From Elizabeth to James

In this episode, we return to England to look at the succession crises after the death of King Edward VI.

Episode 9

Hello, I'm Wilson Pruitt. And you're listening to the history of Methodism podcast. Today's episode: from Elizabeth to James, our last episode that was set in England, focused on the life and works of Thomas Cramner, but there was a lot going on around him. England and all of Europe drifted in and out of war throughout the 16th century as well.

The heirs of Henry VIII swung ideologically in many directions. The reign of Edward VI was not long, but it was deeply impactful on the history of the Church of England. Edward died in July of 1553, but before his death, he had written into his will that his cousin, lady Jane Gray, should inherit the crown, which she did for nine days. During that time, Mary, Edward’s older sister and her claim to the throne became more popular.

Having already been affirmed by par parliament, having already been affirmed by parliament with Henry the eighth's third succession act in 1543, which had inserted Mary and Elizabeth back into the official line of succession. Many at that time, as well as most historians today, see lady Jane Grey's insertion into the succession as an attempt by her father-in-law John Dudley, the duke of Northumberland to keep the very Catholic Mary from the throne. Dudley feared that Mary would return the country to the Catholic faith and to the authority of the Pope.

But his machinations were not enough and soon Mary was crowned Queen. And she began to systematically dismantle all of the Protestant laws that had passed going back to Henry's reign. Cramner and others were imprisoned and England was formally returned to Papal obedience. The prayer books were repealed as were the 39 articles and the allowance for priestly marriage. Hundreds were killed for the heresy of Lollardy, including Cramner. Lollardy was an old name for the movement led by John Wycliffe in the 14th century and was a pejorative term for English Protestants of all sorts. In 1556, Mary wedded Philip IIm the king of Spain, the son of the holy Roman emperor, Charles V. It was a match that could have crushed the Reformation across Europe, but Mary died childless in 1558 and her half sister Elizabeth took the throne.

Philip of Spain was also the official sovereign of the Netherlands at this time against whom the Dutch Protestants were rebelling, which we will get into more in our next episode when we return to the low countries. With the coronation of Elizabeth, the direction and strength of the church changed dramatically. With her first parliament in 1559, Elizabeth attempted to unify the church of England apart from Rome, and to establish the church on a national level.

The first attempts failed due to the Catholic majority within the upper chamber of the house of Lords, but her goals of maintaining unity of nation and continuity with her brother, Edward, and father, Henry, inspired her to try again a few months later with two separate bills aiming for the same result. First, in the Act of Supremacy, the Church of England was established with the Monarch as Supreme governor. And then, in the Act of Uniformity, the 1552 prayer book was again made authoritative, but it also allowed a broader interpretation of the 39 articles.

The church was not homogenous, by any means. Many of the seeds for future schisms within the Church of England fomented in these days. But in large part, Elisabeth's views on toleration allowed the Protestants in England to grow in different directions. Catholics did not receive such toleration. Dozens of priests, like Edmund Campion, were arrested and executed as were a layman and lay women like Ann Line, who was later canonized Saint Anne by Paul VI, who were killed for hosting priests in their homes.

Papist became a pejorative term at this time. Wesley will often use it in his writings, but with much less force. As Elizabeth I continued to reign, questions about who would succeed her on the throne connected deeply to questions around the future of the church. Stability was found in an historically unlikely place: Scotland. Though later the crowns would be unified, Scotland had been the historic ally of every enemy of England, especially the French. The Scots were not seen as simple Northern cousins, but as a different nation, as different as any two could be, with Scots Gaelic, being the major language of the country and with the nobility mostly speaking French, as most nobility did.

Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret ,had married James IV of Scotland. Their son, James V, was killed at the Battle of Salway Moss between Scotland and England, a battle caused because James refused to leave Rome at his uncle Henry VIII’s request, but not before his wife had a daughter, Mary, who was six days old when James V was killed.

Mary grew up mostly in France and had a fascinating life beyond the scope of this podcast. But through it all, she eventually married a half cousin, Henry Stuart, with whom she had the child, James Stuart, who became James VI of Scotland. And at the death of queen Elizabeth, James I of England. Scotland, under James, was not immune to the reformation spreading across Northern Europe, though it assuredly had its own peaty flavor. After the death of James V, the infant Mary was queen, but many regents ruled in her name. Soon, a few Scot's under the influence of Zwingli and the Calvinist side of the Reformation, started preaching against the authority of Rome. Some were executed and some were exiled from Scotland, like John Knox, who went to England and became influential in the court of King Edward and helped with the creation of his prayer book in 1555. Knox returned and helped to expand Protestantism in Scotland and to bring a few minor Nobles into the fold. Beginning in 1559, through a series of tactical printings, the Protestants were able to garner enough local support to rattle the Regent, Mary of Guese, Mary Queen of Scots mother, and the Catholic factions in Scotland.

The Catholics called for help from the French and the Protestants called for help from the English. The end result was an English victory and the retreat of all foreign forces, which allowed the August, 1560, parliament to have a Protestant majority, which quickly approved a Reformed confession of faith. In 1567, Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of the 13 month old son, James VI. John Wesley had a high opinion of Mary, unlike many of his contemporaries in 1761, Wesley visited Edinburgh and wrote in his journal about the palace and the portrait gallery.

There were in our pictures of all the Scottish Kings in there and an original one of the celebrated queen, Mary. It is scarce possible for any who looks at this to think her such a monster as some have printed her, nor indeed for any who considers the circumstances of her death equal to that of an ancient martyr Wesley later directly compared to Mary with Elizabeth in 1769, when he wrote upon the whole, that much injured queen, Mary appears to have been far the greatest woman of that age, exquisitely beautiful in her person of a fine address of a deep unaffected piety and have a stronger understanding even in youth than queen Elizabeth had at three score to return to the Scottish succession.(Cited in Rogal)

The infant James was raised Protestant, but with an understanding of the Catholic history of Scotland. James’s history of balancing between the different ecclesial forces in Scotland prepared him well for the English crown In 1603, when Elizabeth I dies, James was crowned James I of England. During his reign, the first official English Bible is produced with his name on it. As well, there is some very original English theology being written with fascinating relevance to the history of Methodism.

But before we can look there, we must return to the continent in order to finish our story of Arminius and the Remonstrants with the Synod of Dort, next time on the history of Methodism.


Samuel J. Rogal, John Wesley and Mary Queen of Scots: A Love Affair with History, Methodist History 24:4 (July 1986).