Kings, Queens, and Christianity


When thinking of the Reformation, it is only fair to look at England. The trials in England have a major hand in suggesting religious reform. It was Henry VIII who wanted a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because of the need of an heir that she could not produce at her elder age. This would impact England through the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

The Catholic Church did not condone this act, but Henry was already in the midst of an affair with another woman. What Henry did next flipped the kingdom of England inside-out. He took over the Church of England and separated from the Roman Catholic Church. The Oath of Supremacy in 1534, solidified this claim. Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury), was a strong advocate for Henry VIII. He agreed that Henry should have a divorce, and he should be remarried to Anne Boleyn. This would help inspire The Book of Common Prayer.

Thomas Cranmer began reading and thinking about texts by Martin Luther, who primarily led the way for reform. It was in these readings that Cranmer tried to develop liturgy for the newly founded Anglican Church. His start began in 1538, but it was not widely accepted by the few who saw it and Cranmer was now being very cautious because of this. So, he sat down at his desk and began to read more and ponder ways to make the book more beneficial to the King’s desire.

King Henry had become a very unpredictable man. Alan Jacobs says, “Henry had injured himself in the leg at a tournament in 1536, and it never healed properly.” Not to mention he was getting larger and larger. He began to become confusing to Cranmer. Thomas Cranmer never knew what the king was thinking. The king was slowly treading back to the old ways, and the old Latin writings were becoming desirable to him again. It was to Cranmer’s understanding that the English Church studied out of the Latin writings for over a thousand years.

King Henry’s lust to have an heir provoked this process to unfold. The king carried little care that the pope excommunicated him. In fact, Henry adored the fact that he could be with anyone he desired. This gave the king freer reign for making his decisions, and he sought out Thomas Cranmer to help this new Church of England. The Book of Common Prayer would help nail the final pieces together in making England Protestant in worship. Before this book, after Henry had taken over, the services still felt very “Catholic.”

            In 1549, this would change. This marks the year of the book’s first publication. This publication had many prayers that would help the English people understand easily, and it was in English and not Latin. These prayers did not follow that of the old Catholic sayings. The Book of Common Prayer still held true to a liturgical reading, but it let the readers feel more at ease when they would pray. It basically became their guideline to worship. All the sacraments were changed accordingly, but they were still held in the highest of regard for God.

The prayer book would become an issue after Edward VI. He died at the age of fifteen years old, and the next in line was Mary I. She was a devout Catholic. She would commence to torturing Thomas Cranmer and others who acted towards religious reform. She would later be known as the “Red Queen” because of her random killings on the protestants. Her reign was the most destructive to the Anglican Church because of her efforts to return it to Catholicism. She would exile countless protestants from the continent, and this would affect the power the church had to repel the queen’s demands. Parliament would sign an act of repeal that undid everything that Edward VI did for the reform effort. Many of the exiled reformers would try to course a route to the New World to create their own ways of worship. They moved with a purpose to get away from the wrath that Mary bestowed upon any doctrine used other than those provided by the Catholic Church.

Under Elizabeth I, the queen that took over after Mary, things changed. Oppression was stopped, and new policies were created to help the protestant movement. Everything done in Parliament to rebuke The Book of Common Prayer was removed immediately. Under her, the book would combine parts of the 1549 and 1552 versions. Changes made would be: kneeling during communion, the omission of the Black Rubric, and the words used to address the ceremonies would be more formulaic. She ordered the Crucifix to be placed in the Chapel Royal, which was a major move to show how Jesus was crucified on the cross. She made sure that she did not choose a radical side to the madness. Her devotions were to the betterment of her people. She wanted a sense of harmony despite all the religious turmoil. Her main goal was to get England back in one solid piece. Her sister’s reign was the thorn in her side, and she wanted the English people to be together under one church and under one writing. She sought a structure that was strong, but not tyrannical. 1563 called for more ecclesiastical reform, and Puritanism formed as a radical protestant party. In the year 1586, The Book of Common Prayer went under more reform. Also during this year, the liturgical writing took the form and style of Geneva.

Henry VIII sparked the creation of this book, and his son would only inspire the use of the book more. Mary I went out of her way to destroy all that the reforms set out to do, and she made many Protestants run away from their homes. She also killed those who stood in her way. However, Elizabeth I would turn the history of England around with her devout support of uniting the people of England together under one book practice and one country.