Church Under Edward VI
Edward's Control by Regents
dward VI, crowned King of England at the tender age of nine, ascended the throne following his father Henry VIII’s death in 1547. His youth necessitated a regency council to govern in his stead, plunging the kingdom into a power struggle between two ambitious nobles: Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
Somerset, Edward’s uncle, initially wielded immense power as Lord Protector. He championed Protestant reforms, pushing for the dissolution of chantries and encouraging the widespread use of the vernacular Bible. However, his ambitious foreign policy proved disastrous, and economic woes fueled by debasement of the coinage eroded his popularity. By 1549, Dudley, a cunning and ruthless politician, capitalized on the discontent and staged a coup, overthrowing Somerset and becoming the new Lord Protector.
Dudley took a more cautious approach to religious reforms, seeking to consolidate his own power and maintain stability. He courted conservative elements within the church, reversing some of Somerset’s Protestant policies and even briefly reinstating the Six Articles. However, he too faced challenges, most notably a failed rebellion in 1553 led by disgruntled landowners.
Throughout these tumultuous years, Edward’s actual power over the Church of England remained limited. Although he demonstrated precocious intellect and strong Protestant convictions, he was ultimately too young to wield political clout. The regents acted as gatekeepers, controlling his access to information and influencing his decisions. Despite Edward’s attempts to steer policy towards further Protestant reforms, particularly in his later years, he was constantly beholden to the ambitions and agendas of his powerful guardians.
Edward’s short reign, tragically cut short by illness at the age of 15, stands as a testament to the turbulent power struggles and religious complexities that characterized Tudor England. He never truly attained the autonomy to fully shape the Church of England in his own vision, his legacy forever intertwined with the figures who dominated his brief time on the throne.
Archbishop Cranmer Influence
By most accounts, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI, was a devout, though weak man. Where others who disappointed or displeased Henry VIII suffered imprisonment and execution, the monarch apparently liked and trusted his archbishop because he sought no benefits – power or riches – for himself and often pleaded the cause of those who suffered the king’s displeasure.
Edward had always been a closet Protestant, going back to seminary days and familiarity with Luther’s teaching. He played a significant role in the drafting the 1534 Act of Supremacy. While his actions to implement Protestant doctrines during Henry’s life were restrained, he implemented key changes before the adoption of the 1849 Book of Common Prayer.
With Henry’s assent, Cranmer replaced the traditional Latin litany with the first officially authorized liturgical text in English. It marked a significant shift towards vernacular worship and emphasized elements like repentance and prayer for the king. He also commissioned a series of twelve sermons (Homilies) in 1547 promoting sermons during the Mass and ensure proper doctrine was being taught. Most parish priests saying the Latin Mass rarely gave sermons and could read one of the homilies to their congregations without having to compose one. themselves. (A second Book of twenty Homilies was added in 1571 whose use is mandated in Article XXXV of the English and American versions of the Book of common Prayer.)
Though he had married in 1532, the marriage was not announced publicly until 1548, setting a precedent for other English clergy, significantly impacting the social fabric of the church. During this period, he also streamlined the administrative structure of the church, reducing the number of dioceses and strengthening the authority of the central administration. This move consolidated his own influence and facilitated further reforms.
His pre-1549 reforms laid the groundwork for the more comprehensive changes embodied in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. They introduced elements of Protestant theology and practice into the English church, paving the way for further advancements under Edward VI and shaping the course of the English Reformation. Conservative factions within the church resisted Protestant teachings, while radicals felt the changes didn’t go far enough. Nonetheless, Cranmer’s pre-1549 contributions were crucial in setting the stage for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, a document that would establish a standardized liturgy and solidify the direction of the Church of England for generations to come.