Catholics and Protestants

When Henry VIII died in 1547, his only son Edward was only nine years old. He was too young to rule, so his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, took over the running of the country. Seymour was a Protestant and he soon began to make changes to the Church of England. This included the introduction of an English Prayer Book and the decision to allow members of the clergy to get married. Attempts were made to destroy those aspects of religion that were associated with the Catholic church, for example, the removal of stained-glass windows in churches and the destruction of religious wall-paintings.

Somerset made sure that Edward VI was educated as a Protestant, as he hoped that when Edward was old enough to rule he would continue the policy of supporting the Protestant religion. However, this was not to be, as Edward died of tuberculosis at the age of fifteen.

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Henry VIII

Mary Tudor


Henry VIII

Henry VIII


Henry VIII

Henry VII


Anne Boleyn

The next in line to the throne was Henry VIII's eldest daughter, Mary. As her mother was Catherine of Aragon, Mary had been brought up as a devout Catholic. Attempts were made by the Protestants to make the sixteen-year-old Lady Jane Grey queen. However, the attempted coup failed and she was executed.

These Protestant attempts to overthrow Mary made her feel insecure. To protect her position, Mary decided to form an alliance with the Catholic monarchy in Spain. In 1554 Mary married Philip II, the eldest son of King Charles of Spain.

The marriage was unpopular with the English people. They disliked the idea of having a foreign king. At that time the English particularly disliked the Spanish as they were seen as England's main rivals in Europe. Soon after her marriage, Mary declared that the Pope was the only true head of the Church. This was followed by the execution of Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury and other Protestants who refused to accept the Pope as head of the Church. These heretics were also punished if they were found reading bibles that had been printed in the English language.

In 1558 Mary began to get pains in her stomach and thought she was pregnant. This was important to Mary as she wanted to ensure that a Catholic monarchy would continue after her death. It was not to be. Mary had stomach cancer. When Mary died later that year. Henry VIII's other daughter, Elizabeth, a Protestant, became queen of England.

Primary Sources

(1) John Gerard was a Catholic priest who was tortured in the Tower of London on 14 April 1597.

We went to the torture room in a kind of solemn procession, the attendants walking ahead with lighted candles.

The chamber was underground and dark, particularly near the entrance. It was a vast place and every device and instrument of human torture was there. They pointed out some of them to me and said that I would try them all. Then they asked me again whether I would confess.

'I cannot,' I said.

I fell on my knees for a moment's prayer. Then they took me to a big upright pillar, one of the wooden posts which held the roof of this huge underground chamber. Driven in to the top of it were iron staples for supporting heavy weights. Then they put my wrists into iron gauntlets and ordered me to climb two or three wicker steps. My arms were then lifted up and an iron bar was passed through the rings of one gauntlet, then through the staple and rings of the second gauntlet. This done, they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it slipping, and then, removing the wicker steps one by one from under my feet, they left me hanging by my hands and arms fastened above my head. The tips of my toes, however, still touched the ground, and they had to dig away the earth from under them. They had hung me up from the highest staple in the pillar and could not raise me any higher, without driving in another staple.

Hanging like this I began to pray. The gentlemen standing around asked me whether I was willing to confess now.

'I cannot and I will not,' I answered.

But I could hardly utter the words, such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood in my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing out from the ends of my fingers and the pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it, and added to it, I had an interior temptation. Yet I did not feel any inclination or wish to give them the information they wanted. The Lord saw my weakness with the eyes of His mercy, and did not permit me to be tempted beyond my strength. With the temptation He sent me relief. Seeing my agony and the struggle going on in my mind. He gave me this most merciful thought: the utmost and worst they can do to you is to kill you, and you have often wanted to give your life for your Lord God. The Lord God sees all you are enduring - He can do all things. You are in God's keeping. With these thoughts, God in His infinite goodness and mercy gave me the grace of resignation, and, with a desire to die and a hope (I admit) that I would, I offered Him myself to do with me as He wished. From that moment the conflict in my soul ceased, and even the physical pain seemed much more bearable than before, though I am sure it must, in fact, have been greater with the growing strain and weariness of my body.

When the gentlemen present saw that I was not answering their questions, they went off to the Lieutenant's house, and stayed there. Every now and again they sent to find out how things were going with me.

Three or four robust men remained behind to watch and supervise the torture, and also my warder. He stayed, I think, out of kindness, for every few minutes he took a cloth and wiped the perspiration that ran in drops continuously down my face and whole body. That helped me a little, but he added to my sufferings when he started to talk. He went on and on, begging and imploring me to pity myself and tell the gentlemen what they wanted to know. And he urged so many human reasons for this that I thought that the devil instigated him to feign this affection or that my torturers had left him behind on purpose to trick me. But I felt all these suggestions of the enemy like blows in the distance: they did not seem to touch my soul or affect me in any way. More than once I interrupted him, 'Stop this talk, for heaven's sake. Do you think I'm going to throw my soul away to save my life? You exasperate me.'

But he went on. And several times the others joined in.

'You will be a cripple all your life if you live. And you are going to be tortured every day until you confess.'

(2) On 21 March 1556, Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury was executed for heresy. An eyewitness in the crowd described his death.

Coming to the stake... he put off his garments with haste, and stood upright in his shirt The fire was lit... he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there before the flame came to any other part of the body... As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.

(3) Rowland Lea worked in the Tower of London during Lady Jane Grey's imprisonment. In his diary, Rowland Lea described the execution of Lady Jane Grey on the green within the walls of the Tower of London.

Lady Jane was calm, although . Elizabeth and Ellen wept... The executioner kneeled down and asked for forgiveness, which she gave most willingly... she said: "I pray you dispatch me quickly." She tied a handkerchief over her eyes; then feeling for the block, she said, "What shall I do? Where is it?" One of the bystanders guided her... She laid down her head upon the block, and stretched forth her body.

(4) While she was in the Tower of London, the Protestant, Anne Askew, wrote her own account of being tortured. A copy of this account was then smuggled out to her friends. (29 June, 1546)

Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlemen, to be of my opinion... the Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nearly dead. I fainted... and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours arguing with the Lord Chancellor, upon the bare floor... With many flattering words, he tried to persuade me to leave my opinion... I said that I would rather die than break my faith.

(5) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563)

The Lord Chancellor sent to Anne Askew letters offering her the king's pardon if she would recant.. she refused... and thus the good Anne Askew ended the course of her long agonies and was burnt at the stake.

Student Activities

Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Henry VII: A Wise or Wicked Ruler? (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn?

Was Henry VIII's son, Henry FitzRoy, murdered?

Hans Holbein and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

The Marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves (Answer Commentary)

Was Queen Catherine Howard guilty of treason? (Answer Commentary)

Anne Boleyn - Religious Reformer (Answer Commentary)

Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers on her right hand? A Study in Catholic Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

Why were women hostile to Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn? (Answer Commentary)

Catherine Parr and Women's Rights (Answer Commentary)

Women, Politics and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Historians and Novelists on Thomas Cromwell (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Hitler's Anti-Semitism (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and the Reformation (Answer Commentary)

Mary Tudor and Heretics (Answer Commentary)

Joan Bocher - Anabaptist (Answer Commentary)

Anne Askew – Burnt at the Stake (Answer Commentary)

Elizabeth Barton and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Execution of Margaret Cheyney (Answer Commentary)

Robert Aske (Answer Commentary)

Dissolution of the Monasteries (Answer Commentary)

Pilgrimage of Grace (Answer Commentary)

Poverty in Tudor England (Answer Commentary)

Why did Queen Elizabeth not get married? (Answer Commentary)

Francis Walsingham - Codes & Codebreaking (Answer Commentary)

Sir Thomas More: Saint or Sinner? (Answer Commentary)

Hans Holbein's Art and Religious Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

1517 May Day Riots: How do historians know what happened? (Answer Commentary)