The reformation in Wales | History

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The Reformation is one of the most studied, most discussed and heavily analysed periods of English history, arousing controversy and interest through the works of academics and the private study of interested individuals alike. J.A. Froude called it “[T]he greatest incident in English history,” but it would be just as easy to call it an act of sacrilege motivated by a selfish tyrant, interested more in perpetuating his own line than fulfilling his self-proclaimed role as “defender of the faith.” No matter the differences of historical opinion, its importance cannot be denied, and nor can its impact. Yet few authors have deigned to focus on the impact of this turbulent course of events on the principality of Wales, nor has there been much discussion of the role of its governor, Rowland Lee. This essay will do exactly that. It will begin with an analysis of the “Reformation Acts” as this author has dubbed them, the statutes enacted by Henry with the specific aim ofremaking the English church in his image. These measures affected thecountry as a whole, and any aspects peculiar to Wales will be examined. The essay will continue with a detailed look at the “Welsh Acts,”statutes often called (wrongly) Acts of Union. Obviously, their effectis specific to Wales, and the attitudes of the Welsh people will be especially noteworthy here. Finally, the scope of the inquiry will turn to the man who implemented those policies as President of the Council of Wales: Rowland Lee, Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. To some he was a blood-thirsty man,the “hanging bishop” who instigated a reign of terror. To others he was a skilled and efficient administrator, a man who was given a job to do and who took the actions necessary to its success. Once this essay isfinished, the thoughts of the writer will be well known, it will be upto the reader to make the final judgement.

The background to the Reformation is long and complex, and is morethan a simple matter of a childish egotist’s desire to take what he hasbeen told he cannot have. Nor is the motivation as simple as apolitical need to secure the continuation of his line through the birthof a healthy son. Both of these were factors in Henry’s thinking, butthey were not as simplistic as they have been portrayed. Henry was ascholar and had the capacity for intelligent, theoretical and theological thought. The Reformation was in part the end result of atheory of kingship based on the kingship of David in the Bible, and ona notion of imperium, that a king was the sole final arbiter of allmatters within his realm. Unfortunately, we do not have the available time or space to go into the causes of the Reformation in more detail. All that need concern the reader for the purpose of this study is that the Pope’s refusal to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon (thereby invalidating the papal dispensation that had made the marriage legal inthe first place) led Henry to break with the Church of Rome and taketotal control of the church in England.

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