To a certain extent, Mary I’s religious changes were significant in that she managed to alter the country in the five years that she held the crown. She did not aspire to satisfy anyone, but, dedicatedly aimed to revert England to Catholicism in order to honour her mother and follow her true faith.
Mary’s changes do hold some significance in that she completely wiped out the changes made by her predecessors, since Henry VIII began the English Reformation. Furthermore, her reign was significant because she burned roughly 300 heretics, set up grammar schools and began visitations. She has been described as one of the ‘most evil women in history’, but without her drastic actions her changes would not have been as effective, and, therefore, significant.
However, in failing to address the gentry, her alterations lacked success as they were some of the most powerful people in Tudor England and were, for the majority, Protestant. Also, since Mary’s changes were in moving completely back to Catholicism, which was essentially nothing new, her changes were debatably less significant than other religious developments in the period. Most significantly though, she died childless after only five years in power (in 1558); perhaps, if Mary had lived longer or had a surviving child heir, her reforms would have been more influential and lasting.
A more significant development in religion was the reformation put in place by Henry VIII. It was Henry’s need for a divoce that made him break from Rome and the papacy and without this need, Henry probably would not have made any changes since he was truly Catholic at heart. There were no religious changes before Henry, so, his reformation was pivotal in English religious history. Furthermore, it was the changes he made that were revolutionary and shocking at this point, making them significant. The Act of Restraint of Appeals and the Act of Restraint of Annates stopped payments and appeals to Rome, and the Act of Supremacy removed papal powers in England and Wales which were Protestant in doctrine and, therefore, were radical changes to English religion.
The second most significant religious developments in the period were the changes made by Elizabeth I because her changes represented a breakthrough in religious tolerance. This tolerance is probably one strong reason as to why religion has survived as it was; Elizabeth established the Anglican Church which is still in place today. The fact that she combined religious doctrine from both Protestantism and Catholicism allowed believers from both religions to find a middle ground upon which neither had too many conflicts because the religion that she established was ambiguous enough to incorporate significant aspects of both.
In contrast to this, Edward VI almost completely established the Protestant faith for the first time in England. During Edward’s reign, a whole new liturgy was written by Cranmer and the last remaining pieces of Catholicism were dissolved. Edward dissolved the chantries and, in removing them, he made the statement that Protestantism was now taking over. Edward changed the face of religion; he transformed the image of the churches and removed Latin, suggesting that he was a key figure in bringing about religious reform in the Tudor period. However, he, like Mary, died young and these changes did not last long in the wake of his death.
The European Reformation holds less significance than any of the changes implemented by the monarchs because powers outside of England could not have changed religious doctrine without the consent of the monarchs and is, therefore, less significant in affecting change in the period. However, it is not insignificant because European reformers such as Martin Luther gave Henry the ideas and the means for reformation that allowed him to break from Rome and the papacy. Furthermore, the European Reformation had a large effect during the reign of Elizabeth I. Marian Exiles would have influenced Elizabeth’s tolerance towards Protestantism because she was receiving pressure from Protestants that were expecting change from a fundamentally Protestant monarch.
Other religious developments in the period include religious grievances; however, these were probably the least significant factor affecting religious change during that time. Religious grievances were possibly responsible for encouraging monarch’s religious changes and possibly the monarchs took into account the views of the people. Nevertheless, to all intents and purposes, the people had no real power to change religious doctrine.
In conclusion, Mary’s religious changes, though significant from some points of view, lacked both success and importance in the grand scheme of things. In understanding religious developments at the time and their great effect on modern society, Henry and Elizabeth’s changes were the most pivotal.