- Religious Identities in Henry VIII's England
Henry VIII changed his world more profoundly than anyone since William the Conqueror. In breaking with Rome in 1533-34 he effected one of the great revolutions of English and European history, the establishment of the royal supremacy, or headship of the new Church of England. The contours of the political and legal nature of this revolution are well known. By contrast, the religious nature of the Henrician Reformation poses challenging, as-yet-unresolved questions. What, for example, was the theological nature of his Reformation? Textbooks have often labeled it "Catholic," as in "Henrician Catholic," but this only begs the question, for although Henry retained the Mass and clerical celibacy, he abolished the monasteries, attacked images, approved a vernacular Bible, and rejected purgatory, the one doctrine that more than any other defined late medieval Catholicism. If Henrician reform took some inspiration from radical Continental sources, the resulting Reformation certainly was not Lutheran or Calvinist, or, anachronistically, anything that could be called "Anglican" in the years 1533-47. "Evangelicals" (to give them their current designation) certainly influenced the direction of the king's Reformation, but as the author of this volume usefully reminds us, evangelicals were not yet Protestants. "They were, in fact, late medieval Catholics, albeit ones who had become deeply unhappy with important aspects of medieval Catholic theology and devotion" (5).
But was it possible to remain Catholic without the pope? In 1536 the Lincolnshire rebels demanded the restoration of the pope to the headship of the Church in England, a demand revealing by how much Catholic identity had already become "the pre-eminent political question" of the reign (9). What did it mean to be a Catholic in Henry VIII's England? In a series of articles and books published over the past decade the author, a reader in history at the University of Warwick, has provided some important, original answers to this question. The present volume reprints eight of his papers published between 1996 and 2005 and adds three new ones, an introductory chapter surveying Henrician religious identities; an account of the murder in 1536 of Robert Packington, a wealthy [End Page 1289] Londoner of reformist sympathies; and an analysis of the significance of those who "moved abroad . . . as a consequence of ideological objections to the Henrician regime" (263). Thumbnail sketches of 127 "Catholic Exiles" — two were nuns — are given in an appendix, together with citations identifying the sources for each.
Each of the new essays — like those published previously — either makes a useful, general contribution or fills in small gaps in our knowledge. In the introductory chapter, for example, readers will find a clearheaded, brief outline of a much-misunderstood (and often misconceived) subject. The shooting of Packington, London's first recorded gun-related homicide, not only allows Marshall to investigate an "intriguing Tudor whodunnit" (77), but also explore the changing "morphology of sixteenth-century religion" (78), for the case involved more than a shocking murder. At issue was what others thought Packington represented. At the time of his death he was an evangelical "Catholic"; by 1563 he had become (in John Foxe's Acts and Monuments) a "'Protestant' martyr" (78). Between 1536 and 1563 the vocabulary of Christian belief and practice underwent numerous changes. Historically, these changes foretold a transformation of the way events and people would be remembered. Foxe knew this very well: he had Packington gunned down on his way to morning "praier," whereas in fact, as the chronicler Edward Hall had earlier recorded it, the victim was shot dead on his way to Mass (79).
It is possible, though not certain, that Packington was silenced because he supported Anne Boleyn's religious agenda. Anne's religious agenda was also Thomas Cromwell's, and Cromwell did not balk at assassination in the service of official religion: in 1537 he sent a gentleman of the king's Privy Chamber, Peter Mewtas, to Paris with a "hand goon" and orders to shoot Reginald Cardinal...