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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603

 
   

England

The English Church

From the Conquest to the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church in England existed alongside the state in a sometimes uneasy partnership. One of the reasons cited by William the Conqueror for his invasion in 1066 was the reform of the Anglo-Saxon church, seen as backward compared to institutions on the continent. After the Conquest, links between church and state continued remained strong, and many prominent clerics served in administrative roles.

Medieval monasteries, abbeys and churches accumulated vast wealth from grants made to them by layGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window families of all social levels. By the fourteenth century the power and riches of the church was increasingly attracting criticism, however. The most important medieval English dissident group were the LollardsGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window, active from about 1380. Led by John Wycliffe, they declared that the Bible, not the church, was the true guide to faith, and translated it into English so that literate lay people could read it.

 

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Chertsey Abbey

 

Reward for the capture of Sir John Oldcastle

In 1534 Henry VIII made his break with the Pope in Rome and established a separate Church of England, with the monarch as its Supreme Head. The Reformation was accomplished with some violence, as the Crown suppressed the monasteries and seized their assets, prompting protests in the north known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

It was only under Henry's son Edward VI (1547-53) that ProtestantGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window theological changes were introduced. These were reversed when Edward's Catholic sister Mary I (1553-8) took the throne, but when her sister Elizabeth I (1558-1603) inherited in her turn, she returned England to the Protestant fold.

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With England a Protestant country, religious beliefs and national identity became closely linked. Under the constant fear of Spanish invasion, Catholics were seen as enemies of the state; supporters of Mary Queen of Scots were executed and recusantsGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window faced prosecution and harsh financial penalties.

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Detail from Parliament at Work. By permission of the British Library.
 
Detail from Parliament at Work. By permission of the British Library.