Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Religion in Tudor Wales

Historian John Davies on the Protestant Reformation in Tudor Wales.

Devotion to traditional religion was intense in Wales in the half century before the Protestant reformation. There was a great devotion to the cult of the Virgin Mary.

Fine town churches were built in Cardiff, Tenby, Wrexham and elsewhere. The Vale of Clwyd was graced with two-aisled churches and images such as the Virgin of Pen-rhys (Rhondda) were held in high regard.

Yet, despite their popularity, these religious practises of Wales had little intellectual content. Among the Welsh there were few with the ability or the motivation to defend the old, and only a few eager to embrace the new.

Thus their general reaction to religious change was a sullen acceptance of the ordinances of the government.

By the late 1520s Henry VIII was anxious to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Only the pope could end the marriage, and he was reluctant to offend Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V.

In 1529, the king convened a parliament in which the anti-papal sentiments of the English ruling class were given free rein. A process is set in train which soon had a momentum all its own.

By 1535 Henry, aided by his chief minister Thomas Cromwell, had secured a series of statutes which abolished the authority of the pope in the territories of the English crown and elevated the king to the status of supreme head of the Church of England.

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