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A Study On Protestant Reformation History Essay

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Published: Tue, 29 Mar 2016

With reference to England, Scotland and Germany the extent to which the Protestant Reformation affected the development of their nation states and national identities was not uniform. Each country will be discussed on an individual basis as will agreement or otherwise because although there were similar consequences there were also different results from the Protestant Reformation.

To start with reference will be made to Germany first, partly because the Protestant Reformation started there and partly because in many ways it was far more complicated a situation than England and Scotland. Unlike England and Scotland, Germany was not a country that actually existed, let alone having more or less established borders with national institutions, monarchies and a sense of nationality. The only things that the Germans held in common was that they spoke dialects and variations of the same language and that they were under the nominal rule of the Holy Roman Emperor.The Holy Roman Empire was split up into over 300 states of various sizes and importance.

These states were keen on maintaining their autonomy from the empire; the Protestant Reformation would provide some of those states with a pretext for increasing their independence (Maland, 1982, p.148). The Protestant Reformation started in Germany rather more by accident than by design in 1517. The Augustinian friar Martin Luther started the process by his protest against indulgences at Wittenberg. Luther was an accomplished theologian and would prove highly capable of writing his views and ideas in German as well as Latin. Luther was astute enough to put things in German to spread his ideas further through pamphlets, books and bibles thus increasing the availability of publications in German. The lack of imperial authority in Germany meant that Luther and the Reformation was able to survive (Roberts, 1996, pp.227-28).

The Protestant Reformation had added attraction to the Germans because it gave them a greater sense of a German identity rather than being subjects of the various states and statelets. Luther had not anticipated all the effects of unleashing that greater sense of being German would be a further division of the German states rather than bringing them closer together. There were also more radical reformers such as Carlstadt that whipped up so much support for radical reform it culminated in the Peasants War.

Luther was against such radicalism and tied the Lutheran Reformation closely to the secular rulers to prevent further anarchy. Whilst Luther wrote the majority of his works in German such as the Liberty of a Christian Man, his most radical pamphlet, The Babylonish Captivity of the Church of God remained in Latin. For Luther was plainly aware of the radical effect that putting such works in German could have (Maland, 1986, pp. 88-89). Those princes and states that followed Luther and conformed to the Lutheran Confession of Augsburg formed the Schmakaldic League.

Aside from Saxony the league included Brandenburg, Prussia, and Hesse. They were ranged against the catholic German states and the Emperor. The Protestant Reformation started in Germany but the factors that allowed it to survive effectively prevented the forming of a united German state or the complete success of the Protestant Reformation there (Chadwick, 1990, pp.63-64).

The emphasis on having services in German was a more radical departure than would be expected in more modern times. Instead of listening to the familiar Latin mass they did not understand they sat through services in German that they could understand even if they were not sure about the full meaning of everything. Services in the vernacular added to the desire to protect the Lutheran and German cause from the emperor and counter- Reformation Catholicism.

The Protestant Reformation meant that the Germans could regard the process as promoting a national identity that would be proud of it cultural, linguistic and religious make-up (Fernandez-Armesto &Wilson, 1996, p.116). The Protestant Reformation certainly divided Germany on religious grounds but it was not a united country and the greater use of German brought about by the Reformation would accelerate the formation of a distinct German nation. The Lutherans were certainly keen in expanding education in the belief that it would strengthen the Reformation.

It was the Lutherans that opened the university of Marburg in 1527 to train more ministers whilst existing universities came increasingly under Protestant influence. Of much greater importance to the formation of a German national identity was the mass circulation of Luther’s German Bible. From one press in Wittenberg alone 100,000 were printed and sold. Another feature of Lutheranism that helped with the forging of a German national identity was the singing of hymns, many written by Luther himself (Chadwick, 1990, pp.71-73).

England unlike Germany was already a single united nation under the secure grip of the Tudor dynasty. A sense of national identity was already developed through years of war against France and Scotland. The English Parliament was also already stronger and more influential than its German and Scots counterparts. England despite a few lingering traces of the Lollard heresy was a devout Catholic country when the Protestant Reformation started. Her King Henry the VIII had even gained the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ from the Pope for writing against Luther.

Cardinal Wolsey was indeed the King’s chief minister but he seemed to represent the Church’s shortcomings as much as its achievements. Wolsey also demonstrated that the Church could be controlled as easily from London as Rome (Elton, 1991, pp.85-89). It can only be a matter of speculation how the Protestant Reformation would have affected England if Henry VIII had been able to gain a Papal annulment to his marriage of Catherine of Aragon. Reformation did happen in England that ‘bound national and confessional history together in a unique way’ (Roberts, 1996, p.229).

Although inclined to stay religiously conservative and always prone to reversing religious policies on a mere whim Henry VIII was the most powerful man to switch to the Protestant camp. Henry though seemed to put greed and power before religious reform, after all he only broke with Rome to secure an heir to the throne (Fernandez-Armesto & Wilson, 1995, p.291). The Protestant Reformation in England was founded and amended by acts of Parliament and Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church. It was a Reformation from above driven by the state rather than people from below forcing the state’s hand. The Church of England was steered into Protestant directions by Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer often held back by the conservative Henry. It was their partnership that produced the first official English translation of the bible, the Great Bible. The illegal Tynedale Bible influenced the Great Bible in large parts.

Cromwell came up with two policies to overcome Catholic opposition home and abroad. Firstly the government continually made the point that the break in Rome was a justified move and a vital assertion of national rights. Playing the nationalist card certainly helped the King counter Papal excommunication. Secondly the monasteries were dissolved as religiously unnecessary and as a means of paying for better national defenses. The sale of monastic lands consolidated the gentry’s support for the Church of England, but it also provided them with a stronger power base to challenge royal authority (Schama, 2000, pp.304-07).

Cromwell fell out of royal favour and was executed but critically Cranmer outlived Henry. During Edward VI’s reign Cranmer produced the future cornerstones of the Church of England, the Common Book of Prayer and the forty-two Articles. Church services were finally reformed and in English (Chadwick, 1990, pp.118-21). Ironically enough the events of Mary I’s reign led more and more people to associate the Protestant Reformation with national identity and Catholicism as alien to it. Instead of destroying the Reformation she reinforced the long-term effects on national development.

Mary used Parliament to reverse the Protestant Reformation and restore Catholicism. It was the persecutions and deaths of the elderly Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer and Hooper plus over 300 ordinary Protestants that made them martyrs. Mary had also allowed 800 Protestants fee to Europe, many of whom became convinced Calvinists hoping for a more radical Reformation upon their return (Plowden, 2002, p.108). Cranmer provided unexpected propaganda for the Protestants with his brave death and patriot English people were determined the Protestant Reformation should finally succeed during Elizabeth I’s reign (Cowie, 1970, p.151).

The Elizabethan settlement of 1559 put an end to the inconsistency of government religious policy although it took decades to be accepted by a majority of people across the country. The settlement restored a Revised Version of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer although the Queen was slow to accept the more Calvinist inclined Thirty-nine articles as a replacement for the Forty-two articles. There was no officially endorsed English Bible but the Geneva Bible was the most popular version until the Authorized Version of King James and helped to further promote Protestantism in England.

Protestantism was a much greater part of the English national identity as the settlement started to gain security and whilst the more zealous Protestants or Puritans still believed they could further reform the church from within (Ridley, 2002, p.36). For the government it became easier to portray Protestantism as patriotic after the Northern Rising of 1569, the numerous plots to place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne and Queen Elizabeth’s Papal excommunication. Protestantism also helped to fuel the dislike of Catholic Spain. Philip II who had been Mary I’s husband was closely associated with the repression of the Protestant Reformation in the Netherlands, the attempts to place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne and backing the Catholics during the French Wars of Religion (MacCulloch, 1990, p. 145).

For many English people the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 showed that England was a special nation singled out by God to be religiously and politically better than any other (MacCulloch, 1990, pp. 138-39). The Elizabethan settlement was left largely untouched by James I whose main contribution to English national identity was the Authorized Version of the Bible (Chadwick, 1990, pp. 233-35). Archbishop Laud and Charles I managed to upset the constitutional and religious balance left to them by the Tudors. The Royal policy on the church was misguided and all too easily portrayed as the prelude to a return to Catholicism and a complete reversal of the Protestant Reformation in England.

The Puritan opposition was opposed to Charles on political and constitutional grounds as well as religious ones. The resulting Civil Wars showed that there were drastic differences of opinion as to how the Protestant Reformation should further develop the national state and national identities. In the end the strong monarchy of the Tudors to early Stuarts would be replaced by a republican regimes followed by a constitutional monarchy dominated by Parliament (Fernandez-Armesto and Wilson, 1996, p. 243).

Scotland was already a united country, but the authority of the crown was much weaker than in England. Royal authority declined even further with long periods of regency following the early deaths of James IV and James V. both had dies directly or indirectly as a result of wars with England. The infant Mary Queen of Scots was taken to France out of the reach of the English. Her French mother Mary of Guise acted as regent carrying out pro-French policies and attempting to stop the spread of Protestantism.

An increasing number of the Scottish nobility became staunchly Calvinist and formed the Lords of Congregation. The Lords of Congregation worked towards overthrowing Mary of Guise and establishing a Calvinist church in Scotland (Gardiner & Wenborn, 1995, p. 483). The Lords of Congregation call to arms was greatly aided by the firebrand preaching of John Knox upon his return to Scotland during May 1559. The Protestants were successful in removing Mary of Guise and installing a Calvinist church. The Scottish Protestants had gained strong popular support, as the French influence was disliked for being pro-Catholic and preventing Reformation.

Knox and the Lords of Congregation were assured of victory once the English sent ships and soldiers to their aid in 1560. Mary Queen of Scots was allowed to return to Scotland on the condition that she accepted the Calvinist Church of Scotland. Mary if she had been more astute could have kept her throne or even watered down the Calvinist Kirk. However, her failings led to her exile. The Protestants position was even stronger during the minority of James VI (Morgan, 1993, pp.305-06).

James VI was able to restore royal authority and even bishops to the Church of Scotland. James went on to become king of England and would largely concentrate on ruling his new kingdom. However, he had the sense to know how far he could go in making the church less radically Calvinist and the nobility more obedient to the crown. Charles I did not understand how strongly the Scots wished to maintain their church unaltered. The King’s insistence on introducing a Scots version of the Common Book of Prayer resulted in the Bishop wars that made a major contribution to the Civil Wars from 1642. The main reason for the Scots involvement was to protect their church from unwise intervention and the threat of counter- reformation (Schama, 2001, pp. 86-88).

Therefore, overall I would agree that the Protestant Reformation contributed to the development of national identities and national states in Germany, England and Scotland. The contribution of the Protestant Reformation was in England and Scotland was more complete than in Germany. In England the Protestant Reformation was directed at the monarch through parliamentary legislation that enacted the Royal Supremacy and dissolved the monasteries.

The government stirred up nationalist sentiment by stressing that the Church of England was superior to Catholicism. The more radical reforms under Edward VI prompted rebellions but they also promoted English national identity by having all services entirely in English. The persecutions of Protestants under Mary backfired and made the Protestant Reformation inextricably linked to national identity and state development. The Elizabethan settlement succeeded in consolidating the Protestant Reformation in consolidating the Protestant Reformation until the Civil Wars.

The Protestant Reformation in Scotland in contrast was a Reformation that was prompted by the Scots people from below rather than by the government as in England. Protestantism in Scotland was more radical than in England. The Protestant Reformation was brought about by the revolt of the Lords of the Congregation that overthrew the pro-French Catholic regency with the help of English arms. The Scots took national pride in their Kirk and defended it with great determination when Charles I wished to change it. The situation in Germany was more complicated; the Protestant Reformation certainly promoted a sense of German national identity and increased the development of the many different states but not that of a single united German state.

For the German states that accepted the Protestant Reformation it increased their autonomy from the HRE. The eventual compromise between the states was that the Prince should decide the denomination of their state. The Protestant Reformation caused intermittent wars between the Protestant and Catholic states with the Emperor siding with the Catholic side. The thirty Years War that started in 1618 devastated Germany and weakened the Protestant states.

Bibliography

Chadwick, O (1990) Penguin History of the Church 3 – The Reformation, Penguin Books, London

Cowie, L W (1970) The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, The Wayland Documentary History Series, Wayland Publishers Ltd, London

Elton G R (1991) England under the Tudors, 3rd edition, Routledge, London

Fernandez-Armesto, F & Wilson, D (1996) Reformation – Christianity and the World 1500-2000, Bantam Press, London

MacCulloch, D (1990) The Later Reformation in England 1547 – 1603, Macmillan, Basingstoke

Maland, D (1986) Europe in the Sixteenth Century, 2nd edition, Macmillan, Basingstoke

Morgan K.O, editor (1993) The Oxford Popular History of Britain, Paragon, Oxford.

Plowden, A. (2002) Tudor Women, Queens and Commoners, 2nd Edition Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud

Schama, S. (2000) A History of Britain – At the Edge of the World 3000 BC – AD1603, BBC Worldwide, London

Schama, S (2000) A History of Britain – The British Wars 1603-1776, BBC Worldwide, London


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