Absolutism and Parliamentary Rule in England
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, England had many rulers who held varying religious beliefs. These competing religious ideologies tore England apart. Issues such as the divine right of kings, the conflict between the English Monarchy, and the Protestant Reformation would all lead England to rule with a parliamentary monarchy. The Protestant Reformation (1517-1618) was a great religious movement that began in Germany and spread through Northern Europe. At this time, the medieval Roman Catholic Church was under scrutiny for abusing their power. People everywhere could be heard complaining about the clergy’s exemption from taxation and, in many instances, also from the civil criminal code. People also grumbled about having to support church offices whose occupants actually lived and worked elsewhere. Townspeople also expressed concern that the church had too much influence over education and culture (Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, & Turner, 2009, p. 510). ” The Protestant Reformation eventually broke the religious unity of Europe and began to divide Roman Catholics. Two of the greatest monarchs were the Tudors (1485-1603) and the Stuarts (1603-1714).
The Tudor period saw the confusion and upheaval of two changes of official religion, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. The Stuart dynasty was the result of the end of the Tudor monarchs with no heirs to the throne. The first Tudor king was Henry VII (1457-1509). “Henry shrewdly construed legal precedents to the advantage of the crown, using English law to further his own ends. He confiscated so much noble land and so many fortunes that he governed without dependence on Parliament for royal funds, always a cornerstone of strong monarchy (Craig, et al. , p. 486). When he died, the monarch’s finances were in a healthy surplus and the realm itself stable. King Henry VIII (1491-1547) reigned from 1509-1547. The English Reformation began during the reign of King Henry VIII. It began because King Henry VIII wanted a divorce from his wife Catherine because he had no male heir. The papacy denied his request for a divorce. Thomas Cromwell decided Parliaments powers should be used to decide. This resulted in a series of Acts that cut back papal power and influence. Henry VIII was granted his divorce and promptly married Anne Boyeln.
Pope Clement VII (1478-1534) responded with excommunication. Legislation from Parliament backed King Henry VIII’s decision to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Parliament believed that England was an empire that was governed by one supreme king who possessed authority within the realm and that no excommunications from Rome were binding. By doing this, Parliament’s involvement in making religious and dynastic changes was firmly established. This in turn forced clergy, office holders, and others to choose an allegiance to either the king or the Pope.
Due to the population overall being upset with the Roman Catholic Church because of the way they made money, Henry was able to use this to his advantage. In 1534 Henry established the Church of England as the official state church, with himself as the Supreme Head of the Church. This effectively ended the papal power. Another effect of the English Reformation was the Dissolution of Monasteries (1536-1541). King Henry VIII retaliated against the Pope by breaking up and selling off monastic lands and possessions. The smaller monasteries were shut down by 1536 while the larger and more valuable ones were shut by 1540.
King Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boyeln (1507-1536) also failed to produce a male heir. Anne was charged with treason and executed in 1536. Henry VIII married his third wife, Jane Seymour (1508-1537), in 1537. Edward VI (1537-1553) was the result of this union. Edward was educated by people who believed in Protestantism so that Henry VIII’s anti-papal nature was more firmly enforced. During Edward’s reign, the Church of England became even more Protestant since Edward himself was firmly entrenched in Protestant beliefs. “Under his regents, England enacted much of the Protestant Reformation.
Henry’s Six Articles and laws against heresy were repealed, and clerical marriage and Communion with the cup were sanctioned. An Act of Uniformity imposed Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer on all English churches, which were stripped of their images and altars. His forty-two-article confession of faith set forth a moderate Protestant doctrine (Craig, et al. , p. 507). ” During the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-58) Roman Catholicism was restored to England, and Protestants were repressed. “Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne and restored Catholic doctrine and practice with a single-mindedness that rivaled that of her father (Craig, et al. p. 507). ” Mary was succeeded on the throne by her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) who was Protestant, therefore restoring Protestantism to England. “An astute, if sometimes erratic, politician in foreign and domestic policy, Elizabeth was one of the most successful rulers of the sixteenth century (Craig, et al. , p. 516). ” With assassination attempts by Catholic extremists along with Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), and attempts to overthrow Elizabeth encouraged by the Pope, the Protestants grew suspicious of the Catholics which led to more persecutions of Catholics.
In 1603, King James I (1603-1625) succeeded Queen Elizabeth I. James I was also known as James VI of Scotland. He was the first king of the Stuart dynasty. King James I was known for being tolerant in terms of religious faith. In fact, his wife, Queen Anne (1574-1619), was a Catholic. However, the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, which was an attempt by conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament, resulted in the strict penalties being imposed on Roman Catholics. King James I was a believer in the divine right of kings.
Throughout Europe, monarchs maintained control of their kingdoms because of the belief that monarchs were chosen by God to rule and not by the people. The divine right of kings gave them authority over government and limited the rights of their subjects. Any attempt to get rid of a monarch or restrict his powers ran against the will of God. Charles I (1625-1649) was the son of King James I and took the throne after his father’s death. He also believed in the divine right of kings. King Charles I inherited tensions, especially regarding finances, with Parliament from his father.
Both King James I and King Charles I tried to rule as much as possible without Parliament interference. They “also resisted the Puritan demands and at the same time favored peaceful relations with the Roman Catholic powers Spain and France. Consequently the first two Stuarts confronted a combined political and religious opposition to their efforts to make the English monarchy the supreme power in the land (Craig, et al. , p. 608). ” Due to the continuing conflict between King Charles I and Parliament, by 1642 a civil war began primarily over religion and arbitrary taxation.
By 1645, Parliament along with Puritan forces had won the battle with Parliament soon abolishing “the monarchy, the House of Lords, and the established Church of England. What replaced them was a Puritan republic led by Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), the victorious general in the civil war (Craig, et al. , p. 608). ” Puritan disillusionment allowed for the Stuart monarchy to be restored with King Charles II (1630-1685). In 1685 King James II (1633-1701), who was a Roman Catholic, became monarch. In 1688 the Glorious Revolution began that “finally limited royal authority and established the supremacy of the Parliament (Craig, et al. p. 640)” with William III and Mary II at the throne. England had many rulers ascend to the throne with different religious and political agendas. Throughout, Protestantism and Catholicism varied as the primary religions. Parliament fought back and forth with the monarch over power. By the time of the Glorious Revolution, England ruled with a parliamentary monarchy. ?
References Craig, A. Graham, W, Kagan, D, Ozment, S, & Turner, F. (2009). The heritage of world civilizations. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc.