REFORMATION and The Tudor Women

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Tudor Women who influenced the Reformation
despite living in a Patriarchal society
where women were considered chattels and subordinate to men

" Our biggest enemy is terrorism," says Charles Beem, (aka <a href="../account/tudorhistorian" target="_self" title="tudorhistorian">tudorhistorian</a> on the wiki)
an historian at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
"Theirs was the Reformation. You can't overestimate
how traumatic the changes in the church would have been."
You might get close if you imagined that Monica Lewinsky had been a radical Islamist
and Bill Clinton married her and made everyone convert.

- Time Magazine - Mar. 22, 2007 "When Royals Become Rock Stars" By Rebecca Winters Keegan

The "Nursing Mothers"
of The Reformation
These are women who played important roles
in supporting the tenets of the Protestant Reformation in England

There were several socially prominent and well-educated women who dedicated a great deal of time and attention to the major theological concerns of the sixteenth century. Each in her own fashion zealously supported the Reformation to the point of torture, exile, or martyrdom. Dedicated to promulgating the reformed religion, each attempted to overcome the widespread opposition to their cause. All of these young women were intensely interested in the religious concerns of their day and all but Anne Boleyn left behind a considerable body of written work. Each woman bears witness to her gender as it relates to theology and motivation. The personalities of these women, who spoke their Christian convictions with presence of mind and sharp intelligence within situations of life-and-death duress, are almost totemic in our enduring search for role models.

"All of these woman thought theologically, they were lay theologians. They read theological books, most especially the Bible, and anything to which they could gain access from the continental Protestant Reformers. They talked theology. Their inner circles were twenty-four-hours-a-day Bible studies. They saw everything that happened through two lenses: the lens of the providence of God and the lens of the furtherance of the Reformed religion."

~ Author Dean Paul F.M. Zahl in his book <a class="external" href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title="'Five Women of the Reformation'">'Five Women of the Reformation'</a>.
In his book he states that Anne Boleyn, Anne Askew, Catherine Parr, Jane Grey, and Catherine Brandon nee Willoughby “muscularly and monocularly” strove for the furtherance of the Reformed faith in their nation.

The First Phase - justification by grace through faith rediscovered
Anne Boleyn by an unknown artist

Catherine Parr- Historical Potraits

*Martin Luther developed the teaching of justification by faith alone in response to the excesses of emphasis on faith and prayer for others. During the Middle Ages, many people came to believe that they would be saved from damnation if they said the right words or carried around the right objects. These ideas were never officially endorsed by the Church hierarchy, but they weren't particularly discouraged either--partly because a lot of people were gaining money and prestige from their perceived ability to provide tickets to Heaven.Salvation increasingly came to be seen as something that could be purchased or negotiated.Luther reacted against this by talking about salvation by faith alone, meaning that a personal decision to follow God was all that one needed to be saved--the amulets and special prayers weren't necessary if you had faith, and wouldn't help you if you didn't. Justification by faith alone because the theological epicenter of the Reformation, since it affirmed the individual's ability to be saved without mediation or intervention from an ecclesiastical hierarchy, and without going through any rituals that could be put under human control.
Anne Boleyn (1507-1536) introduced the Reformation to England, and Catherine Parr (1514-1548) saved it.
Anne Boleyn's Book of Prayers
Both women were riveted by early versions of the * "justification by faith" doctrine (rather than by good works which threatened the whole basis of the Catholic penitential system with its endowed masses and prayers for the dead as well as its doctrine of purgatory. Neither pious acts, nor prayers nor masses, on this view, can secure the grace of God; only faith) that originated with *Martin Luther and came to them through France. Anne had an impressive theological library, supported *William Tyndale, and Anne Boleyn's Book of Hoursin part was beheaded for her Reformed convictions. Zahl says Anne Boleyn, "died meekly but gave away nothing." So completely was she erased from the official record "it became as if she had never lived." However, she left the indelible mark of her faith. As queen, Anne understood her providential mission to bring the Reformation to England and employ every single instance of patronage and influence to that end."

While in France, Anne Boleyn had been lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude. It was there that she had made the acquaintance of Princess Marguerite of Navarre. As a patron of humanists and an author in her own right, it was she who encouraged Anne's interest in poetry and literature. She gave Anne the original manuscript of Miroir de l'âme pécheresse. Later Anne's daughter, Princess Elizabeth Tudor —who would become Queen Elizabeth I — at age twelve, translated this very same poem by Marguerite into English, written in her own hand, to her then-stepmother, Queen Catherine Parr. This literary connection among Marguerite, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr, and the future Queen Elizabeth I suggests a direct mentoring link between the legacy of reformist religious convictions and Marguerite of Navarre.

Catherine Parr wrote a remarkable devotional book entitled Lamentation of a Sinner and narrowly
Catherine Parr's handwriting avoided execution, surviving Henry."Shall I fall in desperation?" Catherine asked "Nay, I will call upon Christ, the Light of the world. The Fountain of life, the relief of all careful consciences, the Peacemaker between God and man, and the only health and comfort of all repentant sinners."

Tyndale's Bible translation
William Tyndale's
Old and New Testaments were the first English translation of the scripture taken directly form the original Hebrew and Greek languages. They remain the basis of most mainstream English language Bibles. Tyndale's 1526 New Testament was the first ever printed in English. In the 1530's he also translated the first fourteen books of the Old Testament. He thus became the first man to translate anything from Hebrew into English as Hebrew was virtually unknown in England at that time.

The Second Phase - the implications of justification by faith for the Mass, the Mass being the central action and transaction of medieval Catholicism
Lady Jane Grey

Jane Grey (1537-1554) & Anne Askew (1521-1546) both dared to criticize the Mass and were pioneers of Protestant views concerning superstition and symbols.

Jane Grey, the child prodigy who wrote to Heinrich Bullinger for help studying Hebrew, left behind an articulate written testimony when she was beheaded at the age of 16 in part because of her Protestantism. Anne Askew
often used her gender defensively to taunt her examiners about their fears of a “silly woman’s” opinions and was eventually horribly tortured and burned at the stake. "Anne Askew's primary target was biblical teaching concerning the eucharist, and more precisely the idea of transubstantiation. Anne was burned for denying transubstantiation. Her denial of it was aggressive. In fact she mocked the concept!"

Zahl believes Anne Askew rejected transubstantiation for two reasons."First, it is irrational to say that God can be contained within any object of any kind..`God will not be eaten with teeth': This is the Enlightenment or critical, deconstructing side of Protestantism in early form." Anne's second reason Zahl calls an "evangelical" one, namely the notion that Christ 's atoning death occurred once for all. "To conceive of the Eucharist as a sacrifice of repetition, by which the benefits of Christ's death are presented new and actual each time on the altar, was to denigrate the `one, full perfect sacrifice'" of which Thomas Cranmer wrote.

The Third Phase - focus on election and predestination
Catherine Brandon by Hans Holbein
Catherine Brandon nee Willoughby (1520-1580) Duchess of Suffolk anticipated later Puritan teachings on predestination and election and on the reformation of the church.

Catherine addressed primarily the subjects of divine will, providence, and election. When she lost her sons Charles and Henry to death, she sought to understand it as a "mercy". She meant that by taking away from her, her very most cherished prerogative-her children and her attachment to them - God had intentionally forced her to rely solely on Him." Zahl confesses this is "counterintuitive" yet sees it as the inevitable outflow of Luther's theology. "If grace alone saves, then God alone is the willing actor in all human events. Contemporary people make heavy weather of this. Our ancestors ge
nerally accepted it." When the focus of the Reformation was on the doctrines of providence and election; Catherine studied Scripture with the other women, and protected preacher Hugh Latimer until forced into exile with her nursing daughter and her Protestant husband Richard Bertie. They fled with other English exiles to the continent to escape the Marian Persecutions. Catherine and her family only returned to England once Elizabeth accessed the throne in 1558. Catherine is quoted as saying : "What I think we can say regarding the steel of our heroes' convictions is that in each case their new convictions were made firmer by means of affliction, loss and harassment."

The Last Tudor Monarch
was a woman who continued the work of the Reformation,
but was she a committed Reformer?

The Elizabethan Religious Settlement - "The Revolution of 1559"
Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I (1533 - 1604) Although Elizabeth had adhered to the Catholic faith during her sister's reign, she had been raised a Protestant, and was committed to that faith. Elizabeth's religious views were remarkably tolerant for the age in which she lived. She believed sincerely in her own faith, but she also believed in religious toleration, and that Catholics and Protestants were both part of the same faith. "There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith" she exclaimed later in her reign, "all else is a dispute over trifles." She also declared that she had "no desire to make windows into men's souls". So she was essentially a moderate.

Throughout her reign, Elizabeth's main concern was the peace and stability of the realm, and religious persecution was only adopted when certain religious groups threatened this peace. It was unfortunate for Elizabeth that so many of her contemporaries did not share her views on toleration, and she was forced by circumstance to adopt a harsher line towards Catholics than she intended or wanted. Elizabeth's toleration of Catholics, and her refusal to make changes to the Church she established in 1559, has led some historians to doubt her commitment to her faith - even to assert that she was an atheist, but such statements are misleading. Elizabeth wanted a Church that would appeal to both Catholics and Protestants, and did not want to move the Church in a more Protestant direction, thus making it more difficult for Catholics to accept the Church than it was already. The form of worship also suited the Queen's conservative religion. She had little sympathy with Protestant extremists who wanted to strip the Church of it's finery, ban choral music, vestments and bell ringing, and liked her Church just the way it was.

Elizabeth had her own private chapel in most of her palaces, and reputedly prayed there everyday. She saw herself as God's vessel on earth, and would pray to determine God's will so that he would reveal it to her, and she could implement it. Although Elizabeth's actual beliefs elude us, we are able to get an indication of them from her attitudes and gestures. Her chapels were conservative - the crucifix was displayed, and she also liked candles and music. She disliked long Protestant sermons, but also expressed displeasure at some Catholic rituals such as the elevation of the host, which implied that she rejected the Catholic belief of transubstantiation. She also did not really approve of the clergy marrying as she expressed on several occasions, but as this was an integral aspect of Protestantism, she had to accept it.

A more personal indication of her beliefs are the prayers she wrote for her people, and the letters she wrote to her friends and relations. In these letters she often referred to God and the need to accept his will. In her prayers she also acknowledged her own faults and shortcomings. Elizabeth was by no means the perfect Protestant by the standards of many of her clergy - she swore terribly, using expressions that some thought were blasphemous, one of her favorite being "God's Death", and her sumptuous appearance was criticized by the more radical Protestants, known as "Puritans", who accused her of vanity and idolatry - but there is no reason to doubt that the Queen was a committed Protestant who took her faith seriously.

Tudor Women who also had their part,
however unwittingly in the rise of the Reformation

Katherine of AragonKatherine of Aragon (1485-1536)
In 1534, Katherine wrote a 3 page letter imploring her nephew Emperor Charles V to intercede with Pope Clement VII to uphold her marriage ( see: Katherine of Aragon in her own words) which has arguably been called the 'Letter that changed history' because in March of that same year, the Pope declared the marriage valid despite years of vacillating on the issue.

On her deathbed Ambassador Chapuys wrote that he "spent more than an hour with her, alone apart from the doctor and Catherine's 'old trusty women'. ....

In these conversations, Chapuys was worried about tiring Catherine. But she insisted on prolonging them and their exchanges became more and more frank...... She was worried about More and Fisher - the 'good men [who] had suffered in persons and goods ' - and about the mounting tide of heresy which threatened to engulf England. Such things were anathema to her. But they had arisen because of her steadfastness. Had she, she now asked herself been right? Or was her behaviour a mere selfish intransigence, which God was punishing by visiting these horrors on her adoptive country?......

Catherine's original doubts, however, were right. She had acted her part from the best of motives. And bearing in mind her character, she could scarcely have behaved otherwise. Nevertheless, the awful truth remains that the Reformation, and all it entailed was her work as much as Henry's and Anne's."

[Source : David Starkey's Six Wives, The Queens of Henry VIII]
Mary IMary I
(1516 - 1558)

In 1553 when Mary became queen she rejected the break with Rome instituted by her father and the establishment of Protestantism by Edward VI and reconciled England with Rome. Many rich Protestants chose exile, and around 800 left the country. What became known as the Marian Persecutions was instituted resulting in nearly 300 executions for heresy. Most notably Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

The steps leading to Cranmer's execution were very exceptional since the Marian Church did let people go if they recanted their Protestantism.

There hasn't been a case where an individual who had recanted was still sent to the stake. His death was unlawful as under church guidelines a repented heretic who embraced the Church was not to be punished with the flames. Why Mary chose to persecute him is a matter of some debate.

Perhaps she blamed him for her mother's humiliation and the fact that she had been bastardised as it was he who announced the annulment of her parent's marriage or maybe it was because she saw him as a figurehead for the Protestant Edwardian Reformation or for political reasons, she saw him as a liability. She may have believed it was her 'duty' to remove him as she felt he was not being sincere in his recantation.

Despite her reasons, her decision was unwise as she could have exploited Cranmer's recantation. Instead she made him into a martyr and
thus strengthened the Protestant cause. See also : How Bloody was Mary?