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Was the reformation imposed from above on an unwilling indifferent country or was it initiated from below and all that Henry had to do was channel this dissatisfaction for his own ends?


In 1512 John Colet, the Dean of St Paul's, preached the opening sermon to a meeting of the Convocation of Canterbury. In this speech he emphasised the need for reform and blamed the current state on the clergy.

In 1529, before the opening of the Parliament, Simon Fish, a Lutheran and lawyer, wrote a pamphlet A Supplication for the Beggars, which was strongly anti-clerical.

In the early c16th it was very generously staffed.

Many entered the profession because it was the only profession they could enter. Modern comparison would be teaching or the civil service.

Colet and Fish both agreed that there was too much:

  • Pluralism
  • Non-residence
  • Nepotism
  • Simony (buying or selling of church benefits. Like pardons or relics).
The Lollards had been criticising the Church for many years.

Humanists believed in the central importance of the Humanities.

That is to say that they believed in the importance of the study of the classics as well as the Bible, i.e. Plato and other philosophers.

The movement was inspired by Erasmus the Dutch scholar. He campaigned for reforms in the church.

Humanists believed that the church should be much simpler and based more on the Bible.


They believed that religion should be a matter of inner faith rather than based on display and ceremony.

People who followed this line of thinking were also known as Erasmians. Including: Colet, Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester. But they stopped short of challenging the doctrine of the church.

There were others like Simon Fish who believed that the church would have to be reformed by the King because it was beyond reforming itself.

There were also the heretics like the Lollards who had held many of the ideas of Martin Luther before his protest. For example, they attacked the notion of the priest as the intermediary between the layman and God. These groups were never influential and historians debate their strength.

By 1519 his books were in England. They came over via the East of the country through those that traded with Germany.

Cambridge academics would meet in the White Horse Inn to discuss these new ideas.

In 1525 Tyndale produced a version of the Bible in English rather than Latin (New Testament). It was very successful and it ran to several editions.

Lutherans had few supporters in England. They were not really a challenge to the church.

Records of visitations show that many of the Bishops were carrying out their duties conscientiously.

The clergy were not always the fumbling ignorant hypocrites that they are portrayed to be by many. They might not have been in touch with all of the latest ideas but they would have had some conventional training.

The clergy were criticised for being over efficient!

Look at wills. Many leave money and goods to be used for religious purposes. There are bequests to orders of friars and nuns. Money is left for the praying of mass when they are dead.

There was a lot of church building in this period, and most of this was paid by the parishioners themselves.

There are a number of books published in the period which focus on piousness.

"All this indicates a people co-operating with the clergy in maintaining a Church that satisfied their needs. Far from the laity and clergy being at odds they are seen acting in partnership." (Scarisbrick)