In this article, Myra King follows up on her article about the Divine Right of Kings, by telling us about religious conflict in Henry VIII’s England. As we will see, this conflict would continue to simmer beneath the surface well into the 1600s; indeed, it would be a major factor in the English Civil War.

 

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, a regal king met the woman of his dreams. He instantly knew he had to marry her and make her his Queen. The only problem with this plan… He was already married.

When Henry VIII came across Anne Boleyn, he was already in his fourteenth year of marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Divorce was the only option. Unfortunately the pope refused to grant him one. After nearly seven years of fighting the Vatican, Henry got his Tudor breeches in a twist and decided to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. He established the Church of England, making himself the leader and instated the newly formed denomination, Protestantism. This was no simple decision as Catholicism had been the official religion of England since the Romans had brought it over one thousand years earlier. The people of England had had their faith ripped out from underneath them and they had no way to fight it. Henry’s decision to break with Rome did not end at the peaceful renaming of churches. Henry introduced an act called “The Reformation” and that was far from peaceful. Thomas Cromwell and Henry’s goons ransacked over eight hundred monasteries, literally stripping them of everything from their lead roofs, to their golden candlesticks and valuable books. The lucky monks were thrown into the street. The rest were executed for refusing to comply. The reformation brought in a ton of gold for Henry and a ton of misery for everyone else. Many of those who revolted against this act were murdered. Not only the rebellious men, but their wives and even small children were left swinging from ropes.

A strange fruit left to rot in the fields. 

 King Henry VIII of England by Lucas Horenbout (c. 1526)

King Henry VIII of England by Lucas Horenbout (c. 1526)

It wasn’t only the peasants who met their untimely deaths in the reformation. Several of Henry’s own politicians were sent for the chop. Not to mention the fact that women were subjected to torture on the rack. An act unheard of before the tyrant Henry and his church.

There was nothing peaceful about this religious change. Many suffered at the newborn hands of the Church of England. This was the start of the religious wars that would plague the country for over a century. The people of England now became the unfortunate pawns in this genocide. And they had no way to fight back.

 

THE END OF THE KING

In 1547, Henry finally succumbed to whatever ailment had killed him (it is heavily debated), leaving his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, as king. Edward, having been born and bred a Protestant, kept the kingdom as his father had left it. But Edward was a sickly boy and at the tender age of fifteen he was dead and buried. This left his elder sister, Mary I, as queen. Mary’s bloodlust and stupidity is almost stomach turning. Her first act as queen was to undo the reformation and return England to the Vatican. Bad idea. By this point, the Church of England was the only religion the young English knew. They had been schooled by Henry and Edward to read the bible, now Mary burned them for it. They had been taught that prayers were private, and the vanity and abuse of the Catholic Church were not their god’s doing. Mary burned them for questioning the Vatican. Mary’s second mistake was to marry her cousin, Philip of Spain. He was a money and power hungry Catholic who was anything but popular among the English. Mary had been warned by her government that marriage to Philip would be political suicide. But she did not heed their warning. And so, Philip brought his hand in marriage as well as his need to conquer an unconquerable land – France.

England owned one town in France, Calais, a town close to England on the French coast. Philip wanted more. Mary’s government begged her not to go to war with the French. England was in trouble, you see; it had done nothing but rain during Mary’s reign. The crops were ruined. There would be no food for the following year. England needed her money in order to buy food from the French. They couldn’t use that money for war. Mary would not listen though. England not only lost the war with France, but also Calais – a town that could have produced food for them.

 

BACK TO SQUARE ONE

In Mary’s five short years as Queen she undid the horror that her father had done; all Henry VIII’s crimes against his people had been for nothing. She burned every Protestant she could find in a land completely Protestant. She married an unpopular fool and sent her army to their deaths to do his bidding. She lost French territory. She did nothing as her country flooded and starved to death. She earned herself the nickname “Bloody Mary” and is known as the most useless monarch England has ever had. All in the name of religion. Once again, the English people were the wretched victims of a monarch’s unholy obsession with their own religious ideas. More than three hundred Protestants were burned at the stake so that she could purge the country of the religion her father had killed nearly fifty-seven thousand people to introduce.

Mary died childless in 1558, leaving her half-sister as queen. Elizabeth quickly changed the country back to Protestantism. And the only people who needed to fear the stake were the corrupt Catholic priests. No one mourned for them; no one mourned the loss of Catholicism. Her memory lives on as one of the greatest leaders in English history; she has no connection to religious genocide. Her father and sister live in infamy as atrocious monarchs hated by the people. And besides their laughable marriages, all they are known for is the suffering their religious beliefs caused. Could it be a coincidence that one is adored while the other two are abhorred?

Elizabeth died childless in 1603 and left the throne to her cousin’s son, the king of Scotland – James VI of Scotland. England’s first fear was that the Catholic king would bring his dreaded religion to England and that there would be a repeat of Mary’s or Henry’s reign. Luckily James had some smarts and left his religion in Edinburgh castle. He became James I of England and brought with him, not one, but two sons. This officially ended the Tudor dynasty and the fears of succession that Henry’s questionable virility and his childless children brought to the table. James walked a fine line though. He believed in the Divine Right of Kings that meant he answered to no one but his god. He believed it was his right to do and say whatever he wanted. The English soon got a tad sick of this behavior. He must have known the dangerous dance he was partaking in. After two cruel monarchs who hid behind the thin guise of religion to commit their atrocities, religion was now top of the suspicion list. Every pro-Catholic move James made, he put his life on the line. Equally, every anti-Catholic move he made he put himself and his family in danger.

If James wasn’t aware of the danger he was in, the Gunpowder plot definitely showed him.

I don’t think James I ever failed to remember the 5th of November.

And that's for next time...

 

The next article in the series is on King James I and a conspiracy related to the Gunpowder Plot. Click here to read it!

 

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References

  • Who’s Who in British History by Juliet Gardiner
  • British History by Miles Kelly
  • Slimy Stuarts by Terry Deary
  • Terrible Tudors by Terry Deary