The Tudors and the Reformation

Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England, was succeeded by his son Henry VIII in 1509 AD.

Henry VIII was to become a towering figure in English history.

(Above) Henry VIII, famous for his six wives, for the break with the Roman Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England.

A rebellion against the Catholic Church had broken out on the European Continent, called the Reformation, led by the enigmatic Martin Luther, which saw Christianity split into two separate camps, Catholic and Protestant.

At first Henry VIII fervently tried to suppress the Reformation that had spread to England.

He even authored a book strongly criticising Martin Luther.

However, Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, bore him only a single child, Mary.

As the War of the Roses had basically been a prolonged dynastic conflict, Henry feared that the lack of a male heir would endanger the Tudor dynasty and destabilise the country.

Henry, yearning for a male heir, requesting a divorce from the Pope in Rome, who refused.

(Above) During her five-year reign, Mary had over 280 Protestants burned at the stake, which led to her denunciation as 'Bloody Mary' by her Protestant opponents. The victims of the persecutions became lauded as martyrs.

After this refusal, Henry decided to dismantle the power of the Catholic Church and set up the Church of England.

Henry made himself, as monarch, the spiritual head of the Church of England, a situation which has persisted until the present day.

The dismantling of the Catholic Church and the founding of the Church of England is known to posterity as the English Reformation.

Henry then proceeded to marry a series of brides, these becoming famous as the six wives of Henry VIII.

His second wife, Anne Boleyn, whom he married in 1533 AD, bore him another daughter, Elizabeth.

Henry had Anne Boleyn beheaded for alleged adultery and then married Jane Seymour, who died giving birth to Edward, his only son.

His last three wives, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, bore him no children.

Henry VIII died in 1547 AD, and was succeeded by his young son Edward VI, who was 9 years old at coronation, but unfortunately died at the premature age of 16.

Due to the rules of succession, Henry VIII’s first child with Catherine of Aragon, Mary, then took the throne.

(Above) Mary I was a fervent Catholic and temporarily reversed the English Reformation, ordering a harsh and bloody revenge on England's Protestants, earning her the title of Bloody Mary.

Mary then married her cousin, Phillip II of Spain, and this triggered war with France, which saw the last English stronghold on the Continent, Calais, overrun and lost.

The name Great Britain dates from this period, when the English held Calais territory was referred to as ‘Little Britain’ and the British mainland as ‘Great Britain’.

When Mary died in 1558 AD, there were signs of relief in England.

She was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and his second marriage.

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