{14}     Extension of Protestantism

ERA 5 << Modern Church (1): Reformation & Struggles (AD 1500–1700) >> SESSION 3

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 8,10-11

        14.1.1  Background

·         Tudors vs Stuarts: In 16th-c, Great Britain had two royal houses—Tudor in England and Stuart in Scotland. They were in open warfare. The older feudal nobility had practically disappeared by 1485 because it had committed class suicide during the Wars of the Roses. The Tudor rulers, who ruled England from 1485 to 1603, had created a strong national state.

·         Henry VIII: Arthur Tudor married Princess Catherine of Spain but died soon after. The Tudors arranged Catherine to marry Arthur’s brother Henry [1509], who was then crowned Henry VIII [1509–1547]. The canon law prohibited a man’s marriage with his brother’s widow and they obtained a papal dispensation for the marriage. But the legitimacy of the dispensation was in doubt. Mary Tudor was born but there was no male child.

·         Dispute: Henry wanted to have a legitimate male heir so he asked for an annulment of his marriage from the pope. But Catherine was the aunt of Emperor Charles V so the pope delayed his decision. The king’s advisor Thomas Cranmer consulted Catholic universities which all declared Henry’s marriage not valid.

        14.1.2  Creation of the Anglican Church

·         Resentment: There was a rising tide of national consciousness that supported the separation of the English church from the papacy because of papal ownership of land, papal taxation, and church courts rivalling royal courts. So the creation of the Anglican Church had national support.

·         William Tyndale (1494–1536)—The Biblical humanists began studying the Bible in the original language. The only English Bible at that time was the Wycliffe Bible which was distributed by the Lollards, the followers of Wycliffe. It was not very accurate, having been translated from the Vulgate. Tyndale decided to translate the Bible from the original languages. He completed the NT, and Miles Coverdale (1488–1568) translated the OT [1535]. Tyndale was martyred near Brussels [1536].

·         Tyndale’s translation: Most of the English translations of the NT before 20th-c were revisions of the Tyndale’s version. About 90% of the King James Version [KJV, 1611] and 75% of the Revised Standard Version [RSV, 1952] were Tyndale’s words.

·         Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556)—He was appointed archbishop of Canterbury [1532]. He supported Wycliffe’s idea of the creation of a national church, under the direction of civil authorities. Many changes in the Anglican Church were results of his influence.

·         Conflict: Henry VIII first accused the English clergy of violating a statute prohibiting recognition of any appointee of the pope without the ruler’s consent [1531]. He then fined the clergy and forced them to agree to promulgate no papal bull in England without the ruler’s consent [1532]. Then the Parliament banned appeals from church courts in England to papal courts in Rome [1533].

·         Act of Supremacy [1534]—This was an act passed by the Parliament to limit the authority of the RCC: [1] forbid the payment of contributions to Rome, [2] rule that Henry’s marriage was invalid, [3] make the king the “supreme head of the Church of England”, [4] decide that anyone who opposed the king was guilty of treason. Thomas More (1478–1535), the chancellor, was one of those who opposed it; he was tried and executed.

o        6 marriages: Henry married 6 times: [1] Catherine of Aragon who gave birth to Mary Tudor, [2] Anne Boleyn who gave birth to Elizabeth and who was later condemned to death, [3] Jane Seymour who gave birth to Edward and died of sickness later, [4] Anne of Cleves who was later divorced, [5] Catherine Howard who was later condemned to death, [6] Catherine Parr who survived Henry.

·         Continuous conflict: A doctrinal statement Ten Articles was published [1536]. It leaned slightly to Lutheranism. The Parliament first closed all smaller monasteries [1536]. Later, the larger monasteries were closed [1539]. The Great Bible was issued (revision of Tyndale’s and Coverdale’s work) [1539], and was placed in every parish church in England.

·         Remaining a Catholic: Henry VIII was not sympathetic to Protestants. Earlier in 1520, his rejection of Luther’s document on the sacramental system had earned him the title of “Defender of the Faith” from the pope. He wavered his support based on political considerations. Later, the Parliament passed the anti-Protestant Six Articles [1539] to restore some Catholic doctrines and practices, such as transubstantiation, communion in one kind, celibacy, and auricular confession. Although some claimed that he became a Protestant on his death-bed, he advocated Catholic ceremony and doctrine throughout his life.

·         Rapid changes: At first, the events were taken only as a schism. But many wanted to have deeper changes and the Reformation forces in England grew quickly.

        14.1.3  Advance & retreat

·         Edward VI [1547–1553]—Edward succeeded Henry VIII. He was sickly and reigned 6 years. The first 3 years was under the regency of Duke of Somerset, and Reformation in England advanced. The cup in the communion was given to the laity. Priests were allowed to marry [1549]. Images were withdrawn from the churches. The Book of Common Prayer [1549], mainly written by Cranmer, was published. It gave the English people a liturgy in their own language. It was carefully phrased so as not to cause unnecessary offence to Roman Catholics. However, the second prayer book [1552] was openly and unambiguously Protestant.

·         Queen Mary [1553–1558]—She was Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry’s first wife. She tried to restore Roman Catholicism in England, partly to assert her legitimacy. Open persecution of Protestant leaders became the policy of the kingdom. About 300 were burnt, including Cranmer and Ridley; countless others were imprisoned and exiled. She was thus known as the “bloody Mary”.

·         Queen Elizabeth I [1558–1603]—During her reign, Anglicans returned from the continent, bringing Zwinglian and Calvinist ideas. Elizabeth was Protestant but not an extremist. Her ideal was a church with common worship, but also one allowing great latitude for varying opinions.

·         Thirty-Nine Articles [1562]—It was originally written by Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley (Bishop of London) in 1553, as the doctrinal foundation for the Anglican Church. It was Calvinistic in tone, especially in predestination and the communion. But the retention of bishops, liturgy, and other forms of Catholic ceremony was in line with Lutheran policy. The articles sought to achieve a “via media” (middle way between the errors of the RCC and the Anabaptists) in which all but Roman Catholics could participate.

·         Conflict with the pope: The pope excommunicated Elizabeth [1570], and Elizabeth retaliated by an act aiming at the Jesuits who had planned to recapture England for the papacy. About 125 Jesuits were executed in England. The pope asked for the help of Philip of Spain. Philip gathered a great fleet known as the Spanish Armada and sailed to England [1588]. It was defeated by a smaller English fleet.

·         Mary Stuart: During Elizabeth’s reign, there were English Catholics who took up the cause of Mary Stuart, the exiled queen of Scotland and tried to help her to the English throne. There were several conspiracies by Catholics. In all, about 300 Catholics were executed (however, Elizabeth’s reign was 45 years compared to Mary’s 5 years). Mary Stuart was found to participate in the conspiracy and was condemned to death [1587].

·         Question of loyalty: Later, the Catholics were ready to distinguish between their religious obedience to the pope from their political and civil loyalty to the queen. They were then allowed to practice their religion openly.

·         High & low church: The uncertainty of its Protestant origins has left its mark in the Anglican Church. The church is internally divided into high church and low church. The high church includes those who emphasize the ritualistic aspects similar to the Roman Catholic Mass. The later Oxford Movement came from the high church. The low church includes those who emphasize the Protestant nature of Anglicanism, as represented by the evangelical churches.


        14.2.1  Political changes

·         Background: Scotland had been the ally of France. However, King James IV of Scotland married Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England [1502]. There was hope that the two kingdoms could finally live in peace. But King James V married Mary of Guise, a French royalty, and the two kingdoms continued their differences.

·         Reformation: Long before this time, the ideas of Wycliffe (the Lollards) and Huss (the Hussites) had found followers in Scotland. They emphasized the authority of the Bible and the need of a personal relation to Christ. In addition, some Scots had studied in Germany and returned with Protestant ideas. The Scottish Parliament issued laws against writings with Reformation ideas [1528]. Some were martyred. But the ideas had spread, especially among the nobility.

·         Rivalry: James V died [1542] and Mary Stuart was the heir to the throne. The Anglophiles (supporters of closer union with England) and the Francophiles competed in their design for Mary. The latter succeeded and Mary was sent to France for her education. Mary’s mother became the regent in Scotland.

·         Rebellion: A group of Protestants took the castle of St. Andrew and killed the archbishop. The government sent an army but was unsuccessful after a short siege. St. Andrew’s became the bastion of Protestant faith.

        14.2.2  John Knox & the Reformed Church

·         Early life: John Knox (1510–1572) was ordained a priest before 1540. He was appointed preacher of the Protestant community at St. Andrew’s. When France sent an army conquering St. Andrew’s, Knox was sent to hard labour for 19 months. After intervention by King Edward VI of England, he was released and became a pastor.

·         Exile: When Mary became queen of England, Knox went to study in Geneva with Calvin, and in Zurich with Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor.

·         Power struggle: Mary Stuart married the heir to the French throne [1558]; he became king Francis II [1559] but died one year later [1560]. When Mary Tudor died [1558], Mary Stuart laid claim to the throne of England. The Catholic regent of Scotland sent for support from France. The Scottish Protestant asked for support from Elizabeth I who sent troops to Scotland [1560]. Then the Scottish regent died and the armies of England and France withdrew.

·         Scottish Church: In Scotland, the Protestant lords united in a covenant [1557], promising to serve “the very blessed Word of God, and His congregation,” leading to the name congregationalist. The Lords of the Congregation organized a church [1158]. Knox returned and helped sustain the Protestants with his sermons and the force of his conviction. They formed the Reformed Church of Scotland [1560]. Knox led in the drafting of the Scots Confession [1560], the Book of Discipline [1561], the Book of Common Order [1564]. The Scots Confession was ratified by the Scottish Parliament and became the confession of the church until it was replaced by the Westminster Confession [1647].

·         Return of Mary Stuart: Knox had disputes with the lords when he tried to use the riches of the church to establish a system of universal education, and to lighten the load of the poor. The lords wanted to possess the riches for themselves. So they invited Mary Stuart to return to Scotland. Mary Stuart’s husband died [1560] so she returned to Scotland [1561]. At first, she followed the advice of her half-brother James Stuart, Earl of Moray (1531–1570), a Protestant leader. But she had frequent conflicts with Knox.

·         Death of Mary Stuart: Mary Stuart pursued the throne of England. She agreed with Spain to uproot Protestantism in Scotland and declared that she would soon sit on the English throne. The lords rebelled; she was defeated and escaped to London. Mary was received generously by Elizabeth I. However, there were numerous conspiracies to request Spanish troops to invade England. When Mary was found to take part, she was executed [1587]. Moray became the regent of Scotland and the Reformed Church won over Scotland.

·         Union of England & Scotland: After the religious barrier between England and Scotland was gone, the two lands were under the same ruler [1603]. They later formally became one kingdom with one Parliament [1707].


        14.3.1  A different route to Reformation

·         Support of the monarchs: In Germany, the nobility asserted its power against the monarchy in the struggle for religious freedom. In Scandinavia, it was the monarchs who took up the cause of Reformation.

·         Revolution: Kalmar Union (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) was in name a united country but the king only effectively controlled Denmark. When the Reformation broke out in Germany, King Christian II, brother-in-law of Emperor Charles V, requested troops of the emperor to conquer Sweden [1520]. After the conquest, the king ordered the massacre of Stockholm, murdering the leading aristocrats and church officials. As a result, he lost the people’s trust. The people revolted [1523] and Christian II fled to the Netherlands. In 1531, he landed in Norway but his uncle and successor Frederick I defeated him and imprisoned him until his death.

·         Sweden: After the massacre of Stockholm, a young man Gustavus Vasa (1496–1560) led a group of followers and proclaimed a national rebellion. They won many battles and Vasa became king of Sweden [1523]. He employed a subtle strategy of dividing his enemies (the clergy and the nobility). With the support of the people, he pushed the advance of Protestantism. Lutheranism was made the religion of the state [1527].

·         Denmark: King Christian III, a converted Lutheran, brought the entire Danish church under the Augsburg Confession [1536].

·         Norway: Frederick I allowed religious freedom and his subjects mostly became Protestants; Lutheranism became the state religion [1539].

·         Finland: The country, under the control of Sweden, formally accepted Lutheranism [1530].

·         Iceland: The bishop was under the influence of Lutheranism and introduced it to Iceland. Lutheranism became the official religion [1554].

·         Related to the Bible: It is notable that most countries came under the influence of the Reformation after the publication of the Bible in their vernacular languages.


        14.4.1  Reformation through bloodbaths

·         Background: At the Reformation, the low countries (Seventeen Provinces) were ruled by Emperor Charles V. There were 3 separate linguistic regions: French in the south, Dutch in the north, and Flemish in the centre.

·         Reformation: The low countries had been a fertile ground for Protestantism, with influx of Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anabaptists. Charles V issued numerous edicts against Protestants and thousands died.

·         Suppression: Philip II, son of Charles V, became king of the region [1555]. Then, he became king of Spain [1556]. He planned to use the low countries at the service of Spain. The leaders in the low countries resented. Philip sent Spanish troops residing in the region and gave the bishops inquisitorial powers. The leaders tried to negotiate, but Philip responded with the enforcement of the decrees of the Council of Trent and executed Protestants whose leaders were described as beggars of the sea.

·         William “the Silent”, Prince of Orange (1533–1584)—He was one of the Dutch leaders. He understood the treachery of the emperor so he advised his friends to prepare for armed struggles, but no one heeded. Philip sent Duke of Alba to invade and to act as regent [1567]. He executed thousands. William raised a German army to fight. He was defeated on land but won on the sea. With the support of the French, William invaded the region. Right then, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day occurred. William could not cooperate with the French and disbanded his troops.

·         Massacre: Alba then conquered many cities and laid massacre, killing indiscriminately, even women and children. The successor of Alba was Requesens who sought a separate peace with the Catholics of the southern provinces. The Spanish army attacked the north. At the siege of Leiden, William opened the dikes and flooded the land around Leiden. The Spanish were forced to abandon the siege.

·         End: The Pacification of Ghent [1576] reunited the people of the region and allowed religious freedom. Yet King Philip continued to fight to conquer the low countries. William was assassinated [1583] but his son Maurice led and defeated the Spanish invaders, leading to the final truce [1607]. The northern provinces were Calvinist and the southern provinces remained Catholic. They were later divided into 3 countries: the Netherlands, Belgium [1830], Luxembourg [1839].

·         National church: The Belgic Confession was approved by the national synod of the Dutch Reformed Church at Dort [1574].


        14.5.1  Early Reformation

·         French Calvinists: With the advent of Reformation, Protestantism gained many adherents in France, particularly among the learned and the nobility. Churches scattered all over the country. They were mostly Calvinists and were called Huguenots. The Waldensians of southern France also adopted Calvinism [1532].

·         Persecution: Francis I of France first sought close ties with the German Protestants, in order to weaken Charles V. So he was constrained to allow temporary religious freedom for Protestants in France. Later, persecution began. Many Protestants exiled to neighbouring countries, such as Holland and Switzerland. Calvin was one of the exiles.

·         Sanctuary: In the neighbouring kingdom of Navarre (between France and Spain), Francis’s sister Margaret married to King Henry. She, a Calvinist, encouraged the reform movement and offered sanctuary to French Protestants.

        14.5.2  St. Bartholomew’s Day’s Massascre [1572]

·         Rounds of persecution: Francis I was succeeded by Henry II [1547] who continued the persecution of Protestants. Then Francis II became king [1559–1560], followed by Charles IX [1560–1574], then followed by Henry III [1574–1589]. All 3 were sons of Catherine de Medici who held the real power and was the regent for a period.

·         False reprieve: Catherine was in rivalry with the Guise family of Lorraine. As the Guises were staunch Catholics, Catherine cultivated the Protestants for reasons of policy rather than conviction. Catherine issued the Edict of St. Germain [1562] which granted Huguenots limited freedom of religion. The Guises disobeyed the edict and massacred the Huguenots at Vassy. The religious wars in France were the result, lasting for over 30 years.

·         Massacre: The Huguenot leaders were attending a royal wedding in Paris of Henry Bourbon, king of Navarre [1572]. Catherine and Charles IX, fearing the power of the Huguenots, conspired with Duke of Guise and murdered 2,000 Huguenots on St. Bartholomew’s Day [August 24, 1572]. The massacre was then ordered to the whole country. It lasted several months and an estimated 100,000 died. In Rome, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a celebration for the massacre.

        14.5.3  Edict of Nantes [1598]

·         Suppression: The Huguenots were not wiped out. They gathered in strongholds of La Rochelle and Montauban and rebelled against the king and the Guises. The war continued.

·         Henry Bourbon: As Catherine’s sons had no successor, Henry Bourbon became the legal successor. Henry Bourbon had changed his religion 4 times out of political expediency. At this time, he was officially Protestant. The Guises could not tolerate a Protestant king and made up false documents to contest the throne. However, Henry of Guise was murdered [1588] at the same place where he planned the St. Bartholomew’s Day’s massacre 16 years before.

·         Change of religion: Henry III was killed [1589] and the throne passed to Henry Bourbon as Henry IV [1589–1610]. The Catholics wanted to depose Henry IV so he changed his religion a 5th time and became officially a Catholic. He was probably a Protestant at heart.

·         Edict of Nantes [1598]—Henry IV granted Huguenots freedom of worship, except in Paris. He also granted them fortified towns. He was assassinated by a Catholic for favouring the Protestants [1610].



[1] treasure our heritage

Our English Bible is a heritage from Tyndale who made the ultimate sacrifice for his work, being murdered as a martyr.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

God raised up many able generals to ensure the success of the Reformation, including Vasa, William the Silent and his son.

[3] avoid past errors

The massacres in France and Holland were results of over-confidence and excessive trust of the governments by Christians.

[4] apply our knowledge

Reformation came to those countries where the Bible was read and obeyed by the people. Today’s revival will be the same.

[5] follow past saints

The scholarly Cranmer and Knox led the Reformation in Britain.



        How was the Reformation in England and Scotland aided by the political situation at that time?

o        Henry VIII, the initiator the Reformation in England, was not sympathetic of the Protestants’ cause. He broke with Rome for his selfish personal reasons.

o        There were powerful and intelligent people in England supporting the Reformation, including Cranmer, Knox, Duke of Somerset, and Earl of Moray.

o        The intervention by Emperor Charles V was restrained by troubles on the continent.

o        The reign of “bloody” Mary Tudor was short [1553–1558].

        What were the favourable conditions that led the Scandinavian countries follow Protestantism?

o        The Scandinavian countries were closer to the influence of the Germans than Rome.

o        The massacre of Stockholm by Catholic Christian II led to rebellion of the Swedes.

o        Protestant Gustavus Vasa was an able military general and strategist.

        What were the factors that led to the eventual liberation of the Low countries from the severe persecutions of the Spanish?

o        Philip II’s and Alba’s murderous actions caused the rebellion.

o        William of Orange was a tireless fighter, even if he lost many times.

o        The low lying land of Holland allowed the success of the Dutch navy.

o        Maurice, the successor of William, was an able military general.

        The Edict of St. Germain (1562, giving the Huguenots religious freedom) was followed by the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day (1572). What lessons can we learn from this?

o        The civil authority had its sole interests in its own retention of power. Those in power did not honour their own promises. They could not be fully trusted.

        Henry Bourbon (later Henry IV) changed his religion (between Catholic and Protestant) 5 times due to political expediency. How should we judge his actions?

o        His apparent lack of loyalty was the result of a conflict between his religious conviction and political considerations. For example, if he had not changed for the 5th time, he could lose the throne and the country could be in continuous turmoil of religious wars. So his action was probably justified. It is a question of conviction (principle) vs. expediency. Only the person involved can say whether he believes that his action was from God.