Parliamentary Reforms

Parliament met infrequently and that in 1529 was after a lapse of seven years. But time having passed, so also had the criticisms of the church gathered pace while the church continued to harass protestants, Lollards, Wyckcliffians, Lutherans, and just about anybody who dared to stand against them. The fires of martyrdom continued to burn brightly and the Lollards Tower at Lambeth Palace had regular visitors. The mood of parliament, was largely governed by Henry`s attitudes, so that as he prepared to dispute with the Roman church  over papal supremacy and his divorce, the House of Commons was readied to wage war against the numerous abuses that had been foisted upon England.

Sir Henry Guilford, a friend of Tyndale,  complained bitterly at the charges that had been made for probate of a will – ” I had to pay one thousand marks sterling ” he said.  “Priests”, said another,  “have farms, tanneries and warehouses  all over the country. In short they take everything from their flocks  and not only give them nothing, but even deny them the word of God.” The priests began to panic and a convocation of the see of Canterbury assembling in Westminster on 5 November thought it their duty to respond.  It was therefore decreed that priests should no longer keep shops or taverns, indulge in dice or other forbidden games, pass the night in suspected disreputable places (brothels)  or go about with sporting dogs or hawks or other sporting birds of prey in their hands. Finally they were not to hold suspicious intercourse with women (meaning in today`s jargon ` chatting up` for an ulterior purpose. This is reminiscent of Bishop Paterson of Galloway, also known as Bishop Bandstrings, because of his lewd and suggestive signals that he made to ladies in his congregation whilst preaching.

These efforts did not please the commons and three bills were introduced  having reference to  the fees on probate of wills, mortuaries, pluralities, non residence and the exercise of secular professions.  Fisher, Bishop of London, made some derogatory remarks when the bills were presented in the Lords which prompted a complaint to Henry. This drew a mumbled excuse from Fisher and the commons pushed on with the reforms. Henry, never one to lose an opportunity, placed a bill before the commons making over to himself all the monies that he had borrowed from his subjects. Perhaps it was the sheer cheek of it, or patriotism, or more likely fear by the lenders, but it was passed and the commons in return obtained the kings signature to their bills.

 Henry then took in hand matters himself by issuing , on 16 September 1530,  a Proclamation that nothing should be purchased from Rome. This was a policy to prevent the intrusion into the realm of directives  etc from without and relevant to his quest for a divorce since it technically prevented an appeal to Rome by Catharine. But Henry did not commence withdrawing the powers of the clergy and in particular did little to hinder their pursuit of heretics, howsoever they determined them, not until 1534.

“A Proclamation of the King, that nothing should be purchased from Rome. 1530.

The kings highness straitly chargeth and commandeth, that no manner of person, what estate, degree, or condition soever he or they be of, do purchase, or attempt to purchase, from the court of Rome, or elsewhere, nor use and put its execution, divulge or publish any thing, heretofore within this year past purchased, or to be purchased hereafter, containing matter prejudicial to the high authority, jurisdiction, and prerogative royal of this his said realm, or to the let, hinderance, or impeachment of his grace’s noble and virtuous intended purposes in the premises, upon pain of incurring his highness’s indignation, and imprisonment, and further punishment of their bodies for their so doing, at his graces pleasure, to the dreadful example of all other. [September 16th.]”

Having finally settled the matter of the divorce and had the Pope`s interdict against him and his realm, Parliament and Henry began to unpick some, but not all, of the excesses the country had experienced at the hands of the prelates and Rome. They began with acts against the Pope`s Laws in 1534 which, in particular, rescinded the dreadful “Ex Officio” Act that facilitated burning for heresy, although it replaced it by a law requiring trial by jury, and the kings writ for executions.

It was  an Act of 9 June 1535 that finally declared and abolished the power of the pope, although the church continued with catholic rites and was only very gradually revamped.

The kings Book of Articles in 1536 preceded a range of Injunctions issued on the kings behalf by Thomas Cromwell, the vice regent. These dealt with matters such as the number of Holy Days and priestly behaviour. But most importantly were those proscribing that every parish should provide a Bible in English to which the people should have free access; and the Paternoster, Creed and God`s Commandments must be in English.

  Later injunctions in 1538 enjoined the parsons as well as the parishes (jointly) to provide the English Bible and required that the people be taught  to understand the Lord`s Prayer, and Creed in English; quarterly sermons to be given;  images etc to be taken down and tapers, candles etc dispensed with; a church register to be kept and birth, marriages and burying recorded; and tithes to be paid. Yet again Gardiner intervened with Henry to have injunctions raised that inhibited the importation, printing and publishing of books in English. Tucked away in them were injunctions inhibiting the common man from disputing (ie talking about) the sacraments, and retaining the holy water, processions, kneeling  bearing candles etc that had previously been remitted.

In 1539 the prelates, and especially Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, weedled Henry into agreeing  an Act of the Six Articles. Allegedly needed to reinforce unity among the people, it was no more than the reinstatement of doctrines of the church of Rome, in particular transubstantiation, the mass and auricular confession. Along with the articles were a range of heavy penalties, and restatement of burning for alleged heretics who denied by word, act or deed the churches view on transubstantiation. Given all the preceding changes made and doctrines expunged, it is difficult to understand why Henry agreed these changes; but then he was set on another marriage which would have occupied his mind. It was largely through the endeavours of Thomas Cromwell that many, indeed most, changes got onto the statute book. But even he was set upon by Gardiner and his clique and cast down in 1540.

Henry divorced Anne of Cleves (concluded in parliament on 16 July 1540) and immediately married Katharine Howard. But she was soon beheaded, along with two alleged paramours Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper, at the Tower on 12 Feb 1542. In the meantime Henry increasingly missed Cromwell and turned to Cranmer for advice. It was an important turning point as Henry started to correct some of the errors of the past. On 4 October 1541 Henry wrote to Cranmer about abolishing idolatry and followed it with  a Proclamation refuting the papal view to refrain from, eggs butter, white meat etc in Lent for the very sensible reason that there was a shortage of fish, along with  rising prices.

On 8 July 1546 the malign influence of the Bishop of Winchester was again evident when there was a Proclamation abolishing  English Books, including the New Testament of Tyndale in English. The Act had a long schedule of books approaching a hundred in number, not approved by the prelates who had prepared the document. At the top of the list was `The Whole Bible` – the Miles Coverdale version.

On 28 January 1547 the nine year old Prince Edward succeeded to the throne with Lord Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, his uncle, as his protector and guardian. Seymour was a protestant and a keen Reformer who, no doubt, worked closely with Cranmer. Early tasks were the abolition of the Act of Six Articles, followed  shortly by the scriptures to be in English, and masses abolished. It was also a time of change among the prelates as new bishops and priests committed to the reformed church, took up their posts. An early follow up action was the appointment of commissioners (inspectors may be a better word) whose task was to visit each bishop and his see to verify that all was being done as enacted. The rapid improvement in affairs was no doubt aided by the incarceration in the Tower of Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, along with Tonstal, Bishop of Durham; and the deposition of William Bonner, Bishop of London. The new ruler and his council were not easily swayed from their purpose and from then on the influence of the prelates declined.

A very substantial schedule of `Injunctions` was proclaimed during August and September 1547 for the better working of the church. In November parliament was recalled and the entire pantheon of laws against the Lollards, and the like,  the burning of heretics; prohibitions against books and the Bible, &c, from the time of Richard II, Henry V,  and Henry VIII were abolished.

all and every other act of parliament concerning doctrine or matters of religion; and all and every branch, article, sentence, matter . pains or forfeitures contained , mentioned or  in any wise declared , in any of the same acts and statutes, should thenceforth be utterly repealed, made void, and of none effect.”

The same session declared that the Communion should be shared by the people themselves and moreover, directed that it should not be denied ” to any person that  would devoutly and humbly desire it; ” In March 1547/8 there followed the unified Order of Communion which was consolidated in “A Book of the Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments” . This was shown to parliament  in November that year and again in March 1549 when it was approved and ordered to be printed.