The Church in sixteenth century England

What’s up y’all? Lydia Tyndall here with another Miscellany article!!!


The sixteenth century saw many changes to the church and religion in England.

In the year 1500 King Henry VII was the ruler of England. Like all the kings before him he was Catholic, and therefore all his subjects were Catholic as well. 

In 1501, Henry VII told his older son Arthur to marry a woman named Catherine of Aragon, but only five months after marrying, Arthur died of a fever. Henry VII then told his younger son, the future Henry VIII, to marry Catherine. In 1509 Henry VII died and his Henry VIII was crowned king. 

Catherine and Henry VIII had only one child, a daughter named Mary. At the time England had never been governed by a queen, so Henry thought that if he wanted to keep his family in power he would need a male heir. He began to worry that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s widow by not giving him a son. Many people thought this was the same as marrying one’s sister, and therefore morally wrong. 

Henry fell in love with a younger woman named Anne Boleyn, who was one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting. Henry thought that if he could marry Anne she might provide him with the male heir he so desperately desired, but first he needed to divorce Catherine. 

Henry, like his father, was Catholic. The Catholic teachings did not allow divorce. For Henry to divorce his wife he first had to get special permission from the Pope. 

The Pope denied Henry’s request, so Henry came up with a different plan. He left the Catholic Church, started a new denomination called The Church Of England, and gave himself the title of ‘Supreme Head.’ He then divorced Catherine and married Anne Bolyen. Now English citizens were expected to switch from Catholic to Church Of England. 

Not long after the wedding Anne had a baby girl named Elizabeth. Later she had a boy who died, which made Henry angry, so he had her beheaded. Henry then married a lady-in-waiting to Anne named Jane Seymour. In 1537, to Henry’s delight Jane had a son named Edward, but Jane herself died just twelve days later.  

In 1547 Henry VIII died. His son Edward became king even though he was only nine years old. His regents decided that England would switch to Protestantism. This was a new denomination which had come to England in 1529, but this did not last long because six years later Edward died, and after some fighting over who should succeed him (long story), his half sister Mary was crowned queen. 

Mary was a passionate Catholic, and she expected her subjects to be also. She had so many Protestants killed that she earned the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’. When she died in 1558 her half sister Elizabeath inherited the throne. 

When Elizabeth became queen, she brought back the Church of England, and used it to combine Protestant and Catholic traditions. Elizabeth remained queen until the end of the 16th century.

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