Monday, July 21, 2008

Question from Kelly - Religion of Henry VIII and family

If Henry VIII was a Catholic even though he had seperated from Rome, how did 2 of his 3 children, Elizabeth and Edward, become Protestants? I also read that Anne Boleyn was a Catholic.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Another one of those hugely complicated questions that are so difficult to answer in the space of this blog.

Approaching the question back to front, yes, Anne Boleyn was raised and lived, at least until her marriage to Henry, observing Roman Catholic doctrines and liturgy. All orthodox religious belief and practice in England prior to the Acts of Supremacy, Restraint of Appeals, Six Articles, and others, were those of the Roman church. Official religion in England up to the time of Henry VIII's death in early 1547 has sometimes been called (albeit simplistically) "Roman Catholicism without the Pope."

Anne was nonetheless a member of that group of Englishmen who favored reforming a church system which they and many others had for a very long time considered corrupt and in error. It would be incorrect to call her a "Protestant," however, as both that term and that formalized doctrinal system did not come into existence until after her death.

As for Elizabeth and Edward, both were born and raised in the years after the separation of the church in England from allegiance to the Roman church and Papacy. Both children were educated under the influence of Katherine Parr, Henry's last queen and a follower of those beliefs that would later be called Protestantism. Historians continue to debate the degree of Parr's influence, but it seems clear that she was involved in choosing the tutors hired to educate both children. Those tutors were all from a specific college at Cambridge, one known for adherence to the Swiss and German (but not Lutheran) reformist religious belief system. Academic education was inseparable from religious education in the 1500s, so the tutors taught their pupils the "three R's" of reading, writing, and religion. Further, both children were relatively young when Henry died (Edward was 9 years and 3 months old; Elizabeth was 13 years and 5 months old), so Henry's direct influence on their religious upbringing was somewhat limited. But even during Henry's last years as he re-embraced some of the more traditional Catholic beliefs, he simultaneously consented to his children being raised in what would later be called Protestant beliefs. Historians continue to argue the "why" of this paradox.

Immediately after Henry's death, Edward Seymour, a keen supporter of reformism, became Lord Protector and gained control over the education of both children. Seymour insured that their reformist tutors remained in place, and supplemented those tutors with others of equal pre-Protestant fervor. Edward went on as an adolescent to become a nearly fanatical Protestant, thanks largely to the work of those tutors. Elizabeth's more moderate adult religious outlook was discussed in a recent post to this blog.

Foose said...

G.W. Bernard, in his "The King's Reformation," has argued that Henry acquiesced in the selection of extreme Protestant tutors for Edward (and Elizabeth) because what really mattered to him was the continuation of the royal Supremacy -- the essential doctrine for him was that the King was the head of the Church, not the Pope.

He might not have liked certain aspects of "hot gospeller" theology and remained fairly orthodox Catholic in his personal religious practice, but he knew that reformers could be relied upon to support the Supremacy and keep out the Pope -- and he wanted Edward to have as absolute control over the Church of England as he had had.

Foose said...

It would be interesting to investigate if Edward's indoctrination with extreme Protestantism influenced his "Device for the Succession." He excluded Mary and Elizabeth, and historians have usually assigned his decision to the following reasons (if one discards the popular old notion that Northumberland worked on Edward to coax him toward a Jane Grey succession that would benefit his own family):

-They were single women, and might marry foreigners
-Mary was a Papist, but Edward could not logically exclude her without excluding Elizabeth too
-Edward sincerely believed both of them to be illegitimate

What if he also embraced the Calvinist doctrine of predestination to the extent that he genuinely believed that both Mary and Elizabeth were already damned, and hence unfit to rule over the elect? That might have been a real consideration for someone reared by Calvinists and Zwinglians.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Foose, this very question has already been investigated. WK Jordan laid the groundwork, of course, with his magisterial two-volume biography of Edward VI published 40 years ago. Jennier Loach discussed the issue more concisely in her biography of Edward, as well. There have also been several specialized works published more recently, including Diarmaid MacCulloch's "The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation." My own forthcoming biography of Jane Grey analyzes the issue in some depth, since the Devise and the various motivations for putting it forward were a critical factor in Jane's own personal history. And while your question regarding Edward and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination is a very intriguing one, there is unfortunately no direct evidence that such a belief played any role in Edward's attempt to alter the succession (and incidentally, I am of the opinion that the alteration originated with and was carried out by Edward, with Dudley et al simply taking advantage of a convenient situation). The full extent of Edward's precise religious beliefs, especially in relation to Calvinist predestination, are not known. Much of what we know has been inferred from such official Edwardian-era statements of doctrine as the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552. But even then, those documents were not produced by Edward himself, but rather by his church officials, and there were significant changes made between 1549 and 1552. Edward himself wrote relatively little on the issue of theological doctrine.

For my own part, I am of the opinion that Edward's principal motivations for altering the succession were the combination of the statutory illegitimacy of both his half-sisters and the utter certainty that each would make a foreign, and undoubtedly Catholic, marriage. Women were considered obliged in the 16th century, by Biblical prescription, to obey and concede to their husbands in matters of religion, making it almost certain that Edward's carefully constructed reformation would be undone when/if Mary or Elizabeth married a foreign prince.

Nonetheless, I present an argument in my book that Edward's over-arching concern was the gender of his successor. I believe that Edward, like his father, was so thoroughly indoctrinated with the contemporary English political cultural insistence on male-only monarchy that he was willing to countenance some rather novel arrangements in order to allow it to come to pass. Further, Dudley et al shared this over-arching concern (especially since it gave preference to Dudley's own family line), so that they were quite willing to facilitate the Devise, despite opposition from the larger political establishment. But you will have to wait for my book to come out to get the full argument, I'm afraid!

Foose said...

Thank you for your detailed response, phd historian. I am very much looking forward to reading your book and your reconstruction of the circumstances surrounding the Jane Grey succession!

Anonymous said...

Before 1517 everyone worshipped as a catholic.King Henry viii was devoted to the catholic faith up until 1529 when the king broke with the church of Rome.But even when the act of supremacy was passed in 1534 which earned him the title defender of faith he still followed the catholic religion all that it meant was that he became head of the english church.The king was torn between the two.before 1529 protestantism was known as lutheranism. At some point Anne and her familly converted to lutheranism and gained a lot of support from other lutherans when she became queen.when her daughter Elizabeth was born Anne brought her up to follow in the same way.It is also the same with Jane seymore and her familly and son they all converted to the protestant faith.