First Advisor

Caroline Litzenberger

Date of Publication

Summer 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Great Britain -- History -- Henry VIII (1509-1547), Great Britain -- History -- Edward VI (1547-1553), Reformation -- England -- Suffolk, Liturgical reform -- England -- Suffolk, Evangelicalism -- Relations -- Catholic Church



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 197 p.)


From the second half of Henry VIII's reign through that of his son Edward VI, roughly 1530 through 1553, England was in turmoil. Traditional (Catholic) religion was methodically undermined, and sometimes violently swept away, in favor of a biblically based evangelical faith imported and adapted from European dissenters/reformers (Protestants). This thesis elucidates the process of parish-level religious change in England during the tumultuous mid sixteenth century. It does so through examining the unique dynamics and complexities of its local reception in a previously unstudied corner of the realm, the Suffolk parishes of Boxford, Cratfield, Long Melford, and Mildenhall. This thesis asserts that ongoing alterations in religious policy under Henry VIII and Edward VI reflected an evolution in both governmental tactics and local attitudes toward the locus of religious authority. Contrary to the view that the Reformation was done to the English people, the parish-level evidence investigated herein shows that, at least in Suffolk, the reformation was only accomplished with their cooperation. Furthermore, it finds that while costly, divisive, and unpopular in many parts of England, religious change was, for the most part, received enthusiastically in these four parishes. Two types of primary sources inform the historical narrative and analysis of this thesis. First, the official documents of religious reform initiated by the crown and Parliament tell the story of magisterial reformation, from the top down. Second, the often-mundane entries found in churchwardens' accounts of parish income and expenditure illuminate the individual and communal dynamics involved in implementing religious policy on the local level, from the bottom up. As agents operating between the distinct spheres of government authority and local interest, this study finds that churchwardens wielded significant power in the mediation of religious policy. The churchwardens' accounts are also supplemented throughout by analysis of selected parishioners' wills, which provide insight into personal beliefs of key individuals and hint at the formation of early religious affinity groupings within parishes. Chapter One summarizes the development of the pre-Reformation Sarum liturgy, its Eucharistic theology, and its relation to the late-medieval doctrine of purgatory. It also describes the richly decorated interiors of pre-Reformation English parish churches and their function as centers of community spiritual life. This provides a gauge through which to understand the extensive changes wrought to church liturgy and fabric during the Reformation. Chapter Two focuses on the unsettled nature of religious policy during the second half of Henry VIII's reign and how it set the stage for more severe changes to come. Chapters Three and Four examine the reign of Edward VI, which saw the most radical efforts at evangelical reform ever attempted in England. In these three chapters, official changes in religious policy are interwoven with analysis of local reaction in the four Suffolk parishes, revealing some surprising local responses and initiatives. The conclusion presents a summary of the historical narrative and analysis presented in the preceding chapters, suggests possibilities for further research, and offers closing thoughts about the local experience of negotiating religious change during this period.


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