Impact of the Reformation

The ruins of the Abbey Church

Henry VIII's reformation of the church is one of the most famous and important events in English history.  The people of York felt its impact more than most.

It wasn’t so much popular discontent with the Catholic church which led to the Reformation as Henry’s desperate desire to get out of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon.

He demanded to be free to marry Anne Boleyn, who might provide him with a male heir to continue the Tudor dynasty.  The Pope would not sanction the divorce, despite the efforts of Archbishop Wolsey, and excommunicated Henry when it took place in 1533.

In the 1530s laws were quickly passed to reduce the influence of the Catholic church in England and appoint the king as Supreme Head of the Church.  That left England isolated against some of the most powerful nations in Europe.

Henry had no money to prepare for a possible invasion but realised the religious houses owned vast tracts of land as well as gold, silver and other treasure.  He moved to take control over much of the Church’s property through the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

York had long benefited from its strong religious links.  It was the seat of the archbishop and home to the Minster with its canons and vicars choral.  The York Abbey, St Mary's, was the largest of the city’s religious houses, but not the only one.  There were also Holy Trinity Priory, St Leonard’s Hospital, St Andrew’s Priory, Clementhorpe Nunnery and four friars’ convents.

York stood to lose more than many cities from Henry’s religious revolution, so it is no surprise that the rebellious march known as Pilgrimage of Grace began in the city.


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