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The English Reformation

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German Protestant minister: "So, it is to be understood- that the Pope, far from being a descendant of St. Peter- is a hypocrite, a sinner, a hand made unto the Devil; the living Antichrist on Earth! This is what Luther teaches us, in order to free us from false worship and false idols. In order, that we might return to the true religion, and take the true and fruitful path to salvation! Our message of hope- of liberty, of truth- is already spreading from one corner of Europe to the other. Here, in England, we have planted a seed that will- with prayer, with action, and perhaps even with sacrifice- grow one day to become a great tree, whose branches will overreach the Kingdom and destroy the putrid monastic houses of the Antichrist! (pause) And this tree... this tree will be called the Liberty Tree. And in it's branches... all the Angels of the Lord will sing 'Hallelujah'."

Thomas Cromwell: (nods slowly, smiles) "...Hallelujah."

Symbolism

The English Reformation is the process by which the Church of England broke with Rome and established itself as a new branch of Protestantism; it remains a vital theme in all four seasons of The Tudors.  Although the breaking with the Catholic Church in England in episode 2.02 was achieved by King Henry VIII for entirely personal reasons (Henry himself continued to denounce Martin Luther as a heretic, and- for the most part- did little to change Catholic doctrine) Lutheran ideas have already arrived England from Germany and influenced members of the English court and clergy, as shown in Season One.  After the break with Rome in Season Two, the Reformation is contested by two factions throughout the series- the pro-Lutheran Protestants, pushing for further reform of the Church, and the pro-Catholics, attempting to procure a counter-Reformation.  Whether either faction holds dominance depends on who, in turn, holds King Henry's favor; his position as Head of the Church of England (after the break with Rome) gives him near-absolute power in England.

The strong rivalry between the Catholic and Protestant factions continued into the short reigns of Henry's children King Edward (a Protestant) and Queen Mary (a Catholic), and resulted in hundreds of executions for 'heresy' on both sides.  This rivalry was finally subdued (but by no means extinguished) after Mary's death when her half-sister Elizabeth (a moderate-minded Protestant) took the throne for 44 years- sabilizing the religious strife of the country and allowing England to finally be established as a Protestant country.


Season One: Henry's 'Great Matter' and ProtestantismEdit

"You see, when Martin Luther denounced the corruption of the Church and the Clergy, he was right. Had he stopped there and not gone on to destroy the sacraments, I would have gladly raised my pen in his defense, rather than attacking him."- Henry to Eustace Chapuys, summarizing his attitude towards Luther.

During Season One of The Tudors, England initially remains a committedly Catholic country, opposing the spread of Lutheranism through Germany.  King Henry's government is dominated by several very Catholic figures: Chancellor and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry's old teacher Sir Thomas More and Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk.   Henry himself (along with his Spanish-born wife, Catherine of Aragon) is devotedly Catholic, authoring a pamphlet that denounces Luther and proclaims the Pope's supremacy- for which the Pope awards him the title "Defender of the Faith".

Despite this, several factors facilitate the growth of Protestantism in England during Season One.  The English rennaissance results in many ideas coming from mainland Europe.  Rising slowly but surely among Henry's ministers is a brilliant and ruthless commoner named Thomas Cromwell, who despises the abuses and corruption of the Catholic Church upon his fellow men; he attends secret Lutheran meetings in London.  In addition,  the Catholic Norfolk's rivalry with Wolsey leads him to turn to his brother-in-law, Lord Thomas Boleyn; Boleyn and his children George and Anne have spent several years in mainland Europe and have been exposed to Protestant ideas. 

Meanwhile, despite his devotion to Catholicism, Henry's temper and competetive nature frequently get the better of him.  He resents how more powerful countries such as France or Spain are able to influence the Pope's decisions more easily than he, simply because they are closer to Rome.  Combined with Henry's paranoia of not siring a male heir (his only surviving child by Catherine was a daughter, Mary) and his newfound love for Anne Boleyn, this influences Henry to attempt to annul his marriage with Catherine, for which he needs the Pope's dispensation.  Henry pressures and threatens Wolsey to accomplish this (which Wolsey desperately tries to do, fearing Henry will renounce Catholicism if he fails) but Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V of Spain, intervenes on her behalf by taking the Pope hostage, stalling the annulment process.  Furious, Henry discards Wolsey and replaces him with Sir Thomas More; however, unlike Wolsey, the pious More is a strong supporter of Catherine, and has no real fear of Henry's wrath despite his genuine loyalty to the King. Also, More is an even sterner Catholic than Wolsey, and uses his position to carry out a series of anti-heresy persecutions, which inflame the growing Protestant movement in England.  

Anne Boleyn, meanwhile, points out to Henry that many Protestants believe kings should be head of the Church in their own domain; at risk of being charged with heresy and burned, she show Henry various texts by Luther and Tyndale.  Influenced by the Boleyn family and by Thomas Cromwell (who is allied with the Boleyn family) Henry starts to find aspects of Luther's teachings more attractive than before...

Season Two: Breaking with Rome- the Reformation beginsEdit

Though Henry's greed for power, desperation to secure his dynasty, and lust for Anne are the real reasons he pursues the Protestant cause, it's genuine influence is strong at court; Henry's favor is on Cromwell and the Boleyns, all of whom are now on the Privy Council.

Season Three: The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Counter-ReformationEdit

Season Four: Balancing of FactionsEdit

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