This is part 10 of a 15 part series examining the historical antecedents of the Anglican Communion.
I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.
Matthew 26: 31
In 1547, Edward VI, the only son of Henry VIII, was crowned King of England. He was nine. Edward’s mother was Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour. Jane died of an infection several days after giving birth to Edward. The Seymour family, however, and particularly her two older brothers, Edward and Thomas, had gained great influence when Henry took Jane as his queen consort. Jane and her brothers were children of the scandalous Tudor figure, Sir John Seymour. Edward Seymour’s first wife was Catherine Filiol, but Edward discovered that Sir John, his father, was having an affair with his wife. Edward had the marriage annulled and their children were declared illegitimate since no one could say who their father really was. Catherine was packed off to a convent. Edward remarried. Sir John lived out his life in disgrace.
At nine, Edward VI was too young to rule on his own. Henry’s will had established a council of regency. This council had originally been evenly divided between Protestant and Catholic interests. The Catholics, however, were represented mostly by members of the family of Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, who had been executed after numerous adulterous affairs. Since the Howards were no longer welcome at court, their seats had been given to Protestants. Thus, the regency council that guided and advised Edward was heavily Protestant. The two most prominent members of the regency council were the Seymour brothers, Edward’s uncles. Edward Seymour was made Duke of Somerset and very quickly had himself declared Lord Protector of England, king in all but name. The regency council was reduced to a board of advisors and rarely consulted by the Lord Protector.
With a thoroughly Protestant Lord Protector ruling England, backed by a Protestant-dominated regency council, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was finally able to publicly declare his Protestant beliefs. Henry VIII may have removed the Church of England from the Pope’s authority, but he was no fan of Luther and considered himself a Catholic. Under Henry, Cranmer had thought it unsafe to declare his Protestant faith and his disagreements with the Church on doctrinal matters. In fact, Cranmer had at times participated in the torture and execution of Protestants, forcefully bidding them to abjure the beliefs that he himself held.
Now, finally, Cranmer could put his beliefs into practice. In 1548 he produced the first Book of Common Prayer, which was debated in the House of Lords. During this debate, Cranmer revealed that he believed that the Eucharistic presence was spiritual only; he did not accept the doctrine of transubstantiation. The Parliament eventually authorized publication of the BCP, and almost immediately afterward abolished compulsory clerical celibacy.
Parliament also made use of the BCP mandatory throughout England. At about the same time, commissioners were sent all over England to remove shrines and other symbols of Roman Catholicism. In Devon and Cornwall, areas that remained largely Catholic, serious trouble ensued. Not only did they object to use of a Protestant liturgy, they objected to an English language liturgy. If the mass were to be recited in the vernacular, they wanted it recited in their language, Cornish. There was a violent popular uprising, which was brutally met by an army sent by Somerset, the Lord Protector. Over 5,000 were killed. The rebellion began in July, 1549, and was largely over by August. Somerset, however, was politically wounded. He lost his role as Lord Protector in October. In 1552 he was executed. His younger brother, Thomas, had hatched a plot earlier in 1549 to depose Somerset which involved kidnapping the young king. This plot was exposed and Thomas had been executed.
With Somerset deposed, John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, became the dominant power in England. He did not try to install himself as Lord Protector, but instead took the titles of Lord President of the Regency Council and Steward of the King’s Household. Six weeks before the death of Edward VI, Northumberland’s son, Gilford Dudley, was married to Lady Jane Grey, the granddaughter of Mary Tudor. Mary Tudor was the younger sister of Henry VIII. If Henry’s two daughters Elizabeth and Mary were considered illegitimate, as they had been declared by Parliament under Henry, then the last remaining Tudor issue were Lady Jane Grey and her second cousin, Mary of Scotland, who was the granddaughter of Henry’s older sister, Margaret Tudor. At the time, Mary of Scotland was living at the court of the King of France and was betrothed to the Dauphin. Thus at Edward’s death, Lady Jane would have a strong claim to the throne.
Edward was raised a Protestant and certainly professed Protestant faith. He likely would not have wanted to be succeeded by his older sister, the thoroughly Catholic Mary. As Edward was dying, Northumberland induced him to sign a document disinheriting his sisters from the throne and declaring that the legitimate heir was Lady Jane.
Edward died on July 6, 1553, at the age of 15. Reputedly, his last words were, “Oh my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry and maintain thy true religion.” His death was kept secret for four days while the council paved the way for the coronation of Lady Jane. On July 10, she was crowned queen, a position she never sought and took only under pressure from her family. Her reign would last for nine days. Henry’s eldest child, Mary, had gathered an army and was marching toward London to claim her throne.
Father, forgive us. We have abused and oppressed those with whom we disagree. We have used your holy church to achieve venal ends. We have committed abominable acts. We have used our children to further our own political ambitions. We have been arrogant and cruel.
Father, may we come face to face with our sin where it exists, and may we repent of our sin. Forgive us, Father. Forgive our ancestors. Their sins continue to this day through our own acts.
Have mercy, Father. Use the blood shed by Jesus on the cross to cleanse the sins of our ancestors and our own sins. Wipe clean this stain on our history. Restore us. Break the cycle of repeated sins. Free us from bondage to this history. Begin a new creation in which you are our God and we are your people.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and true King.