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

5. Henry’s Legacy

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In this module, we provide an overview of the Henrician church at the end of his reign, focusing in particular on: (i) the extent to which the Henrician Reformation was guided by Henry himself, and the extent to which he is lead by his advisors; (ii) the extent to which Henry considered himself a serious theologian: his authorship of The Defence of the Seven Sacraments (1521), his annotations on the Bishop's Book (1537) and the King's Book (1543), and his arguments with Cranmer over theological issues; (iii) the fact that both conservatives and evangelicals fall from grace throughout his reign: on the conservative side, Stephen Gardiner and Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk; and on the reformist side, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell; (iv) modern historians' view of Henry's beliefs and the nature of his Reformation: George Bernard's view that Henry was "a lifelong Erasmian", Richard Rex's view that Henry was more of a Catholic reformer than a Protestant one, and Diarmaid MacCulloch's view that Henry's religious policies were little more than "a rag-bag of emotional preferences"; (v) the consistency of Henry's belief that he, not the pope, should be Supreme Head of the Church of England; (vi) the consistency of Henry's opposition to certain doctrinal beliefs, e.g. sacramentalism, justification by faith alone, and clerical marriage; (vii) the extent to which Henry's will is responsible for the religious instability that follows his reign; and (viii) Henry's responsibility for the (extreme) reformist policies in the reign of Edward VI.


In this course, Dr Jonathan Willis (University of Birmingham) explores the Henrician Reformation. We begin by thinking about the 'health' of the church in late Medieval England, focusing in particular on the concept of lay piety. After that, we turn to some of the criticisms of the church that had been made prior to Henry – from Wycliffe and the Lollards in the 14th and 15th centuries to Christian humanists such as Desiderius Erasmus. In the third module, we think about Henry VIII's role in the English Reformation, tracing the events that led to the Break with Rome in 1534, before moving on in the fourth module to think about why the relatively limited changes represented by the Break from Rome led to such broader changes in the following decades.


Dr Jonathan Willis is a Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Birmingham. He is primarily a historian of the English reformation, with interests in the history and theology of late-medieval and early modern Europe more broadly. His research focuses on the religious and cultural history of England over the course of the long sixteenth century. His recent publications include Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010) and The Reformation of the Decalogue: Religious Belief, Practice and Identity and the Ten Commandments in England, c.1485-c.1625 (CUP, forthcoming 2017)

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Willis, J. (2018, August 15). The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 - Henry’s Legacy [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Willis, J. "The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 – Henry’s Legacy." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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