The Holy Church in the British Isles c. 1500


Map Code: Ax01898

The English Reformation was essentially a political confection, driven by Henry VIII, without the powerful grass-roots element of its German predecessors. The Black Death had already devastated many monastic communities and many thenceforth fell into decline, but this process was mitigated by the rise of mendicant orders. There is limited evidence of popular anti-clericalism, but where it occurred it tended to be centred on financial or administrative grievances rather than liturgy. Wycliffe’s ‘Lollardy’ prefigured Luther but lacked general support. The Norman Conquest standardized ecclesiastical practice with continental norms in respect of clerical celibacy, canon law and the holding of synods. The universities at Oxford and Cambridge, and later St Andrews and Glasgow, began as religious schools. Ecclesiastical landowners were major employers, legal executors and educators; while services were conducted in Latin, mystery plays (popular cycles were held in Chester, York and Coventry) and even stained-glass windows popularized religious messages in a pre-literate society.

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