St Mary's Church, Beverley

making disciples

The 1530s: divorce, reform, martyrs

The nave of St Mary’s, showing the Tudor ceiling and roof bosses

When Henry VIII approached Pope Clement VII seeking a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, he may have been hopeful for a quick resolution. But instead he faced repeated and lengthy delays.

Increasingly frustrated, Henry adopted the legal argument that within his own realm he held ultimate authority over the Church, and therefore did not require papal permission to annul his marriage.

Anne Boleyn became pregnant in late 1532. She and Henry married the following January. Empowered by new legislation, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared Henry’s previous marriage to Katherine null and void, and their daughter Mary illegitimate.

Henry’s declarations of authority over the English church required legal backing. The 1534 Act of Supremacy confirmed Henry as Supreme Head of the English Church, thereby creating a new church separate from Rome and the Pope.

The king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, concocted new laws making it treasonous not to accept Henry’s status and marriage to Anne.

While the Act of Supremacy facilitated the king’s annulment, it also brought him unprecedented power over the English church.

The Crown could now take possession of the clergy’s wealth and land, and, significantly, dictate any reforms to doctrine.

At this point, Henry himself appears to have been religiously conservative, but his new queen and his chief minister were both sympathetic to the evangelical reformation that was so popular on the continent.

In the 1530s, Beverley was a town in decline. Despite having rich individuals, such as those who helped to rapidly rebuild St Mary’s, the town’s main streets were in a ruinous state.

Beverley was under the control of two parties:
the Archbishop of York, who was Lord of the Manor of Beverley, and the Provost & Canons of the Minster.

The town’s relationship with the Archbishop was not always easy, and in the early 1530s there were violent clashes related to the election of Beverley’s town governors.

The changes brought in by Henry VIII and his ministers were about to bring dramatic and contentious changes to life in Beverley.

Portraits which illuminate this chapter of Tudor history:

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