There was indeed a Reformation in England in 1529, which accepted a number of distinct changes in religious organisation, practice and belief: a diminution of clerical authority, a suppression of monasteries and chantries, elimination of papal primacy, and a supplant of the mass by Protestant rituals. The redefinition of the Roman Catholic Church’s divinity suggest that the Church seemed in desperate need of reform in order for the above practices and beliefs to have occurred, but was the Reformation a result of entrenched popular demand for religious change or because it was actually in need of reform?The term ‘reform’ can be described as a means of adopting a more acceptable way of practice, although this does not necessarily imply the destruction of the Church, its various forms of worship or its structure. Haigh, who seeks to improve the Foxe-Dickens approach by countering the long-term religious discontents concerning the Catholic Church and the significance of Protestantism, asserts that “‘The Reformation’ is a colligatory concept, a historians’ label which relates several lesser changes into an overall movement.’1 It is difficult to define when England became a Protestant nation, as it is all a matter of personal beliefs and also dependent on the regional studies under consideration. Moreover, the English Reformation was not a particular event that only occurred in 1529; it was an extensive and intricate occasion.Dickens’ version of the Reformation although has been established for its ‘English historical consciousness,’2 he only appears to uncover the fruits of the Protestant Reformation as opposed to the English Reformation, by accepting that the widespread indications of Lollardy and anticlericalism as evidence of alienation from Catholicism . With similar ideas to Foxe, he demonstrates that the influence of religious upheaval upon ordinary people provides substantial evidence that the Church was disposed for reform. He proclaimed that the Roman Catholic Church was a seemingly corrupt and inefficient institution where the leaders of the Church were constantly perceived as fraudulent and immoral. The abuses of pluralism and absenteeism opened the floodgates for criticism against the Church, and according to Dickens, a driving force behind the growing power of Protestantism; ‘ any version of the English Reformation which ignores the dynamic impact of early Protestantism remains incomplete and unconvincing.’3It is worth noting that since the Reformation occurred, it is enticing to presume that it was an imperative and valid remonstration against the ineptness of the Church. Such views argued by Dickens however, can be exaggerated. Dickens is characteristically Whig- Protestant.4 He centres his argument on the rise of reforming Protestantism as the catalyst of the Reformation, overlooking the political upsurge that had certainly contributed to the English Reformation. He stresses that the seedbed of Protestantism was created by the expanding popular reaction to Lollardy and anticlericalism.Yet his emphasis on the impact of Protestant ideology upon the people can be seen as Protestant propaganda. He uncovers the growth of Protestantism by crediting the deficiencies of Catholicism using the trials of heretics, particularly in the Lollard and puritan areas in Yorkshire, as evidence for the spread of Protestant conviction, despite the fact that the prevalence of heresy oscillated according to the force of official scrutiny. His attacks against the authorities of the Church are applicable in some areas; Wolsey was a prime example of a pluralist and absentee, who was deemed as a lordly prelate. Indeed there were local tensions but there was also an attempt in many dioceses ( of Lincoln, Norwich, and Winchester) to improve pastoral discipline and clerical standards.The diocese of Chichester, 1500-1558 is an ideal example of the attempts made by Bishop Sherburne of ensuring the discipline of religious duties of the authorities of the Church. The consistory court of the bishop was the most significant of the diocesan courts. It administered a range of ecclesiastical jurisdiction from the archdeaconry of Chichester. The archdeacons however, were powerless when it came to controlling priests of their benefices, or deciding marital and heresy cases. The English people may have upbraided the bishops as being unworthy and ultimately ineffective in resolving conflicts, hence much of the criticisms against the Church comes from the limitations placed on the archdeacons by the variety of jurisdictions. Had Sherburne not eliminate the various episcopal jurisdictions in this diocese, the spiritual welfare may have indeed collapsed.This may not have been an overall accurate representation of the efforts made to revitalise the conditions of the church courts. These courts are identified as having been unaffected by the Reformation. Stephen Lander debates that their jurisdiction was fortified by the legislation of the time of Henry VIII, and that they were experiencing reform only in the last decades ahead of the break with Rome. Haigh maintains that the Reformation was a recipe for anarchy because ‘ the Reformation attack upon ecclesiastical jurisdiction weakened the authority of the courts, and prevented a continuation of the programme of improvement: Reformation blocked reform.’5 Haigh clearly supports the idea that several bishops endeavoured the preservation of pastoral care and suitable resolutions for local disagreements. This demonstrates however, it is inevitable at times that the views provided are merely the personal opinions of historians, and are bias, since many other historians who have traced the birth of the Reformation have established cases of corruption and negligence among the clergy. Other contemporary evidence nevertheless can augment Haigh’s views that actually there was no widespread desire for reform.At the time leading up to the Reformation, relationships between priests and parishioners were supposedly hostile. Dickens contends that ‘ the English may have loved the mass, but they hated the priests and were eager to see them humbled.’ 6 The cause is possibly because the bishops were perceived as men who were servants of the king, rather than the servants of God. Coulton argued that the clergy ‘must have been unpopular or the Reformation would be inexplicable.’7 Religious beliefs of the Church were felt to have decayed with too much focus on more of the superstitious aspects of religion. The worshiping of relics became identified as a cult. Monasticism was an impious swindle, gathered upon the false doctrine of purgatory and indulgences, ‘when the penny rattles in the box, the soul leaps out of purgatory.’8 Certainly these were all merited criticisms. Chaucer in 1314, commented on the secularism and lack of devotion to religion in his works, suggesting that hostility against the clergy was not uncommon, and the abuses were certainly not new. Any organisation that had ample clergymen are nevertheless bound to have people who abuse their power. Given the fact that the majority of the clergy were literate, it was probably a custom for monarchs to use the administration of men like Cardinal Wolsey and Bishop Gardiner.The evidence for anticlericalism, mostly the studies of several dioceses highlighting the defects of the Church seem exaggerated. In the diocese of Lincoln between 1514 and 1521, the authorities discovered that the parishes only generated a small amount of complaints of negligence; 25 reports claiming priestly misconduct with women and 17 claims that the services were not performed appropriately. 9 Although some accusations against clerical standards may well have been inevitably suppressed, the literary evidence however, provided by writers like Fish and Tyndale also appear biased to the wider attitudes towards the Church. Both Fish and Tyndale were enthusiastic Lutheran activists, but since Fish was a London lawyer, he had more personal and economic motives to demonstrate that the Catholic doctrines had a pecuniary cost. Even to Haigh, ‘perhaps ‘anticlericalism’ was a result rather than a cause of the Reformation.’ 10Dickens, argues that there were adequate heredoxy opinion in England on the eve of the Reformation.11 He supports his claims with the growing influence of Lollardy among merchants and artisans and the evidence of heredoxy at a local level being dealt with the Church courts. Haigh contends that since the Protestant Reformation was triumphant, there is a possibility that historians ‘will exaggerate these proto- Protestants into a powerful movement.’12 It is likely that the Reformation went as far as it did because of the espousal from the people. Yet Haigh whilst stresses the importance of the political pressures for the Reformation , fails to uniformly include both sides of the religious fence, as he appears to be undermining the significant appeal of early Protestantism, making it difficult to understand why the Reformation was protracted and complex. Reformation was certainly about religion, thus it is difficult to separate religious from political challenges, because the move towards religious reform was indeed an element of the political development that had transpired at the same time.Lollardy was the religious (and political), yet decentralised movement from the late 14th century to the early Reformation. The Lollards were not a major force in English religious life, as Dickens claims they were. There is little evidence to suggest that they played any significant change to the Church or in Henrician England as a whole. Evidence for activity of Lollardy derives from records from heresy trials; mostly collected by Foxe. Although Foxe provides invaluable information about the growing dominance of Protestantism, it can ultimately be seen as Protestant propaganda. Attempting to sell his book, Foxe and even Dickens give too much weight to the Lollards and the developing strength of Protestantism. In fact in the diocese in Lincoln, the growing pressure of Lollardy was significantly contained; the Lollardy in Buckinghamshire, which posed a threat for twenty years was destroyed by the 1540s Bishop Longland. 13The Lollards do demonstrate that there were nonconformists from the Church, yet this does not show the extent of popular feeling they excited from the people. It is difficult to regard the Lollards as a major threat to the Church or as a substantial disaffection from the conventional religion. More claimed in 1533 that if anyone surveyed the English dioceses ‘except London and Lincoln he shall scant in anyone of all remnant find punished for heresy.’ 14 The “increase” in Lollardy may just perhaps reveal the hardening of persecution, rather than a demand for reform.Lutheranism was the final continental influence on the English Church life in the 1520s. Although it was not until late in the decade that Lutheranism became a serious threat, it still existed covertly in a Catholic country. How far they were forerunners of the Reformation is debatable because it is difficult to identify cases of Lutheranism since this merged with local traditions of dissent. There were dynamic Lutheran activists like Fish and Tyndale, who distributed their works in London whilst the Reformation Parliament was established in 1529.15 It has been claimed within the works of More that the condemnations against the Church were part of a ‘Lutheran conspiracy to discredit the Church and weaken its resistance to heresy.’16 The people of London were in regular contact with the continental reformed Churches; London merchants appeared to import forbidden Lutheran books or witnessed Lutheran services. Though the flood of Lutheran beliefs appear to play a credible challenge to the Church, it does not suggest that unorthodox teachings were evoking more popular response. Churchwarden accounts and wills demonstrate that Catholicism maintained its verve, although the tensions prevailing during the time was probably concealed, especially since the traditional preambles to wills in Yorkshire began to disappear soon after the Injunctions of 1538.The influx of Lutheran ideas were controlled when steps were taken to investigate sympathy for Luther and the circulation for his books. On 12 May 1521, Wolsey with the support of Bishop Fisher officiated a burning of copies in St Paul’s Churchyard. Subsequently, a mandate to Bishop Booth of Hereford ordered the conceding of all Lutheran books. Booth informed Warham that no books had been surrendered, yet it remains ambiguous whether this was because Lutheran teachings had not yet infiltrated to the western dioceses, or because possessors of Lutheran books had refused to hand over their copies.Whether or not the Lutherans were truly influential, reform appeared to be the foremost issue which dominated debate. Indeed the ideas of Lollardy and Lutheranism had little impact on England, both were unstructured and impenetrable movements. What they may have actually achieved is the opposite to their ideas. By showing the deficiencies of the Church, they may have provided assistance to those who had a desire to reform the Church and make it more acceptable to the English people, whose support for traditional Catholicism still remained solid, rather than to destroy it completely.The growing activity of common lawyers and the influence of the canon law had no doubt led people to criticise the Church’s power, which lead to the undermining of order in the late 1520s. This does not suggest however, that the English people were against the Church. Since businesses for lawyers were declining sharply during the years before 1529, it can be seen therefore, that the common lawyers stood to benefit from an attack on the jurisdiction of the Church. For a long time they had been attempting to obtain classes of litigation from the Church, and ‘the scope of the ‘spirituality’ was a lively issue among them.’17 Indeed competition paved the way for criticism; the common lawyers may have felt themselves to be the ‘victims of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.’18 According to P. Williams, ‘the increasing number of common lawyers looked jealousy at the work of Church courts.’19 But yet if the English people preferred the Church’s court as opposed to the civil court, this contradicts the claim that the Church was an unfair and immoral institution.Surprisingly, the subject of reform of the Church was not the focal issue when the Parliament met in 1529, but not much of the legislative business of the Reformation Parliament was actually anticlerical. When the Mortuaries Act was designed during this time, it could be seen that it was created to remind people of the Hunne case, and Wolsey’s part in placating the crisis, by ultimately upholding the ecclesiastical rights of the Church.The case of Hunne who refused to pay a mortuary on behalf of his deceased son proved to be a degrading calamity for the Church. Hunne had revealed the entire praemunire dispute, and consequently he was charged with heresy. His offensive attitude to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction convinced S. J. Smart that Hunne did actually hold heretical opinions because when he was arrested in October 1514, he was found in possession of a Wycliffite Bible as well as other various non-specified heretical books. 20The representativeness of Hunne’s case against the practices of the Church is disputable. This was not an example of pervasive opposition but it was used profusely amongst those who wished to attack the corruption and competence of the Church, and thus seems somewhat aggrandized. Surely the Church would have realized that if they had killed Hunne, his death would have damaged the ecclesiastical jurisdiction further. Yet Haigh considers Hunne as a ‘victim of ecclesiastical oppression.’21 Had Hunne lived and continued his praemunire challenge, he would have still been convicted of heresy, yet he would have remained a dogmatic contestant against the privileges of the Church. The circumstances of his death have certainly remained suspicious, but the fact remains however, that since the Church was able to overcome the challenges of Hunne, this indicates that their jurisdiction was far more superior than statute, and it is not surprising that this exasperated the lawyers and merchants.According to Scarisbrick and Starkey, the English Reformation was fundamentally imposed from the top. Yet it is difficult to accept Scarisbrick’s views on the Reformation, since he provides an account with limited acknowledgement of Protestantism, making it difficult to understand why it had occurred at all. It could be seen nevertheless, that the Reformation was more of a political Reformation as a result of factional conflict and the growing influences of the Vice- Regent of the Church and Archbishop of Canterbury, whom were both clandestine Protestant sympathisers, ‘the religious future of England was then in some measure dependent upon who was in favour with the king.’22 Henry VIII’s desire for a radical solution to his marital difficulty to Catherine of Aragon in 1533, was the ultimate reason for the Reformation.Dickens insists that Henry was able to carry out his political reformation: breaking with Rome and establishing himself as the Supreme Head of the Church in England, because such events largely coincided with the rapid spread of Protestantism. This seems less convincing than Haigh’s belief that ‘the Reformation brought Protestantism, not Protestantism the Reformation,’23 because it was only after 1547 that England became a Protestant country during the Edwardian Reformation, when the heresy laws and the Act of Six Articles were repealed, the traditional religious practises and stone altars were removed through the dissolution of the chantries in 1547. Henry was a religious conservative who endeavoured to prevent any changes in the Church’s beliefs or rituals. The Church was not in need of reform; Henry used the Church as a pawn (during the dissolution of the monasteries) in order to further his authority in the convoluted game of power politics.The widespread yearning for reform appears to have been just an ‘historical illusion.’24 The growing activity of the common lawyers and the spread of anticlericalism had encouraged some people to criticise the ecclesiastical powers of the Church. Yet there was no indelible hostility towards the Church in England. The religious practices of the great bulk of the population remained impervious and although there were myriad dissidents, reflecting the diversity of practice and belief within the early Tudor Church, the structure of the Church remained significantly stable and primarily efficient.’Protestantism remained weak until the late sixteenth century, and Catholicism remained vibrant and popular;’25 there were high levels of compliance with the Church’s discipline and conformity to its belief. With very few signs and demand for future reformations, it would appear that the strength of the Church triumphed over the ‘small cells of committed adherents.’ 26 Perhaps given a set of different circumstances after the death of Henry VIII, the Church of England could still be pre-dominantly Roman Catholic.
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