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Biography Corner

Convocation and Parliament both met in November of 1547, an event that is rare in English history, and I need to point out why this is important. Convocation is where doctrinal issues and matters regarding practices are addressed by the bishops. However, since the Church of England was the state church, Parliament would need to address the same matters as well. The meeting at the same time of both of the bodies that would determine matters of doctrine and practice was an opportunity to effect serious changes.

One of the very first changes that took place was with the opening parliamentary mass on November 4 – it was celebrated in English by Cranmer and Nicholas Ridley. The mass celebrated the next day by Edmund Bonner demonstrated that there was no agreement on this point – it was in the traditional Latin.

Parliament approved legislation that repealed the harshness of the Six Articles. In fact, all heresy acts from Richard II and forward were repealed, with the result that on religious matters one could speak and publish freely.

Parliament also abolished chantries. Chantries were chapels that were set up with a donation so that masses would be said for the souls of the dead. One can easily see at this point a breaking away beginning from the Roman Catholic teaching on Purgatory. Parliament also approved the laity receiving both the bread and the cup at communion, and was about to vote against clerical celibacy when their session ended on Christmas Eve. They would vote to do so in January 1549. Convocation had voted to revoke all canons, laws, and decrees that forbade clerical marriage. The result of Convocation’s vote was very quickly seen – Margaret Cranmer, who had been married to Thomas Cranmer for over fifteen years, was now recognized as the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thomas Cranmer realized that he was treading a difficult path. He needed both approval from Convocation and Parliament to carry out changes in the Church of England, and he was under fire for going too far as well as not going far enough. At times he seemed to deal more harshly with those who wanted more radical change more rapidly than with those who wanted to go back to Roman Catholic doctrines and practices. Cranmer felt that it was needful to show the latter group of people the true gospel by his example of friendliness and charity, while not scandalizing them by ignoring those who broke the law by excessive zeal for change. In his mind, reformation was something that needed to be done decently and in good order.

There were problems threatening the effort to reform the church, and many of those problems related to the fact that Edward was under a regency. Thomas Seymour, the second husband of Catherine Parr (widow of Henry VIII), wanted to take the title of Protector from his brother, and attempted to kidnap the king. He ultimately paid the price for 33 counts of treason when he was executed on March 20, 1549.

Later that year, the Earl of Warwick pulled off a power play that resulted in the Duke of Somerset losing the title of Protector. While Somerset had been active in promoting the reformation of the Church of England, Warwick was interested in personal aggrandizement. With an ambitious, self-serving, and unprincipled man in the seat of power, both conservatives and reformers could only wonder which way the new Protector would go.