II.A.3 Politics of Reformation

Part II  –  Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology


Article 3 – Politics of Reformation

a.  England’s  Trials Under Henry VIII, Edward VI, & Queen Mary

b.  The Anabaptists

c.  The French Huguenots

d.  Effect of Reformation


a.  England’s  Trials Under Henry VIII, Edward VI, & Queen Mary

i.   Charles Cranmer under Henry VIII & Edward VI

Following Luther’s stand against Rome, the desire for reform spread to other countries causing great religious, political, and social strife that would last for many decades to come.  Central Europe broke out in open warfare, resulting in severe hardship for hundreds of thousands.  The restoration of truth was particularly bloody in central Europe.

In England, the separation from Rome began in 1529 – not for any noble reason, but rather for purposes relating to political-intrigue.  The break began when King Henry VIII found it personally-expedient to break with Rome because Rome would not approve a divorce with his wife Catherine who could not provide him with a male-heir.[1]  He decided to remove the Church of England from the papacy’s authority and declared himself as head of the church in 1534 in the Act of Supremacy.  Property in the control of Rome was passed into the hands of the crown and some of the citizens of England.  During this time, Sir Thomas More was executed for his opposition to Henry’s actions against the Catholic Church.

King Henry’s shameful-case for divorce was officially-advocated by Thomas Cranmer.  While a secret-admirer of reform, Cranmer took his orders from the king, and supported the proposition that the king was the sovereign over the church within his realm.

Cranmer was appointed the archbishop of Canterbury in 1532 and was soon forced to deal with another deceitful scheme of King Henry to allow his marriage to Anne Boleyn.  On May 23, 1533 Cranmer (complicit with the king) pronounced his marriage to Catherine as “against the law of God” along with the pretext that Henry would be excommunicated if he continued with his present-wife.  Henry was then (by a legal-technicality) free to marry Anne Boleyn, who was personally crowned “Queen” by Archbishop Cranmer.

During this time, the fires of reform were beginning to burn brightly, and Cranmer was forced to deal with the execution of reformer, John Frith.  Frith had been convicted of denying the (Catholic dogma of the) real presence in the eucharist.  He was sentenced to burn-to-death.  After personally trying to convince Frith to recant without success, he was forced to carry out Frith’s execution, and watched him burn at the stake.  This seems to have been a factor in intensifying Cranmer’s opposition to Rome, and in 1534 he severed the connection between the papacy and the church of England.  He then supported a slow-process of reforms that were much resisted by the loyal Catholics within England.  Cranmer was opposed by many bishops and clergy within the Church of England and had to arrange his appearances carefully to avoid public-confrontation.

In 1536 Cranmer was (again) forced into the terrible-place of having to decide between facilitating the king’s treachery against another wife, or taking a stand against his own life.  He chose the former, and pronounced Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn a nullity.  She was executed almost immediately thereafter.

Cranmer continued to support Protestant reforms, even though he was complicit with the criminal-acts of the king.  Eventually he began to lose favor with Henry, who began to rely increasingly on  certain Catholic-officials for counsel.  As Henry became increasingly swayed toward the Catholics, Cranmer moved his wife and children out of England for their safety.  In 1540, after cooperating with Henry in the nullification of his recent marriage to Anne of Cleves, a bond of trust developed between Cranmer and the king that solidified Cranmer’s authority in England.  Cranmer later divulged to Henry the infidelity of his next wife, Catherine Howard, which led to her execution.

In 1546 the papal loyalists under the bishop of London, Edmund Bonner (alias “Bloody Bonner, for his violence against Protestants under Queen Mary) commenced challenges to reforms and against  reformers having association with Archbishop Cranmer.   It was during this period (on January 28, 1547) that Henry VIII died, and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Edward VI.   This was a windfall for the reformer’s cause, as Henry’s executors placed Edward under the guardianship of Edward Seymour his Protestant-uncle.  As de facto ruler of England, Seymour secured Protestant-control in England, speeding along reforms.  The young king Edward was raised a devout Christian and sympathizer with these reforms.

ii.   Queen Mary & the Oxford Martyrs

Reforms came to a violent halt in 1553 when young-Edward died in July at only sixteen years of age.  The thought of Henry’s daughter Mary succeeding to the throne was unthinkable to Protestants given her strong Catholic sentiments.  They tried to subvert her accession by placing Edward’s cousin, sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey on the throne.  Nonetheless, Mary proclaimed herself “queen” and crowds assembled in London demanding the same.  After a short period of armed-conflict, Mary’s forces prevailed, after which Queen Mary executed her rival, the sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey.  Lady Jane Grey has been widely-accepted as a religious-martyr given that she was both a devout Christian and had been placed on the throne to some extent for the Protestant-cause in England.

Following the execution of Jane, Queen Mary restored the Catholic clergy to many of their positions, including the Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner.  She then commenced upon one of the most bitter persecutions of reformers that occurred in Europe.  Many protestant-reformers were beheaded or burned at the stake, and property taken from the papacy was seized for its return.  One of the more prominent executions during this time was the double-execution of reformed clergymen Nicholas Ridley (the protestant bishop of London) and Hugh Latimer (the protestant bishop of Worcester).

Latimer first got into trouble many years earlier in 1528 when called before Cardinal Wolsey and admonished for preaching that the Bible should be allowed translation into English.  Interestingly, when the Franciscon-friar, JohnForest was publicly-burned (for refusing Henry VIII as replacement for the Pope) it was Latimer that presided over that ceremony.

Ridley’s promotions in the Church of England were a part of Archbishop Cranmer’s efforts to slowing move reforms against much opposition from the clergy and laity alike.    When (in 1547) Cranmer appointed him Bishop of Rochester, he removed all the alters of his churches and replaced them with communion-tables.  He was also appointed to investigate Bishop Edmund Bonner for abuses of his office.  His findings were that Bonner should be removed.  With Queen Mary now on the throne, and Bishop Bonner restored to his earlier-estate, Ridley became a prime focus of the authorities.  Archbishop, Charles Cranmer was also arrested and put on trial for his reforms.

On October 16, 1555 Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer were burned at the stake.  They were not allowed to speak, Ridley even having hands placed over his mouth when he tried.[2]  Before the fire was lit, Latimer is supposed to have said to Ridley; “Be of good comfort master Ridley, and play the man; We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Dr. Ridley’s brother brought him a bag of gunpowder to tie around his neck, which he insisted be given to Latimer as well.  It is said that Latimer appeared to suffer very little as he called; “Lord, Lord, receive my spirit!”   We know that Ridley suffered-terribly.  In an effort to hasten his death, his brother-in-law added more brush to the fire, which caused only his lower-body to burn, but stopped the fire from ascending.   Someone from the crowd ran up and pulled off the brush that his brother-in-law had laid up, which allowed the flames to ascend, allowing Ridley to hang his head into the fire in order to explode the gunpowder, which killed him.   This did not occur until he had considerably burned-alive.

Charles Cranmer was forced to watch the ordeal of Latimer and Ridley from a window.  He (with others) were convicted of treason the following month and condemned to burn as well.  In the months that followed, Cranmer was convinced to recant some of his Protestant-beliefs, and to acknowledge that the Pope was the head of the church.   However, Bishop Bonner was not satisfied with the extent of his recantations and returned him to prison for execution.   On February 26, 1556 he made a full recantation that satisfied Bishop Bonner, and that there is no salvation outside the Catholic church.   While this should have resulted in his pardon, Queen Mary decided that it was too late for that.  He made a broken confession of sin with his last recantation on March 18thHe was told he would be making his final-recantation publicly.  He submitted a written-speech in advance, but as he was speaking, he deviated-from-the-script, renouncing his earlier-written-recantations.  He declared; “As for the Pope, I refuse him as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine.”   He declared that his hand (which had signed the recantations) would be punished by burning-first.  He was dragged from the pulpit and brought to the same place where Ridley and Latimer had been burned.  His last words were; “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”   

The Marian persecution of Protestants was intense over the five-year-period of her reign.  Many wealthier-Protestants chose to flee England.  During this period, 284 Protestants were executed, most of them by burning.  True doctrine came by way of blood.

b.  The Anabaptists

The Reformation re-established knowledge of the principle that Jesus Christ (not the pope, and not the king) is the head of His church, and that “salvation” is available to all men by means of faith rather than by means of the church.  However, the Reformational understanding of justification-by-faith was not so profound as we might assume.  “Salvation” was perceived as a matter of one’s mere profession.  Christianity became truly-cultural.  Today we use the term “cultural Christianity” merely because Christianity is the most common belief-system.  But in the days after the Reformation, if you were (for instance) English, that made you presumptively Christian.  Faith as defined in the gospel had very little to do with it.  Salvation was little more than a creed-accepted.  It was a simple as that.  If you were English and not a confessed-Christian, you were a heretic and essentially unsuitable for any important vocation or advancement in your profession.  Therefore Christianity became purely cultural.  Anyone with desire for success assumed the posture of a professing-Christian, regardless of their true-convictions.

This pure form of cultural-Christianity explains why infant-baptism continued to be practiced by the reformers while the baptism of adults was forbidden.  The Anabaptists refused to have their children baptized given their belief that baptism was a matter of one’s true faith rather than a superstitious rite.  When they resisted baptism of their children as counter to the true-meaning of faith in Christ, they were arrested and sometimes executed by the Reformers (so-called).  One of the more famous executions of an Anabaptist was Felix Manz, who was ceremonially-drowned in Lake Zurich under the famous-Reformer Huldrych Zwingli on the charge of re-baptizing adults once they made a profession of Jesus Christ.  As far as the Reformers were concerned, baptism was a rite (r-i-t-e) to be given everyone with no exceptions.  If you belonged to the culture, you were a “Christian”, and so babies were baptized.  A man or woman that had newly entered-upon a true heart’s faith and confession of Christ (if baptized on this basis) was considered a heretic!  So the Protestant understanding was still very dark!  And so, the Protestant Reformation, while a huge step out of the dark-ages was by no-means comparable with the enlightenment of the centuries that would follow.

c.  The French Huguenots

A French translation of the New Testament had been made some decades before Wycliffe made his English translation.  The Waldensians commissioned a version that was published in 1488 and the entire Bible was available to the French by 1528 in the translation by Jacques Lefevre.[3]  The availability of Scriptures, therefore allowed France to join the advance for truth before England.  Those accepting the reforms advocated by John Calvin became known as; Huguenots, and became strong critics of the Roman Catholic Church.  They rejected French-Catholicism’s seeming-obsession with the dead, its use of images in worship, pilgrimages, and rituals.  They argued that true religion was simply faith in God, and that it was Jesus Christ (rather than the papacy) that one must look-to for redemption.

The Huguenots were persecuted from their inception, although they had some protection from extermination under the reign of Francis I.  However, in 1534 the king changed his policy and denied the Huguenots protection causing an increase in persecution.  The accidental-death of King Henry II in 1559 and his replacement by Francis II caused a persecution that was encouraged by his wife, Mary Queen of Scots wherein Hugonauts were rounded up and imprisoned for their beliefs.  They were tried before Catholic judges, tortured, and burned at the stake until Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 as a widow.  With her departure, the persecution abated.

Bitter-conflict ensued for decades between the Catholics and the Huguenots that culminated in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre that lasted between August and October of 1572 wherein Catholics wantonly attacked and killed Huguenots by the thousands in several French cities.  An estimated 30,000 were murdered until October 3rd.  Amnesty was granted to the attackers the following year.  However in the years before and after the massacre many-times more than this were killed under heavy persecution causing French-protestants to flee to such places as England, Holland, and Switzerland.

In 1598, the Edict of Nantes established legal-boundaries that substantially-reduced the violence against Protestants.  However, in 1685, Louis XIV revoked the edict, declared Protestantism illegal, and recommenced the persecution.  This included; forbidding Protestant worship-services, excluding them from favored-professions, sending soldiers to loot or occupy their homes, forcible Catholic-education of their children, and other punitive-measures.  This made life so intolerable for Protestants that many thousands fled France.  However, the king’s measures proved terribly expensive for France as well, sending the country into economic and social turmoil, and causing may intellectuals, doctors, and businessmen to illegally-emigrate.  They were well-received in England, Ireland, and in America, where Huguenot communities flourished.  On the other hand, coercive French policies essentially stifled French expansionism into North America.  Those Huguenots that remained in France were effectively forced to re-convert to Catholicism.   Persecution ended with the Edict of Versailles in 1787 under Louis XVI which declared equal-rights to Protestants.  Three years later France issued an amnesty and call for Protestants to return to France.

d.  Effect of Reformation

If not resulting in an entirely-restored gospel, the Reformation was nonetheless the unbolting of a heavy-door with the hope of increased-light.  Much more a political movement than a spiritual movement, the Reformation consisted largely of battle of earthly-kingdoms and intensive turf-warfare.  In fact, the sixteenth-century was chiefly-characterized by the institutional “church” competing for world-domination against both secular-authority and against itself, unwilling to relinquish the central-role it had historically held over the hearts and minds of men.  Therefore the Reformation and its aftermath resembled any other world-conflict; the gathering of literal armies, political-intrigue, and power-shifts.   The Catholics would come to power, depose, and then begin to persecute the Protestants.  As well, Protestant-power brought similar-retribution upon Catholics.  The Reformation was not a true spiritual awakening in the gospel-sense.   But it did open the door for true spiritual awakenings to-come.

With the Reformation came the first in a series of real divisions in Christianity.  Where new-light was offered, there were some that chose to take their stand on those principles and so be severed from the main body of Christianity, content in following the established-pattern of man-made tradition.   The dividing-away of much of Christianity from the darkness of pagan forms of worship  established a creed based upon the principle that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.   Upon this bedrock uncovered by the Reformers after centuries of ruin, several of the main-body and rudimentary denominations of Christianity did form, such as the Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist traditions.  These were founded upon the rock that Jesus Christ (rather than any bishop or king) is the head of His church, and that salvation is available to all men by means of faith rather than by mere human ecclesiastical authority.

At the time, this assertion of gospel-truth was as much if not more a political stand than one doctrinal. Nonetheless, this valid and legitimate assertion of truth had spiritual effects upon humanity.  This knowledge had a liberating-effect upon the spirit of man, and secular-society as well was allowed a new strength and nobility that it had not previously attained.

This is the spiritual-principle that generated the natural-effect which we refer to today as the Renassiance.  The Reformation was that time in the course of human history when God began to move upon humanity in a restorative process.  For over a thousand years of the Dark and Middle Ages during which the gospel-light had been substantially extinguished there had existed a primitive European culture no more evolved than its predecessors; no advancement of science, medicine, the arts, the humanities, or in any of the other arenas of human-understanding and achievement.  Pre-Reformation Europe was as culturally and technologically-stagnant as it had been since the dawn of agrarian-society.  But as truth began to re-emerge as dust was blown off the ancient apostolic writings, something began to occur – the effects of which would begin to bear as profoundly-upon the secular-realm as it would upon the religous.   The natural man and his secular-society could not remain aloof or immune-from the effects of truth’s restoration.


[1] His present wife, Catherine of Aragon had only produced a daughter,  the future Queen Mary (known commonly as Bloody Mary for her violence against Protestants).

[2] Foxes Book of Martyrs, Edited by W. Grinton Berry, Fleming H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, NJ

[3] Jacques Lefevre 1455-1536  Univ of Paris professor.


About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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