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THE RELIGION OF HENRY VIII*

  • RICHARD REX (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

This article takes issue with the influential recent interpretation of Henry VIII's religious position as consistently ‘Erasmian’. Bringing to the discussion not only a re-evaluation of much familiar evidence but also a considerable quantity of hitherto unknown or little-known material, it proposes instead that Henry's religious position, until the 1530s, sat squarely within the parameters of ‘traditional religion’ and that the subsequent changes in his attitudes to the cult of the saints, monasticism, and papal primacy were so significant as to be understood and described by Henry himself in terms of a veritable religious ‘conversion’. This conversion, which was very much sui generis, is not easily to be fitted within the confessional frameworks of other sixteenth-century religious movements (though it was by no means unaffected by them). It hinged upon Henry's new understanding of kingship as a supreme spiritual responsibility entrusted to kings by the Word of God, but long hidden from them by the machinations of the papacy. His own providential deliverance from blindness was, he believed, but the beginning of a more general spiritual enlightenment.

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Corresponding author
Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9BSrawr1@cam.ac.uk
Footnotes
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*

I should like to acknowledge helpful comments from two seminars which heard earlier versions of this article: the History of Christianity Seminar in the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge, on 28 Jan. 2009; and the Religious History of Britain 1500–1800 Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research on 8 Feb. 2011. I am also much indebted to the anonymous readers who commented on this article in the form in which it was originally submitted for publication.

Footnotes
References
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L. Wooding , Rethinking Catholicism in Reformation England (Oxford, 2000)

Neil Samman , ‘The progresses of Henry VIII, 1509–1529’, in D. MacCulloch , ed., The Reign of Henry VIII: politics, policy and piety (Basingstoke, 1995), pp. 5973

J. Loach , ‘The function of ceremonial in the reign of Henry VIII’, Past and Present, 142 (1994), pp. 4368

R. Rex and C. D. C. Armstrong , ‘Henry VIII's ecclesiastical and collegiate foundations’, Historical Research, 75 (2002), pp. 390407

S. Gunn , ‘Edmund Dudley and the church’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 51 (2000), pp. 509–26

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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