A History of Great Britain by Robert Balmain Mowat - CHAPTER XIV - The Renaissance and Reformation

September 4 2018

CHAPTER XIV - The Renaissance and Reformation

1485 marks the first year of the Tudor Period, and is generally considered the beginning of modern history of England. It should be understood however, that the change that the Renaissance would eventually bring, has been brewing for the last 100 years already. We can see this in the invention of the printing press and the freer study of the arts and letters.

While the Middle Ages had a wide array of knowledge, it was all somewhat rigid - the Renaissance humanizes what is known.

One of the inventions that was now allowed to be used more freely, is gunpowder. It had already been known but only now is it used to its full effect. This reduces the need for armour and thus, changes who could be a solider. Armies are becoming professional and the feudal system is finally at an end.

Another change is the language used in education. Hitherto, Latin has been the lingua franca, but now Greek emerges and changes what is being read.

Henry Tudor, now Henry VII., is largely occupied with the remnant of the War of the Roses and so misses the advancements made by the Portuguese and Spanish in reaching America.

Henry is also busy fighting of the various pretenders to his throne and final a suitable marriage for himself. Eventually he settles for Elizabeth, House of York.

Dynastic marriages more important than ever now, and Henry and Elizabeth’ oldest son, Arthur is strategically married to Princess Kathrine of Aragon, daughter of king and queen of Spain.

Tragically, Arthur dies a year into the marriage, but the alliance is rescued by the marriage of the widowed Kathrine to Henry’s younger son, Henry VIII.

Henry’s eldest daughter Margaret marries James IV., king of Scotland.

Henry VIII. is 18 when his father dies. He inherits a kingdom full of idle men; soldier returned from the war have nothing to fight for anymore and the collapse of feudalism sees a large number of former servants with no employment and no skills. There is also a lack of plowed land, since a lot of lords had converted land into grazing fields during the war.

Due to his marriage to a Spanish princess, Henry VIII. is soon roped in to a war with France - this conflict has no advantages for England. It is Thomas Wosley, the Archbishop of York and one of Henry’s ministers who negotiates a peace with France in 1514, and it can be safely said that the Hundred Year’s War is now finally over.

In 1517, a German priest, Martin Luther, starts attacking the practice of ‘indulgences’ by the church, i.e. the granting of remission of certain days in purgatory. Indulgences are being openly sold to fund church property.

Luther goes on to criticise other doctrines of the Catholic church and eventually gets expelled. This marks the beginning of the Reformation in Germany, and sympathisers in England are soon to be found.

Henry VIII. is not one of those sympathetic, and he writes in defense of the sacraments of the church and Rome swiftly grants him the title of ‘defensor fidei’ (defender of the faith), which all English monarchs have used ever since.

By 1527, Henry is sick of his wife. He openly wonders about the legality of his marriage - she is also his sister-in-law after all, and he wants an annulment on those grounds.

Pope Clement refuses and the enraged Henry declares himself supreme head of the church of England. He has effectively created a new religion.

By 1536, all monastries with property valued at less than £200 a year are being dissolved. The monks there living are either absolved of their vows (if they are under 24 years of age) or given a pension.

Nuns however, are only given a gown by Henry and told to work or beg.

The so recouped land is either sold or given to nobles to keep under the plough.

This new protestant church differs from its catholic counterpart insofar, as it encourages individuals to read scripture by themselves. Mowat appears to be skeptical, for he says:

“The right to private judgement belongs to Protestants; but they often forget that this carries with it the duty of thinking.”

After this, Henry’s remaining 15 years as king are a reign of terror. Everyone who opposes him is losing their head. Non-Anglican protestants, such as Lutherans and Calvinists, are being burned as heretics and Catholics are being beheaded for treason.

Henry’s various wives die one after the other. Kathrine a natural death in 1536; Anne Boleyn in the same year by beheading. Jane Seymour dies in childbirth (but delivers Prince Edward) and Kathrine Howard, a wife 30 years Henry’s junior, is executed for ‘immoral conduct’. His last wife, Kathrine Parr, is only spared due to Henry VIII.’s death in 1547 - famously believed to be the result of obesity.