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The Causes of the English Reformation

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The Causes of the English Reformation


The Reformation is often said to begin in 1534 with the Act of Supremacy (Henry VIII was then Head of the Church and Head of State.)

But what triggered the Reformation was the need for Henry VIII to have a male heir, and therefore to get a divorce.

  • Context


The late Medieval Church

There was criticism of the church as a model of religious doctrine.

  1. Monasteries were in a sad state of decline. A few orders still maintained high standards, but most were indeed in a sad state of decline.
  2. Renaissance popes were criticized and seen as greedy and corrupted.
  3. Nonetheless, the Church's problems should not be exaggerated. Before the Reformation began, many English parishes (paroisses) were still vibrant centers of worship.


Lollardy = political and religious mvt existing for 100 years

  1. The Lollards were followers of John Wyclif (c.1320-84). He argued that the Bible was the only sure basis of belief, and that it should be translated into English. He denounced the wealth and power of the clergy.
  2. Lollardy did pave the way for Luther’s ideas later.



  1. It was a movement that wanted to restore original, uncorrupted classical texts and pure language (Latin and Greek) and it was born in universities.
  2. The Christian humanists, (like Thomas More) applied these ideas to the Bible and tried to understand the Bible's real message.

Luther and Protestantism


  1. Martin Luther nailed (a cloué) his 95 theses to the door of the castle church of Wittenberg (Germany) in 1517.
  2. Luther attacked more and more aspects of the established Roman Catholic Church.
  3. He also translated the Bible into German in record time.
  4. The most important doctrines put forward by Luther were: the rejection of the Pope’s power, the rejection of the Purgatory and the abolition of monasteries.


  • a few measures

Execution of Roman Catholics: Roman Catholics were persecuted. Catholic believers were seen as traitors and were imprisoned or even executed.

Dissolution of the monasteries: Two thirds of all the land was sold to the laity ( = laïcs). As they aquired new lands, they got an interest in the Reformation and they saw no interest in a return to Catholicism.

  • Historiography

 These two schools of thought are:

  • the  Whig-Protestant school : those historians think that the Reformation was that the people was ready for.
  •  the revisionist school : those historians thought that the Reformation was imposed on the English people.


Thomas Cromwell: he was the chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540. Cromwell was the most powerful advocate of the English Reformation. He was for treason and heresy.

Thomas More: he was a member of parliament but was executed for refusing to recognise Henry VIII's divorce and the English church's break with Rome.

Thomas Cranmer : was a leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and, for a short time, Mary Tudor. He was executed for heresy (Mary was a Catholic).


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