Story of Europe - H. E. Marshall

Reformation Period—England and Scandinavia

In England the Reformation ran a different course from that in France or Germany. In these countries Protestantism spread in spite of the strenuous opposition of the rulers. In England it was aided by the ruler, King Henry VIII.

When Martin Luther first published his theses Henry VIII denounced him loudly, and as loudly upheld the headship of the pope. He even wrote a book called "The Defence of the Seven Sacraments," a copy of which, sumptuously bound, he sent to the pope. In return, Leo X bestowed upon him the title of Defender of the Faith.

A few years after this Henry desired to divorce his wife Katharine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn. He professed a fear that he had sinned against heaven in marrying Katharine at all, as she was the widow of his elder brother Arthur, and he asked the pope, now Clement VII, to grant him a divorce.

Now Katharine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, and the aunt of the Emperor Charles V. So Henry's demand placed Clement in a difficult position. If he refused to grant Henry's request he would offend him. If he granted it he would offend Charles V. He dared not offend Charles, so he temporized. But Henry grew weary of awaiting the pope's pleasure, and he induced Archbishop Cranmer to pronounce the divorce without further appeal to Rome.

Henry VIII Supreme Head of the English Church

Upon this the pope ordered Henry to take back his wife upon pain of excommunication. Instead of obeying, Henry replied by cutting the Church of England free from Rome.

Acts of Parliament were speedily passed declaring that the king of England, and not the pope of Rome, was the supreme head of the English Church, and forbidding the payment of any moneys to the pope. It was also declared that the bishop of Rome had no more jurisdiction in the kingdom of England than any other foreign bishop. Mass was ordered to be said in English instead of in Latin. Masses for the dead, pilgrimages, adoration of relics and images, were forbidden, and the Doctrine of Purgatory was denied. Beyond this Henry made little alteration in the teaching or services of the Church.

He, indeed, suppressed monasteries and convents. But this had nothing to do with religious conviction. He was in need of money, the religious houses were rich in land and money; therefore he suppressed them and took their wealth to himself.

Henry needed an excuse for doing this. His excuse was that the monks and nuns led wicked and idle lives, which were a disgrace to religion. In many cases this was true. Henry, however, did not distinguish between the houses of good or ill repute, but treated all alike. But the monasteries and convents were the hospitals, almshouses, and schools of the day, and the closing of them brought misery on the people. The land, too, was soon filled with homeless, beggared monks, and a rising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace took place. But the rebellion was put down, and Henry continued his suppressions.

Although England was thus separated from Rome not by the zeal of a reformer but by the command of a selfish and stubborn king, king and people were at one. The king's action in breaking with the pope coincided with the wishes of the people; they both girded at papal interference, and both clung to the old theology.

But besides this there was a real desire for reform, and to many it seemed that the king's reform was not radical enough. For many of the people had become imbued with the doctrines of Luther and Calvin, and wished to see England a Protestant country. This was not the king's will. He would brook no opposition to his will, and he put to death impartially Catholics who denied his supremacy as head of the Church, and Protestants who held Calvinistic theories about the Holy Sacrament.

So in England, no more than in other countries, was the Reformation accomplished without bloodshed and persecution. The new English Church persecuted those who refused adherence, but not till Mary Tudor came to the throne did the fires of persecution burn fiercely. She was an ardent Catholic, yet as queen of England she was supreme head of the Anglican Church, a church that she was bound to hate. In her fervent devotion to Rome she endeavoured to bring back England to its allegiance. But in spite of cruel persecution she failed.

Henry VIII had been able to impose his religion on the people of England, because they themselves desired to break with Rome. Mary failed to impose her religion on then, because her will was not theirs. In her blind fealty to Rome she plunged her country into blood. She repealed all the religious legislation of her father and of her brother Edward VI. But all her efforts were in vain. The awakening intellect of England became more and more Protestant and national, and no laws of princes could prevent its final severance from Rome.

John Knox

In Scotland, also, the new religion took root. The great reformer there was John Knox, a follower of Calvin. The success of the Reformation in Scotland was of great importance to the history of Europe. The young queen of Scots, Mary, brought up in France, was heart and soul with the Roman Church. If she had had a united country behind her she might with the help of Rome and France have made good her claim to the throne of England. Then in England the Protestant religion might have been wiped out for ever, even as it was destined to be in France. At least, so it seemed to the politicians of the day. Looking back, it seems very doubtful if the awakened spirit of liberty in England could have been so coerced.

As it was, Scotland was divided between the old religion and the new. English Protestants and Scottish Protestants made common cause against the French and the Catholics, and the allied Protestants triumphed. In this first union of religion may be seen the beginnings of united Britain.

Sweden, Denmark, and Norway

The Reformation spread even to Scandinavia and the far north. There, at first, it was imposed by the rulers somewhat after the manner of the English Reformation. But there, too, the people were ready for reform, and the countries soon became entirely Protestant.

During the centuries when the countries of south-western Europe had been rising to importance, Scandinavia had had little effect on them, and had been little affected by them. Its history is chiefly a record of internal struggles between the three kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark for supremacy. In 1397, by the Union of Calmar, these three kingdoms were at length united under one ruler. But still, although they had only one ruler, there was no real union among them.

The Swedes especially hated the domination of Denmark, and more than once tried to regain their independence. Then, in 1520, Christian II of Denmark, in the hope of for ever crushing Swedish independence, massacred all the nobles at Stockholm in cold blood.

This horrible deed was called the Stockholm Bath of Blood, and instead of crushing Sweden's desire for independence it roused the national spirit as it had never been roused before. The Swedes threw off all semblance of allegiance to Denmark, and chose a young noble named Gustavus Vasa for their leader. In 1523 there was a revolution in Denmark. Christian II was driven from the throne, and Gustavus Vasa became king of Sweden, and Frederick I of Holstein king of Denmark and Norway.

With the reign of Gustavus Vasa the history of Sweden as an independent kingdom may be said to begin. But meanwhile the kingdom was wasted with war. The royal treasury was empty, and Gustavus knew not where to turn for money. But although king and people were poor the Church was rich, and Gustavus determined to take the Church revenues for state purposes.

At a meeting of the Diet in 1527 he made clear his intentions. He was met with fierce opposition on the part of the bishops who were present, and finding he could not bend the Diet to his will he rose in anger.

"Then I will no more be your king," he cried, "and if you can find another who will please you better I will rejoice. Pay me for my possessions in the land, give me back what I have spent in your service. Then I shall go. And I swear solemnly I shall never come back to this debased and ungrateful country of mine." And with that he left them.

But the Swedes could not do without Gustavus. It was he alone who held the country together, and in three days they yielded to his demands. Thus by the will of one man the Reformation was established in Sweden.

A little later the Reformation was established in Denmark. Christian II had been attracted to the new religion, and had intended to introduce it, when his subjects had rebelled and driven him from the throne. His successor, Frederick, was a Protestant, and favoured the religion, but it was not until the reign of his son Christian III that it was fully established in the country.

During his reign also the new religion was established in Norway. For unlike Sweden, Norway had failed to assert her independence, and had even lost her old status as a separate kingdom, and become a mere dependency of the kingdom of Denmark.