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The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47

5. Why was there so little opposition to the English Reformation?

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In this module, we think about why there was so little opposition to Henry's religious reforms, focusing in particular on: (i) Christopher Haigh's view that Henry's religious reforms were "an act of state imposed upon a hitherto contented Catholic people"; (ii) the acts of resistance to Henry's religious reforms, including large-scale rebellions such as the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-37), but also smaller acts of resistance, such as the refusal to comply with Cromwell's injunctions (1536, 1538); (iii) Henry's (initial) willingness to persuade opponents to his religious reforms to come round to his way of thinking, e.g. the London Charterhouse monks; (iv) the active participation of many people in Henry's reforms, either as a result of coercion (e.g. 1534 Treasons Act) or because of the economic benefits of doing so; (v) the evidence of enthusiasm for Henry's reforms, including the fact that for every individual who we know has failed to obey Cromwell's injunctions, there is another who has reported them; (vi) the popularity of anti-clericalism, which had been issue since before Henry's reforms; (vii) Christopher Haigh's view that anti-clericalism was a consequence, not a cause, of Henry's reforms; (viii) the enthusiasm which with people read the Bible in English; (ix) the effort made to reach out to ordinary people to persuade them of the necessity of Henry's reforms, including Stephen Gardiner's About True Obedience (1535) and Richard Morrison's 'An Invective ayenste the great detestable vice, Treason' (1539); (x) other suggestions for promoting the Supremacy: John Rastell's proposal of sending a pro-Supremacy pamphlet to every parish in the country, Richard Morrison's suggestion of an annual anti-papal celebration, with dramatic performances and bonfires; (xi) the use of drama to push an anti-papal line, e.g. John Bale's King Johan (1538); (xii) the stress of the rhetoric of obedience, including the concept of the divine right of kings; and (xiii) the piecemeal nature of Henry's religious reforms, which made it easier for people to swallow.


In this course, Dr Tracey Sowerby (University of Oxford) explores the reign of Henry VIII, thinking in particular about the English Reformation. We begin by focusing on decision-making in the Henrician court, before looking at the reasons behind the break with Rome—was it simply because Henry had fallen in love with another woman, or were there greater issues at stake? In the third module, we think about the extent to which the changes made by Henry were Protestant in nature, before moving on in the final two modules to think about the opposition to the changes that Henry was making.


Tracey Sowerby is a Senior College Lecturer in History at Keble College, Oxford. Her research interests cover early modern politics, religion, print culture, and intellectual culture and the interactions between them.

Her doctorate, and the book that developed out of it, examined the activities of Henry VIII’s most prolific propagandist, Richard Morison (c.1513-56), while at present she is researching the cultural history of Tudor diplomacy, thinking about how English diplomatic practice, personnel and theory adapted to three major sixteenth century developments: the introduction of resident ambassadors, the English Reformation and female rule.

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APA style

Sowerby, T. (2018, August 15). The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 - Why was there so little opposition to the English Reformation? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Sowerby, T. "The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 – Why was there so little opposition to the English Reformation?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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