was directed to the royal treasury instead.

A proposal to be agreed to “in this present parliament,” and confirmed by the convocations of both provinces, to give the King and his successors for ever the first fruits of every benefice throughout the realm, in like manner as they are received at present in the diocese of Norwich by the bishop, to whom they are paid by instalments, “so as neither hospitality needeth to be laid apart, nor the mansion nor chancel be unrepaired.” Every benefice to be first taxed reasonably to a sum “not only as it is now let, but as it is likely to continue.” As the revenues of the Crown are much decayed, this will supply the King with a good revenue for the defence of the realm, and cause the temporalty to “leave their grudge and murmur against the spirituality, and lovingly to live together in perfect love.”

The Act of Supremacy, also passed in 1534, was the final act that allowed Henry to finally be named the Supreme Head of the Church and made it an act of treason to deny this. All the work to make this happen had already been undertaken in the previous few years.

Albeit the King’s Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England, and so is recognized by the clergy of this realm in their Convocations, yet nevertheless for corroboration and confirmation thereof, and for increase of virtue in Christ’s religion within this realm of England, and to repress and extirp all errors, heresies and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same …

1535 – The Valor Ecclesiasticus was published, listing the wealth of the territory once owned by Rome (monasteries, churches and other religious establishments). Dissolution of smaller monasteries with an income of less than £200 took place.

1536 – Monasteries were dissolved with regularity, and all the wealth that previously belonged to the Church in Rome was now given to the Crown. The Ten Articles was published which gave some guidance to the church so recently taken over by the King. They were articles devised by the kinges highnes majestie, to stablyshe christen quietnes and unitie amonge us, and to avoyde contentious opinions”.

Other things happened after this, but the main backbone of the English Reformation was the events from 1532 to 1536. Once the Pilgrimage of Grace was put down, there was no more stopping the Reformation. Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer were the two most important men during this period, who worked tirelessly for a shared vision, along with many other reformers such as Latimer and Tyndale. But behind them all, stood the mighty majesty of the King, which made it all possible.

* Thanks to Susan and Hannah for being a great help in trying to clear up some doubts regarding dates. I suck at dates.


G.R. Elton: The New Cambridge Modern History, Volume II, The Reformation, 1520 – 1559

G.W. Bernard: The Making of Religious Policy, 1533-1546: Henry VIII and the Search for the Middle Way (The Historical Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2)

Letters and Papers: Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 5: 1531-1532

Letters and Papers: Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 7: 1534

5 thoughts on “Acts of the Henrican Reformation

  1. Well said King Hal! I have to say, personally I find the Dissolution of the Monasteries distasteful because it left a lot of people homeless. But, guess it was inevitable due to the wealth involved.

    • The dissolution of the monasteries was actually inevitable because the orders had to pay taxes to Rome for their existence. It made no sense to have a way of life continue when it flies directly in the face of proposed reforms. Attempts were made to resettle those monks or orders found innocent, but I guess it was too huge an undertaking to be completely successful.

      • I believe it was inevitable too. Also a massive undertaking and many people got rich from it.

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