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Edwardian Reformation

Edwardian Reformation

The Edwardian Reformation was a part of the English Reformation that took place during King Edward VI's reign from 1547 to 1553. It marks the first time the Church of England became wholly Protestant, abandoning most of the Catholic undertones of Henry VIII's Church. Even though Edward VI's reign was cut short by his ill health, this period marked a significant change in the religious structure of England. However, many reforms implemented during his reign are still part of the Church of England today. Let's examine this age of English reformation!

Edwardian Reformation, Portrait of King Edward VI, StudySmarter

King Edward VI by William Scrots, c. 1550.

Source: Royal Collection, United Kingdom, RCIN 405751.

King Edward VI (1537-1553)

Edward VI was the only son of King Henry VIII. He was only nine years old when he became king, so he was placed under the care of Lord Protectors during his minority. The young Edward suffered from poor health all his life, but he was a devout Protestant and genuinely believed in a reformed Church of England. He died at age fifteen of pneumonia, temporarily crushing the momentum of the Protestant Reformation in England. His Catholic sister Mary I succeeded him in 1553.

The Edwardian Reformation: Summary and Definition

The Edwardian Reformation was a part of the English Reformation that began with Henry VIII's "great matter," leading to the Church of England's break with Catholicism and the Papal court in Rome. The young Edward VI's faith leaned towards a much stricter form of Protestantism than his father as he was educated by reformers, particularly Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. The Edwardian Reformation ushered in doctrinal reforms that more closely resembled those emerging in Continental Europe.

Edwardian Reformation, Portrait of Thomas Cranmer, StudySmarter

Thomas Cranmer by Gerlard Flicke, 1545.
Source: National Portrait Gallery UK, NPG 535

The Edwardian Reformation History

The primary reforms implemented during the Edwardian Reformation stemmed from the pen of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1489-1556). In 1547 Cranmer invited influential Continental reformers to move to England and take positions at Oxford University. He drafted the documents that would define the reformed Church of England with their assistance.

Act of Uniformity (1549)

In January 1549, Parliament under Edward VI passed the Act of Uniformity, written by a committee chaired by Cranmer. This Act mandated that the entire realm follow the same religious practices outlined in a new Book of Common Prayer. Parliament gave the clergy one year to comply with the new changes, and if they still refused were subject to harsh punishment, including life imprisonment for repeat offenders.

Book of Common Prayer (1549)

This book contained the first collection of daily prayers in the English language. It also outlined the church services for the Church of England. The first version made compromises with the more traditional, Catholic-leaning Church of England from Henry VIII's reign. For example, it kept altars in churches and robes for the clergy. However, it did make sweeping changes to Church doctrine, grounded in Protestant teachings of Justification by Faith Alone and Predestination (only a preselected elect get into Heaven).

Zealous reformers thought the Book did not represent enough reform to the Church of England and pushed Cranmer to make stricter changes. But Cranmer was more politically aware than these individuals and chose the path of more gradual reform. However, the Book of Common Prayer still incited hostility from traditionalists who thought the changes too much. An unsuccessful rebellion rose up in the areas of Devon and Cornwall because of opposition to the Book of Common Prayer, which claimed the lives of 5,500 people.

Act of Uniformity and Book of Common Prayer (1552)

The new Act of Uniformity passed by Parliament laid the groundwork for even more significant Protestant reforms to the Church of England. It mandated that all churches in the realm now adhere to the doctrinal changes in a new Book of Common Prayer.

This new Book removed prayers for the dead because they implied the existence of Purgatory, which was a Roman Catholic belief. Regular bread replaced communion wafers. Infants were no longer lightly exorcized to remove original sin at baptism. After Edward VI died in 1553, Mary I removed the Book from use, but Elizabeth I reinstated it in 1559.

Forty-Two Articles (1552)

Cranmer and a committee of reformers outlined these articles that defined the practices and doctrines of the Church of England. It sought to reform canon law in England so that it resembled the reform doctrines in Continental Europe. Unfortunately, Edward VI died before Parliament could approve the Articles. However, when Elizabeth I ascended the throne, she presented them to a Convocation with only minor revisions. Articles that appeared more Catholic-leaning were removed. The document became the Thirty-Nine Articles (1571), which form the basis of Anglican Church doctrine today.

Edwardian Reformation Timeline

January 1547: Henry VIII died, leaving his nine-year-old son to succeed him as king. King Edward VI began his reign under the Protectorate of his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.

Edwardian Reformation, Portrait of Edward Seymour, StudySmarter

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, by an unknown artist. Source: CC-PD-Mark, Wikimedia Commons

August 1547: Somerset issued the Royal Injunctions to guide appointed commissioners in their inspection of England's churches. The Injunctions banned religious processions, rosaries, lighting votive prayer candles, and holy water. In addition, they incited widespread violence towards the churches that resulted in the mass destruction of church property, destroying stained glass, altars, and statues of religious figures.

December 1547: Parliament passed the Sacrament Act, which allowed everyone to take communion (now called Eucharist) in both forms of bread and wine. Under Catholicism, people only received the bread, and the clergy alone drank the wine.

December 1547: The Chantries Act abolished chantry houses from England, and the government seized their property. Chantries were chapels built to sing masses for individuals, particularly for the dead, to help them exit Purgatory and enter Heaven. Many former chantries were then sold to private individuals.

January 1549: Parliament passes the first Act of Uniformity and mandates the use of the new Book of Common Prayer throughout the realm.

Summer 1549: Rebellion arose in Devon and Cornwall in opposition to the new Church reforms and a new poll tax on sheep, worsening economic conditions in the area. The English army under Somerset finally defeated the rebels in August 1549, but 5,500 lives were lost in the process.

October 1549: The summer rebellion destroyed Somerset's reputation and the nobles' faith in his leadership. He was removed from office and arrested. John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who later granted himself the title of Duke of Northumberland, emerged as the king's new lead advisor and Protector. Somerset was executed in 1552 for plotting to overthrow Dudley.

1550-1551: Clergy who preferred the more traditional Church of England structure that existed under Henry VIII were removed from their positions. Cranmer created a new document that outlined the ordination services for deacons, priests, and bishops. In addition, Edward ordered that stone altars be removed from all churches.

April 1552: Parliament issued the new Act of Uniformity which mandated that all clergy use the updated Book of Common Prayer for services. During this year, Cranmer also revised canon law and introduced the Forty-Two Articles to Parliament, although they were not adopted.

1552-1553: More commissioners were appointed to inspect the realm's churches for compliance with the new reforms. Churches were stripped of everything but the bare essentials for worship. Commissioners seized candlesticks, altar cloths, chalices, and other decorative items not deemed fit for Protestant worship.

July 6, 1553: Edward VI died. In his final months, he issued a new succession plan that removed his Catholic sister Mary and replaced her with a Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Gray. Northumberland forced the marriage of Jane with his son Guildford in a coup for power. Jane reigned as queen for nine days before the people rallied behind Mary and secured her place on the throne. Jane was thrown into the Tower of London and later executed.

July 19, 1553: The Privy Council officially proclaimed Mary I queen, ending the Edwardian Reformation and ushering in England five years of Catholic Reformation.

Edwardian Reformation, Portrait of Mary I of England, StudySmarter

Mary I of England by Antonis Mor, 1554.
Source: Museo del Prado, Spain, Sala 056

Impact and Legacy

Was the Edwardian Reformation successful? Yes and no. The legislation Edward VI set down to change the Church of England to a strictly Protestant faith effectively stripped churches of their Catholic trappings and forced Protestant doctrine on the people. But, again, there was resistance, particularly in areas farther away from London that were more difficult to regulate.

Historian Eamon Duffy points out that while outward conformity to the reformed agenda was more or less universal, one cannot assume that conformity brought sincere religious change. He argues that there was great enthusiasm for returning to Catholicism under Mary I, which indicates that not all English people truly converted to the reformed faith during Edward's reign. If he had reigned longer, this might have been different.

The "English Reformation"

As such, Edwardian reforms did make an impact in the long term. Elizabeth I based much of her religious settlement and doctrinal policies on those implemented during her brother's reign. The Elizabethan articles of faith are still the backbone of the Anglican church today.

Edwardian Reformation - Key Takeaways

  • The Edwardian Reformation lasted from 1547 to 1553 during the reign of King Edward VI of England.
  • This period saw significant changes in the Church of England's doctrine and practices, aligning more with the reformed Protestantism sweeping Continental Europe. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was the chief architect of the reform movement.
  • After Edward died in 1553, the reform movement fell apart under the reign of Mary I. However, Elizabeth I reinstated many Edwardian reforms when she ascended to the throne in 1558.

Frequently Asked Questions about Edwardian Reformation

The Edwardian Reformation was a series of Protestant reforms carried out during the reign of King Edward VI of England from 1547 to 1553.

Protestantism was officially established as England's religion during the Edwardian Reformation. Edward VI introduced a new prayer book and instructions for how churches across the realm should operate. These reforms drastically changed the shape of religion in England.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, his son Edward VI became King of England. Edward had been educated as a Protestant and was very devout in that faith. During his reign, he implemented changes to the realm's religious practices that mirrored his own inclinations.

The Edwardian Reformation took place during the reign of King Edward VI of England from 1547 to 1553.

Yes and no. The legislation Edward VI set down to change the Church of England to a strictly Protestant faith was effective during his lifetime. However, there was resistance, particularly in areas farther away from London that were more difficult to regulate. Moreover, Edward's Catholic sister Mary I utterly overturned Edward's reforms when she succeeded Edward in 1553. But Elizabeth I restored many elements of the Edwardian Reformation during her reign in 1559.

Final Edwardian Reformation Quiz


When did the Edwardian Reformation begin?

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When did the Edwardian Reformation end?

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Who was the chief architect of the Edwardian Reformation?

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Thomas Cranmer

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Which of the following was NOT written during the Edwardian Reformation?

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The Edict of Nantes

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Why is the Edwardian Reformation important?

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This period saw significant changes in the Church of England's doctrine and practices, aligning more with the reformed Protestantism in Continental Europe

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What is NOT true about the Forty-Two articles?

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Parliament passed them into law in 1552

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Who was Lord Protector of England during the first part of Edward VI's reign?

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Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

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Who became the most influential political advisor to the king after the Lord Protector's fall in 1549?

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John Dudley, Earl of Wiltshire

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Why did Edward VI alter the line of succession to prevent his half-sister, Mary from taking the throne after him?

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Because she was Catholic and would undo his Protestant reforms

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True or False: The people of England enthusiastically embraced the 1549 Book of Common Prayer

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False- rebellion broke out against the doctrinal changes in West England, and many Protestants thought it did not make enough reforms

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