The English Reformation: Edward VI to Elizabeth I

With the death of Henry VIII, an important era in the English Reformation came to an end. In many ways, the first phase of the English Reformation was both driven and directed by the personal agendas of Henry, and the various compromises he was forced to make to ensure his succession. At the time of his death in January 1547, Henry had failed to make the fundamental changes which would institutionalize his reforms. The diocesan and parish structures of England had been left virtually as they were, particularly in relation to their forms of worship. Thomas Cranmer might well have had ambitious ideas for the reform of the liturgy and theology of the English church; Henry VIII gave him no oppor- tunity to pursue them.


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During the final years of Henry’s reign, a subtle power struggle had developed within the court, with a clique based on Edward Seymour (c. 1500–52), brother of Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s third wife) gradually gaining the ascendancy. The Seymour family had strongly Protestant inclinations. As Edward VI was still a child on the death of his father, Henry VIII, his authority was delegated to the Privy Council, which was initially dominated by Seymour (who had by then become Duke of Somerset, and Lord Protector).

The Church of England now began to move in a distinctively Protestant direction. Cranmer, finally able to flex his theological muscles in a manner which had been impossible under Henry VIII, began to introduce a series of reforms moving the Church of England in a theological direction that was closer to the ideas associated with Zwingli and Zurich than with Luther and Wittenberg. Although English Protestants initially aligned themselves with Lutheranism, the Reformed form of Protestantism began to gain traction in the later 1540s.

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