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

1. The Late Medieval Church

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the authority and health of church in England on the eve of the Reformation, focusing in particular on: (i) the view of A. G. Dickens in The English Reformation (1964), which described a church that was riven by conflict, that was morally and spiritually exhausted, and that it had lost its draw to the people of England, and the appeal of Protestantism as a result of this; (ii) the rise of revisionist historians in the 1970s-80s, including Christopher Haigh, Jack Scarisbrick, and Eamon Duffy, who held that the church was actually in good health on the eve of the Reformation; (iii) the importance of the church in shaping people's lives, both on an annual basis with annual festivals, but also across their whole lifecycle with the seven sacraments, from birth (Baptism) to death (Extreme Unction); (iv) the importance of the church in mapping out what was important in life, e.g. the avoidance of sin, the attainment of salvation, etc.; (v) the importance of good works in attaining salvation, including making charitable donations, going on pilgrimages, visiting relics, and working in guilds and/or confraternities to raise money for the church; and (vi) the level of (financial) investment in churches in this period, as seen in churchwardens accounts, including in the repair of church buildings, investment in bells and church organs, and the decoration of church interiors, e.g. paintings, statues, altar cloths, etc.


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 - The Late Medieval Church [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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

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