Facing the zeitgeist

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  • Published 20160503
  • ISBN: 978-1-925240-81-8
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

WITH ONE BOLD move King Henry VIII could solve many problems. He could meet his conscience. After divorcing his Catholic Queen, Catherine of Aragon, the newly Protestant Henry knew scholars such as Erasmus denounced monasteries as institutions no longer fitted for the modern world. Why segregate religious women and men in closed communities of contemplation when souls were needed to lead local parishes, educate children, provide alms to the poor? Across Reformation Europe the old monasteries, priories, convents and friaries had been dissolved as places of popular superstition, out of step with the times. Henry’s kingdom could do the same, replacing Catholic institutions with new Protestant values.

Dissolution delivered a political benefit, shifting power toward a centralised monarchy. Catholic religious orders were torn between two rulers – a king who recently declared himself head of the Church in England, and the Pope in Rome, keen to reassert spiritual leadership over all Christendom. With an end to monasteries, remaining religious would come under the control of bishops appointed by Henry. The King could remove religious practices he no longer found acceptable, along with powerful figures owing allegiance beyond the kingdom.

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