The Reign of Edward VI

The reign of Edward VI saw great religious upheaval from a Protestant
religion that was Catholic in nature to a more clearly defined and radical
quasi-Calvinism. In that sense religious policy hardened. But the policies and
ideal never became deeply entrenched and accepted throughout the country and
often only existed to serve the interests of those who enacted them, and not the
future stance of the church. Under Somerset the changes involved merely creating
a Protestant facelift, and only under Northumberland did sweeping radical
changes emerge. However, policy never hardened enough, or became accepted enough,
to prevent it being disintegrated when Mary came to power in 1553.
The religious situation was highly unstable at the time of Edward's
ascendance. Although Henry had allowed Protestant leaning clerics to predominate
in the later year of his reign, most religious statutes remained orthodox, and
conservative. But under Somerset Protestants who had previously fled to Europe
after the six articles, such as Hooper, Becon, and Turner, all returned. Many
were writers banned under Henry VIII, along with Luther and other European
Protestants. Guy points out that 159 out of 394 new books printed during the
Protectorate were written by Protestant reformers.
Reformers predominated the Privy council under Somerset, and reform was
popular amongst the gentry of the time. But outside London and East Anglia
Protestantism was not a major force. In terms of religious hardening, it is
unlikely that the surge of Protestantism had any particular long term impact
outside these areas. It was only in these areas that violent iconoclasm took
place. Elsewhere far more moderate reforms such as vernacular Bibles and
services were introduced.
The legislation of the Somerset era also did little to aid a definite
hardening of religious policy. The Privy council remained reluctant to make any
radical moves. The Council, parliament, and the convocation all wanted reform,
but not of the type that would firmly thrust the country into radical
Protestantism. Moderate leanings were all that was desired, and this was
reflected in the two major pieces of legislation, the Chantries Act and the
Treason Act, which both did little to resolve doctrinal uncertainties. The new
book of common prayer also trod a careful path between Protestantism and
Jordan states that ?These years ... were characterised by patience with
the bishops, almost half of whom were conservative in their views and Catholic
in their doctrinal sympathies, though all, trained as they were in the reign of
Henry VIII, lent complete support to the Act Supremacy in all its constitutional
and political implications ... the lesser clergy and the laity were with few
exceptions under no considerable pressure to conform, even after the passage of
the Act establishing the first Book of Common Prayer.?
Guy suggests that the Protestant stance was only ever introduced by
Somerset to promote his own interests. ?Although accurate figures are lacking,
roughly one fifth of Londoners were Protestant by 1547 ... but elsewhere
Protestantism had barely progressed. Yet London activists had a disproportionate
influence on official policy ... secret cells of ?Christian brethren' existed to
spread the word; links were forged with Lollard congregations , the Protestant
book trade established ... Since so many of Somerset's supporters were radical,
he had an incentive to assimilate the supremacy to their interests. The danger
was that religious opinion would polarise and lead to civil discord; uniformity
was the linchpin of order.?
Bush argues that due to the political motivation behind reform, real
religious zeal was not apparent, the apparent hardening Protestantism only a
token gesture. ?The outstanding characteristic of the settlement was its
moderate enforcement. Victims were relatively few, martyrs at the stake were
non-existent, and the conservative bishops tumbled from office in any number
only after Somerset's fall ... the regime certainly showed a noticeable leniency
in the persecution of religious dissent within the context of the age.?
Northumberland presided over moves to a far more radical religion.
Ridley was appointed Bishop of London and Hooper Bishop of Gloucester.
Protestantism had already been hardened through doctrine and procedural changes.
By Northumberland's fall, communion tables had been moved into the centre of the
church, and second new prayer book was issued in 1552. Communion no longer
resembled mass. Only plain surpluses were allowed, and the 1553 42 articles
produced far more Protestant doctrinal changes than had been seen before. The
new vernacular bible was reinforced by the new style of service. Also, the
number of priests marrying under the new Protestant rule created a vested
interest within the church for the prolongment of Protestantism. In the long
term, this undoubtedly helped harden Protestant values at the grass roots level
within the church.
Such changes enacted a hardening of Protestantism in statute only.
Throughout the country many middle class and gentry resented the stricter