The Tudors and the English Reformation

The Tudor dynasty, which ruled between 1485 and 1603, transformed England and monarchs such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are larger-than-life figures who are instantly recognizable. But where did the Tudors come from and why were they so successful?

This is where our course will begin as we examine the life and career of Henry Tudor and his remarkable mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, against the background of the bloody civil wars between the houses of York and Lancaster, known as the Wars of the Roses. This resulted in Henry's victory over Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 and, as Henry VII, his subsequent attempts to establish and consolidate the new dynasty.

From there the course will be primarily concerned with the English Reformation, launched by Henry VIII in the 1520s as he attempted to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. From being the ardent supporter of Catholic orthodoxy, Henry used the rhetoric of Reformation to achieve his dynastic goals, initiating in the process the upheavals of the 1530s - the dissolution of the monasteries and the break with Rome etc. By the mid-1530s Henry had declared himself 'Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England' and we will consider the tortuous politics of his later reign as religious conservatives and radicals vied for his favour.

With Henry's death in 1547 his nine year old son, Edward, came to the throne and his short reign of six years witnessed the transformation of English religion in a radically Protestant direction, with two new Prayer Books issued in 1549 and 1552.

Edward's untimely death in 1553 brought his half-sister, Mary, to the throne, after a disastrous attempt by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland to replace her with his Protestant daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey. Mary, a devout Catholic, immediately threw into reverse the religious policies of her predecessors and attempted to restore the Roman Catholic faith in England. Probably the most well-known and significant of her policies was the violent persecution of English Protestants which led to the burning of over 200 of them.

In her turn, Mary was succeeded in 1558 by her half-sister, Elizabeth and it was during Elizabeth's long and eventful reign that England emerged as the leading Protestant power in Europe. We will look at Elizabeth's often troubled and dangerous youth, the 'alteration of religion' she initiated when she came to the throne, the opposition her government experienced from both Roman Catholics and Puritans and, of course, the threat from resurgent Catholicism on the Continent and, in particular, Catholic Spain.

Over the weekend we will wend our way through these varied changes and upheavals whilst at the same time introducing some of the figures who served the various Tudor monarchs, such as Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer, Cecil, Drake, Frobisher and Raleigh. We will also consider some of the victims of the various regimes, such as Thomas More and John Fisher, the Protestants burnt under Mary and the Catholic mission priests who faced torture and execution if caught. The period is one in which the 'fires of faith' burnt brightly and during which Protestant England was created and established.

Dr Andrew Lacey
March 2017

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