Anglican Church and the Monarchy

Last Updated: 27 May 2020
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Religion was an ongoing cause of issues in history, and the Church of England was no exception. Issues with the monarchy ruling the church in Britain was the reason for many debates, wars, civil issues and rights to the throne. Initially the Church was under Papal rule, making the Pope have control over something the Throne did not. Hunger for power in the sixteenth century was not limited to land control and civil control; it spread right up to the Church of England causing many problems for the monarchy and Papal authority.

The argument during this time was whether or not the monarch had the right to rule church and state, or if the church was meant to be run by Papal authority. The Church of England has a deep history going back to the Roman Empire. An invasion in Britain in the fifth century by pagan Angles, Saxons and Jutes caused the Church to lose its organization. Missionary work in the 6th Century by Pope Gregory the Great, led by St Augustine of Canterbury led to the eventual combination of three forms of Christianity.

The new Church of England amalgamated the Roman tradition of St Augustine, the old Romano-British church and the Celtic traditions from Scotland. As a result of this new formation the influence of the Church was wider spread and more organized. Traditions assimilated with the Western Christians such as liturgy, theology and church architecture. All of this also meant that until the sixteenth century the Church of England was under Papal rule and was considered a branch of the Roman Catholic Church.

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The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther published his Ninety Five Theses. They opposed the Catholic Churches doctrines and stated that the teachings and sales of indulgences and the abuses of them showed corruption in the religion. This was the jumping off point for many people questioning the Catholic Church. In the sixteenth century the English monarchy began to question the fact that their church was still following the authority of the Pope. A main factor in this questioning came from King Henry VIII.

Henry wanted his marriage to Catherine annulled, and his marriage would normally be illegal under church law because Catherine was the widow of his brother, but it had been allowed by special consideration from the Pope. Henry claimed that the Papal consideration contradicted church law and therefore the marriage was not legal. The pope upheld his choice and refused to annul the marriage. The underlying cause was the fact that many believed that the authority of the church should belong to the English monarchy not the Pope.

Henry broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and declared himself the head of the Church of England (1534), removing the church from the authority of the Pope. During this time Henry also forced the Dissolution of the Monasteries, this was viewed as suppressing the catholic faith. He also started statutes, such as, Statute in Restraint of Appeals, 1533, various Acts of Succession 1533-36, and the first Act of Supremacy in 1536. These acts all dealt with the relationship between the King and the Pope and how the Church of England should be structured.

Henry’s belief in the independence of the Church was the dominant influence in making religious policy. Those who still worshipped Catholic rites during Henry’s rule were quietly moved into secrecy. Henry’s son Edward VI further reformed the church by saying that the Protestant Reformation was more like what the Bible’s teachings meant than that of the Pope. Edward was very young when he was in power so most decisions were ultimately decided by a regency council who were mostly Protestant, so of course the decision was made to keep the church under monarch rule.

Edward was the first King who had been raised Protestant even though he was only nine when he was crowned his council did allow him to make decisions. By the age of eleven he had already written a treatise on the Pope as Antichrist and made educated notes on theological controversies. Edward wanted to keep the Church of England Protestant rather than Catholic so instead of allowing his half sister Mary to take the throne upon his death he left the crown to Lady Jane Grey. She was only on the throne for nine days before being imprisoned after the council changed sides declaring Mary Queen.

During the reign of Mary Tudor (Henry’s daughter) the Church returned to the Pope’s authority. Throughout her father’s and her half brother’s reign Mary had remained loyal to the Roman Catholic faith, she had even asked for a private chapel to worship in since everyone else in the family worshiped under the Church of England. Mary’s change in the Church did not last long when in 1558 Elizabeth I became Queen, and made the Church of England essentially what it is to this day. She removed it from the Pope’s authority, but she kept the catholic creeds, the architecture and aspects of the catholic liturgy.

While keeping aspects of the Catholic Church she also incorporated Protestant insights of theology and the general shape of its liturgical practices. In the seventeenth century the Church of England had another crisis; tensions over theological and liturgical issues were part of the reasons that led to the English Civil War. From 1649-1660 the Church of England’s bishops were abolished and the Book of Common Prayer was banned. During this time the church was under Papal rule but when the monarchy was restored in 1660 these decisions were over turned and once again the Church was returned to monarch authority.

In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed and Protestantism was legally accepted as long as they followed the doctrine of the Trinity. After this was passed the Church of England became the mother church of the Anglican Communion. One of the main arguments throughout the formation of the Church of England was whether or not the monarchy had the right to decide how the church should be run, or if the church is meant to be run by the Pope. Most believed that since the Pope was not politically affiliated with anyone, it made him impartial and made his rule of the church more pure.

He was the representative of God therefore he could settle doctrinal disputes and help spread Christianity without influence from political leaders. Pope Paul III formed the Council of Trent (1545-49) which made the Papacy have power over rulers who wanted to reconcile with Protestants and who were opposed to Papal claims. The monarchy was too powerful and eventually the Papal authority had to bring their focus to spiritual issues as opposed to trying to get secular power (It was not until 1929 that the Lateran Treaty was passed that guaranteed papal independence from secular rule).

When the English monarchy declared that the Pope was corrupt and Antichrist they pulled the Church of England out from under papal rule. The throne holds complete political authority in its own state, but the argument of whether this authority crosses over to religion as well was ongoing for many years. Henry VIII makes it easier for himself by having Parliament pass an act appointing him and his successors the head of the Church of England so that they could rule the church whatever way they please. This act caused more problems than solved because now every time the throne was changed the church was changed.

The political side of the monarch caused more problems as well. By having political affiliations the monarchs chose rules of the church to follow that suited their political alliances. Affiliations with Scotland made them include Scottish traditions into the Church of England, but bad blood between the British and the Irish made them turn the church away from Catholicism even more. There are arguments that the fact that the Irish worshiped under Papal rule it made the tensions between Britain and Ireland worse.

The relationship between France and England was even worse; Henry VIII went to war with France three times during his reign. The national religion of France was Catholicism and during this time though there was a large Protestant following, they were greatly persecuted. This was a major contributing factor to these wars; with France under Papal rule and the Protestants being persecuted the British monarchy was livid, giving them plenty of cause to declare war. During this time Henry declared France to be Britain’s number one enemy. When Elizabeth was in power the hostility towards Catholics was increased.

While she was not as intense as Henry she did ban mass and other Catholic practices, and also made her Parliament swear an oath of supremacy threatening the charge of treason to anyone who refused. This threat made many Catholics run from England to avoid persecution. Many of these people were writers and went against Protestantism and implied that the Papal authority was superior, but also tried to not anger their Queen in their writings. This showed how the people were expressing their unhappiness in the choices made for them in religious aspects, but they still respected and honored their monarch.

Elizabeth’s main fear was that the brash Catholics would attempt to have her taken out of power. Elizabeth’s fear was so profound that in 1571 she passed The Treason Act which made it high treason to say that Elizabeth was not the true monarch. It also made it illegal to say that she was heretic, tyrant, infidel or usurper. This Act made catholic’s even angrier and made them criticize Elizabeth even more. These criticisms towards Elizabeth made her worries of being de-throned more relevant because now Catholic followers were trying to defend Mary Stuart’s right to the English throne.

They claimed that Elizabeth caused tensions in foreign affairs because of her focus on religion. At the same time all of these writings that criticize Elizabeth’s choices for religion, they still spoke kindly of her as a person and a Queen in other aspects. Most respected her as a Queen but condemned her choices towards the Church of England. During this time many Catholic writers from France also condemned Elizabeth’s choices showing that the tensions between Britain and France were still very much active in her reign as in Henry’s.

The monarchies strive for complete power in the sixteenth century did them more harm than good. Instead of gaining the trust and fellowship of their people, they caused war, tensions, and general unrest among most of their people. With debates between the Papal authorities, who at the time the people viewed as a direct line to God, and the monarch caused distrust for the people against their leaders. With no right to their own choices in religion people that went against the crown were exiled, imprisoned, or worse, executed for their thoughts and beliefs.

With most of Britain being raised Catholic during this time a sudden switch by Henry VIII because of his unhappiness seemed ungodly. The choice to remove the church from the Papal authority was viewed as blasphemous, and it made the people view their King in a different light. Most of Britain lost faith in their Crown during these Reformations because of unorganized systems, and a constant change between monarch authority and Papal rule. Tensions between Britain and neighboring Countries did not help the monarch’s relationship with their people either, as much of the cause of these tensions was from the monarch persecuting Catholics.

The goal of total power over the people, land and neighboring Countries by the monarch was not a success because there was no consistency in the way they chose to run their Parliament, church and state. The monarch may have believed that they had the right to run their church, but realistically the political affiliations and personal wants caused more destruction than if they had allowed a more pure source to lead and make decisions for the church. Ultimately relationships in Western Europe could have drastically changed if the Church of England had remained under Papal authority.

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Anglican Church and the Monarchy. (2018, Aug 05). Retrieved from

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