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Why, in 1529, did the Church in England begin to come under attack?

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Why, in 1529, did the Church in England begin to come under attack? In 1529, the Church in England came under attack from Henry VIII after Pope Clement VII refused to grant him an annulment for his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It is conventionally believed that there were two main factors which led to the English Reformation: Henry's failure to receive a divorce, and general discontent amongst the laity towards the Church. Traditional historians have long believed that 'if one thing can be said of the English people early in the sixteenth century it is that they thought little of priests.' They also believe that, even without the divorce, the Church in England would have experienced some form of reformation, due to widespread anti-clericalism. 'The higher clergy were disliked because they were wealthy and ostentatious; Wolsey provided a suitable epitome of this alleged trait. The lesser clergy - parish priests and unbeneficed men - earned contempt and dislike by rapacity and pretensions with which their intellectual equipment, material means, and private morality too rarely kept pace.' No aspect of the Church was same from attack. These historians, such as Elton or A.G. Dickens, believe that there were several reasons why the laity had become so anti-clerical. The first of these was the wealth of the Church, which was concentrated mainly in the hands of the 'larger monasteries, the bishops, and some prosperous incumbents.' ...read more.


'Heresy was not common...it would seem that Englishmen were well enough satisfied with the traditional faith as far as its teachings were concerned.' There is also much evidence over and above the contemporary complaints which supports the view that the Church was actually in a very good condition before the Reformation. Rather than lower standards, as traditional historians have claimed, the large number of people becoming members of the clergy raised competition for jobs, and therefore of the Church as a whole. The clergy was the best educated and the keenest that England had ever had, and the Church was very well staffed. Studies into the extent of pluralism and non-residence have shown that most of the parish clergy carried out their duties conscientiously and to the satisfaction of their parishioners. A study of episcopal records in the diocese of Lincoln between 1514-1521, for example, shows that only 4 per cent of parishes complained about inadequate performance of spiritual duty by their clergymen. There were actually very few complaints about the level of taxation by the Church, and the fact that people were willing to leave money to the Church in their wills shows the faith that they had in it. The Hunne case, which has often been cited as an example of the level of corruption within the Church, was a one-off circumstance which was certainly not typical, and cannot be used as a generalised view of the Church. ...read more.


Although the Pope agreed to the divorce proceedings being heard in England, this was only a delaying tactic: in July 1529, Campeggio, who had been sent to England to preside over the hearing, insisted on a summer recess, at which point the Pope decreed that the case would be heard in Rome after all. Wolsey had failed to secure Henry a divorce, and he was destroyed by it. Henry, on the other hand, had to look for different means to marry Anne Boleyn. It therefore appears that, rather than the traditional view of the people in England completely dissatisfied with the state of the Church and clamouring for reform, they were actually, in general, quite content with the Church, and that it was, in fact, Henry's need for a divorce which caused the Reformation in England. 'Though so much else was at work, it will be seen that if Henry had not weakly allowed himself to be captured by Anne Boleyn, and then allowed himself to be pushed into the extreme position of breaking with the Papacy rather than disappoint the woman who had infatuated him, England would be Catholic today; and if England had remained Catholic the Reformation elsewhere would certainly have died out.' Although this appears to be rather an extreme view, it does show that some historians do believe that the divorce was the one and only reason behind the Reformation. ...read more.

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