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

3. A Protestant Reformation?

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the nature of Henry VIII's reform of the church, focusing in particular on the extent to which it was a positively Protestant reformation. As we move through the module, we consider: (i) some of the central beliefs of Protestantism: justification by faith alone; the non-existence of Purgatory; the rejection of four of the seven Catholic sacraments; the rejection of transubstantiation; iconophobia, though not necessarily iconoclasm; and rejection of papal authority; (ii) Henry's rejection of papal authority, especially in the 1533 Act in Restraint of Appeals and the 1534 Act of Supremacy; (iii) the two phases of the Henrician reformation: the evangelical high point (1534-38) and the Catholic reversal (1538-47); (iv) the extent to which the Ten Articles (1536) reflected Protestant doctrine: one the one hand, the mention of only three sacraments, its scepticism over the use images in churches and the cult of saints; on the other, its belief in transubstantiation, its emphasis on the importance of good works as well as faith in attaining salvation, etc.; (v) the licensing of English scripture in 1536, and the publication of the Great Bible in 1539; (vi) the rolling-back of the spread of English scripture with the 1543 Act for the Advancement of True Religion; (vii) the extent to which the Six Articles (1539) and the King's Book (1543) reflected Protestant doctrine; (viii) the lack of key Protestant doctrines in the Henrician church: no justification by faith alone, no Communion under both kinds, affirmation of the validity of transubstantiation, and of the existence of Purgatory; (ix) the extent to which changes in the Henrician church can be seen as a process of Catholic reform that began in the 1510s-20s, of the kind that had already been seen on the Continent.


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.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Sowerby, T. (2018, August 15). The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 - A Protestant Reformation? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Sowerby, T. "The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 – A Protestant Reformation?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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