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

2. Reform before the Reformation

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about some of the critics of the late Medieval church, focusing in particular on: (i) the criticisms of John Wycliffe (c. 1331-84), including his questioning of transubstantiation, of the value of pilgrimage, and of the veneration of saints and religious images; (ii) the religious movement known as Lollardy: the extent to which it was inspired by the writings of John Wycliffe, the range of beliefs held by Lollards (e.g. objections to pilgrimage, the payment of tithes to the church, the swearing of oaths, etc.), and the extent to which Lollardy was a private matter rather than being a public demonstration of faith; (iii) the emergence of Christian Humanism: its relation to Humanism more generally, the importance of Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), including his translation of the New Testament into Greek (and the difference between this translation and the 'official' translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate), the criticisms of the Catholic church made in his treatise In Praise of Folly (1509), and his view of what a Christian life should look like in his Handbook of a Christian Knight (1501); (iv) the importance of figures such as John Colet (1467-1519), whose 1512 Convocation Sermon was the first to call for "reformation" of the Catholic church; (v) the importance of Martin Luther and his 1517 protest against the sale of indulgences; (vi) the emergence of English evangelicals such as William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536), Simon Fish (died 1531), and Thomas Bilney (c. 1495-1531); and (vii) the extent to which criticisms of the Catholic church came from within the church itself.


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 - Reform before the Reformation [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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

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