11th February 1531.

Religious bigotry which is a feature of modern life was rife in 16th century Britain when Thomas Benet, a local schoolmaster and early Protestant martyr, was burned for nailing posters on the door of Exeter Cathedral denouncing saints.

The 16th century religious Reformation saw alternate periods of Catholicism and Protestantism with dire effects for those caught on the wrong side, resulting in turmoil, death and destruction.

Today in 1531 the title Supreme Head [of the church], was first introduced in a Decree of Convocation by Henry VIII, which though initially opposed by the clergy, saw them later submit, after adding the conditional phrase: ‘quantum per legem Dei licit (As far as the Laws of God). The Act of Supremacy 1534, later confirmed this declaration.(1)

The English Reformation came in three stages under Henry VIII, when papal authority was systematically destroyed from Thomas Cromwell’s legislation (1529-36); the attacks on Ecclesiastical Abuses (1529-31) and Clerical Jurisdiction of 1532 .

Finally came the abolishment of First Fruits (annates) for the benefit of the papacy (1532-1534) and the Lodging of Appeals to Rome (1533). In 1536 the Dissolution of the Monasteries was authorised.

Under Henry’s son Edward VI, his rabid Protestantism was established in 1552 by the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), the accompanying Acts of Uniformity and the 42 Articles of 1553.(2)

The Mass was outlawed along with notions of purgatory and destruction of church interiors saw symbols of superstition such as altars, candles, and crucifixes outlawed. Chancels, decorative glass and rood screens were destroyed. Colourful vestments were replaced by black preaching gowns.

Many rituals and festivities were banned such as the January Plough Monday, after his father Henry had previously abolished Plough Monday Lights in church. Use of ashes and palms at Lent and Easter went the same way.

These reforms were not popular, particularly in the largely Catholic, West Country. However the zealous Lutheran, Dean of Exeter Cathedral, Simon Heynes and his followers smashed the tomb of Bishop Grandisson and laid the Lady Chapel bare.

He destroyed the chantry, tore the brass from Bishop Lacy’s monument to deter pilgrims, whitewashed the painted walls and defaced all references to the pope in the cathedral Library.

Following the re-establishment of Catholicism in the time of ‘Bloody’ Mary, in a complete volte face, everything banned was restored. However so many shrines, decorative walls and glass were lost for ever.

Some kind of a middle-ground Protestantism was finally established, after Mary, under her step-sister Elizabeth with a reforming Church of England and a new Act of Supremacy of 1559, which clergy had to abide by.

Penal Acts saw Recusancy Acts against dissent, meaning Catholics was reinforced by the 1559 Act, whilst use of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and Church of England attendance became compulsory, with non-attendance incurring fines or imprisonment.(3) The Act of Allegiance came in 1563.

In 1570 Elizabeth was excommunicated by the Pope. Further Acts of 1584/5 made it treason for Catholic priests to enter England. This was now the age of secret Catholic worship and priest-holes.

(1) The 1534 Act (26 H 8 C1 opens: ‘Albeit the Kynge Majestie justly and rightfully is & oweth to be supreme hede of the Churche of England and so is recognysed by the Clergy of the Realme in their convocaciones’.(sic)

(2a) Reform in the Protestant era of Edward VI was inspired by the Old Testament Book of Law as laid down in II Kings 22-23 where Josiah King of Judah had purged Judah and Jerusalem of carved images and was to reinstate the Passover and Ark of the Temple.

(2b) Josiah encouraged the exclusive worship of Yahweh and persecuted other worship and in II Kings 23, destroys pagan objects and the worship of Baal and Ashterah.

Edward died on 6th July 1553 at Greenwich.

(3a) The Act of religious settlement was passed on 29th April 1559. Persecution against religious defaulters was an haphazard punishment until the 1572 Bartholemew’s Day massacre of Protestants in France, when persecution against dissenters became harsher.

(3b) The Recusancy Acts were repealed in 1650.

Ref: britannia.com/hist/devon/exeter.

Ref: English post Reformation Oaths (Wikipedia).


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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