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The Henrician Reformation

The Henrician ReformationThis article is one of occasional wider-world topics, although it is still connected to Fylde, because we're reporting the annual Shrove Tuesday Debate at St Margaret's Church in St Anne's.

This year the motion to be debated was "This house believes that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde movement'  and we have a report of the evening and a summary of the debate.

We begin with a brief Introduction before listing the Previous debates. Then we consider the topic for This year's debate, before Setting the scene at the reception.

Then we summarise the contribution from each of the speakers,  Major Richard Crawshay;  Cllr Richard Redcliffe;  Mr Michael ThorntonCounty Councillor Major Edward Nash The Reverend Christopher Scargill; The Reverend Matthew Hornby.

We then note there were Questions from the floor before the Closing speeches, and of course the Result of the Vote, before giving Our own take on the evening


Having enjoyed our ritualistic pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, we donned the glad rags and wended our way to another of the wonderful Oxford Union style   'Shrove Tuesday Debates' at the Church of St Margaret of Antioch, in St Anne's - an event that is generously supported by Squire James Hilton and Mrs Penelope Hilton, current Lord and Lady of the Ancient Manor of Lytham.


We've been to all the debates so far - from the first in 2010 when the debate we reported was: 'This house believes that Marxism is a spent force'  (and which gave us - for this area - the surprising result of:

  • For the motion: 1.
  • Against the motion: too many to count, but more than 95% of the hundred or more who were present.
  • Abstentions: 4

Other topics chosen for debate have included the

  • UK/US Special relationship;
  • Private education and social division;
  • Independence for Scotland;
  • Freemasonry and Christianity;
  • Whether the Church of England should be disestablished;
  • Whether Britain should have gone to war in 1914,

and for us perhaps, excepting for the Marx debate, the most interesting and important of them all:

On that occasion, and in what turned out to be superb local foretaste of what (at that time) no-one knew or expected to be something that would actually come to pass, and after hearing a lively debate from each of the two speaking teams, the result was of that debate was:

  • FOR withdrawing from the European Union: 74, and
  • AGAINST withdrawing from the European Union: 35.

It provided a locally prescient majority to leave, with a 2:1 majority in favour of what we now know as 'Brexit'


This year's debate was "This house believes that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde movement'

And as it happens, Brexit was repeatedly referred to (by both sides) during the debate as having similarities to the split with the Church of Rome.

We did a bit or research beforehand, and confirmed our understanding that this was a debate about Henry VIII's move to separate what became the Church of England from the Church of Rome.

So we had expected to hear theological and philosophical arguments about the cogency of competing claims for religious validity.

But the event, we were surprised to hear almost no mention of faith or matters biblical until the final speaker took the stand.

Before that point, we heard very little about faith or belief, but we did hear much about politics, governance and, to a slightly lesser extent, war.

Furthermore, we came away with a different view to that which we held at the outset

Therefore, the debate did change our view a little, in that we now believe that the 'top level' issue of the Henrician Reformation was really more about the conflicting claims to power that existed between a monarch and the head of a church.

It was really about a battle for supremacy in the control of the population, and less about the King's matrimonial proclivities - although the lack of a son and heir for Henry may be said to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

And we imagine changing someone's view (as ours was changed) is probably about as good a result as you can hope for.


The event is really well organised by the Reverend Dr. Anthony Hodgson of St Margaret's. He assembles the teams of speakers and teams of helpers and does all the work to make the event happen each year.

We think he does a terrific job. Not only because the topical debates are so enjoyable in themselves, but because of the style of the event.

It is a profound and important reminder of a vanishing culture in modern times.

In the current 'TwitterFaceGram' era that takes the 'Century of Self' of the late1900s to a new level, the social glue of respect for others; civility; formality; and good manners, that has historically bound society and community to one another, is at least weakened, and at worst is in danger of wholesale populist abandonment.

And it takes an evening like this to jerk us out of the complacency with which we allow the loss of that glue to continue unabated.

Making the effort of adopting formal dress, with decorations worn if desired; arriving slightly ahead of time and not 'fashionably late' (as many do today, as if to illustrate their own importance over others); being greeted at a formal reception with a glass of champagne and entertained by a live string quartet, as civil and civic society mixed and mingled (The Mayors of both Fylde and St Anne's were represented, and the Lord and Lady of the Manor of Lytham were present as well) is a powerful reminder of what is being lost.

In the half hour before the debate began, the reception was a sharp reminder of, well, perhaps 'Paradise Lost' is probably too strong a term for us to use, but readers will get the drift. We saw quite a few faces we knew, and swapped news and pleasantries as we waited for the start.

There were also periodic reminders from Master of Ceremonies for the evening (Collin Ballard) - Town Crier to both the Manor of Lytham and St Anne's - exalting us to complete a pre-debate opinion poll slip to show our (anonymous) view on the subject of the debate BEFORE hearing the arguments that were about to be advanced.

The aim was to allow the organisers to draw conclusions not only about the result of the debate, but about how many views had changed as a result of hearing the speakers.

When we entered, the church was well attended; almost full.

It was chaired this year by the Lord Suffragan Bishop of Burnley, the Right Reverend Phillip John North, and debated by two teams of three - as the invitation described them 'very distinguished speakers from politics education and the Services'

The MC performed the opening announcements, before we were all warmly welcomed by the Bishop - who said it was a great pleasure to be here as he had heard much over the years of our debates.

He then introduced the teams of speakers and said he was the worst possible choice of chair for the debate, because had strong personal views on the matter himself. But he would try (and indeed did) not allow them to show during the debate.

The rules of debate were quickly outlined, as was the batting order, and after two verses of the National Anthem, the debate began.


(We apologise to this speaker if we have reproduced his name incorrectly)

He spoke for the motion that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde step.

He began with a definition - an interpretation of the motion. He said it was a series of events in sixteenth century England, by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

He mused as to whether the cause might have been centuries of Catholic corruption, or a bit of a fluke? Was it the consequence of a European power vacuum, or a grand theological debate? Was it a reasonable request for a son and heir, or simply a result of Henry VIII lustful nature?

He said his team would present from three distinct but aligned perspectives:

First, he would outline how much damage the reformation caused and that the anxiety it created is still with us today, 500 years later.

The second speaker would demonstrate that when history is written by the winners there is inevitable bias, and the final speaker for the motion would suggest that true reformation would not only have been inevitable in England, but could have introduced radical, transformational changes significantly earlier than when they actually happened.

We warmed to this speaker. Both his mind and his diction were clear, and he spoke simply and clearly, with the voice of authority that always commands attention. Agree with him or not, we thought he was a first class speaker.

And he did  throw out some challenging and thought-provoking points.

He said the residual impacts today included a fractured Christian church, still striving for its former unity; widespread atheism - which is now considered mainstream; a gaping hole in our cultural heritage; and entrenched racial bigotry in less enlightened uneducated factions of society - which comes easily and frighteningly to the surface with little provocation.

He noted that before the reformation monks and clergy could move freely from country to country, helping to unify Europe, and argued that the unified church provided a counterbalance (nice one!) to individual states and rulers.

But the reformation had fatally destroyed this unity.

Post reformation secular power became the only power; the monarch appointed church personnel and appropriated church property. The church became subject to the state. Life became more secularised even as it became more nationalist and parochial. The moderating influence of the church had been lost and has never been fully recovered.

Belief and faith had been universal, but became a multitude of opposing doctrines, each viewpoint condemning another's doctrines as satanic, and condemning each other to the flames of hell.

"Nothing could have been better designed to diminish the faith of ordinary believers, and rekindle latent interest in witchcraft...."

"... The rejection of Christianity by the mass of today's society is a direct result of the disunity and strife created by the reformation"

This was powerful oratory, and he was making compelling arguments. It also helped that he had chosen his words carefully and spoke close to the 'three-word phrases' that always give gravitas to what you are saying.

The phrasing of his delivery of that last sentence was actually:

The rejection of Christianity,

by the mass of today's society,

is a direct result,

of the disunity and strife,

created by the reformation.

Using simple three or four word phrasing like this always gets the message home. It makes the listener focus on simple concepts, one at a time, and each sinks in.

He had a lovely way with words, and went on to complain of catastrophic cultural damage that an orgy of artistic destruction had wrought on religious art and artefacts, from books, through paintings, to statues and stained glass windows, as promoters of reformation urged their supporters on.

He covered other concepts as well, and to be honest, we think of all the speakers, he impressed us the most.

That's not to say we cannot find fault with some of his arguments. He made clever links, but we might be less certain about the reformation being the point source of all the matters with which he found fault.

But he did shift our opinion on at least some aspects he addressed.


Spoke against the motion that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde step.

He had a lot he wanted to say and moved more quickly through it than the former speaker. This meant he was less easy to follow (for us at least).

He said the previous speaker had painted a rather depressing picture, before going on himself to criticise the practices of the Catholic Church by way of justifying the reformation.

He said we needed to look at the picture of Catholicism in early fifteenth century England and ask whether there was a need for reform, and where spiritual authority lay. Mass was central to the system, but it was celebrated in Latin (not English) which people, and even some of the clergy did not understand. Teaching was not a priority, and because of this, the Bible was not accessible to common people.

He also spoke of the indulgences and pilgrimages as being the way the Catholic church fundraised from people who were in effect offered the opportunity of 'buying their way into heaven'.

We thought he was painting a pretty bleak picture himself in order to build the case for the need for reform.

He cited examples of the need for change, including moves by various groups in Scotland, and the invention of the printing press - which enabled information to be distributed and bibles smuggled into England, futher increasing the pressure for reform.

He then said failure to secure what he wanted from the Pope was Henry's catalyst for action and the reformation began. The process brought much needed funds into the King's exchequer and he argued that progress could not have moved forward, could not have prospered, without the Henrician Reformation and, with further examples, he concluded it was not a retrograde movement.

To be honest we had hoped for better, and despite a decent effort, we didn't feel he had captured our heart or our mind with the arguments he deployed.


The second speaker for the motion that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde step was another really impressive speaker. Perhaps not so much for what he said as the way he presented it.

He took to the pulpit and spoke cogently, clearly and confidently for 15 minutes without any notes whatsoever.

He KNEW what he was saying, and that alone gave an aura of confidence and authority to it.

His appearance (lot of hair and beard) suggested to us that his personal style and image might have been formed during the mid 60's hippy culture.

He began by saying - So, we have a young king whose father succeeded to the throne after the most massive civil strife.

The Pope has to grant a dispensation so that he can marry his brother, Arthur's, widow, and he kind of feels there's something going on in Europe. He said he didn't want to start a debate about Brexit, but it seemed to him that we'd never felt we got on well with our neighbours across the channel, and even when we thought we did, it seemed they didn't get on with us. And he thought this was very much the case with Henry and his advisors.

He said at that time in history there were a lot of Popes coming and going, and there was not a very stable Catholic control system across the water, and the one thing that ran throughout Henry was the desire for stability. And in particular a stable succession, but he had hit a brick wall with Catherine of Aragon.

Henry also had a number of very expensive military campaigns in this period as well - expensive and not particularly productive forays into the north of France for example.

But he held that the greatest problem was that imports were becoming more expensive because the coinage was being systematically debased. Its silver content was being lowered, and merchants seized the opportunity to exploit the vacuum that is left if the Church goes away.

He argued that Henry had a whole army of secular whisperers in his ear, and that we were really looking at politics and not religion.

He said the reformation was about powerbases and it led to the bloody aftermath that, only a few years after Henry's death brought about swinging reprisals, and then Elizabeth, where everything turned round again. He said he recognised there had been religious strife before the Reformation as well, but that had amplified, not soothed, religious conflict.

He agued that the reformation had more to do with market forces, political power, and opportunism, and it still has not been settled. We still haven't managed to live in harmony with Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics, we just don't seem to get on with anybody at all, and the Reformation - the re-formation - of the church was the most colossal human schism. It upset and it destroyed.

He went on to say that ordinary common people in this part of the world were mostly unaffected. The reformation meant nothing at all to the great bulk of the population. But it did create a new political class as we moved from a strict feudalism to having rich merchants able to fund things, and Henry needed to get cash in. Money was key.

His presentation came to what we thought was a bit of a disconnected and probably rather contrived ending as he further emphasised the point about fundraising, noting that Henry had written the 'first act closer' to a theatrical performance, with the aim of drawing money from the merchant classes. He said this meant we might see that Henry was also a sort of Cameron Mackintosh figure who was able to fill his coffers by royalty having royalties.

His set of arguments was more of the thought provoking stuff we heard from the first speaker.  He also was a good, slow, clear speaker, but we were left with a sense that he had not made any 'direct hits' but had rather used the time to throw seeds of doubt into the audience in the hope that some would germinate and grow.

He certainly left us with the impression that the root cause of the reformation was not as we had previously supposed.

It was more to do with money, politics and power than religion, succession and lust.

Maybe that's just what he wanted  to do.......


Was the second Speaker against the motion that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde step.

He said in his electoral area of St Anne's South there was a Synagogue, Parish Churches a few Methodist Churches, a Catholic Church, a Baptist Church, a Christian Science Church and a Christian Science Reading Room and they live together very largely in harmony, and he argued that the reformation had given us diversity of religion.

He too referred to, and likened Brexit to the Reformation. Using examples that spoke of control and sovereignty, he spoke of Papal authority being akin to European law taking precedence over UK law, and that the Reformation had produced a tectonic shift in the affairs of this nation.

Like some of the speakers before him, he said the pressures had been building and Henry was merely the fuse, not the root cause.

He spoke of nepotism and indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church that had weakened its moral authority and he continually made comparisons and references between that time and the current politics of Brexit - some of which, frankly, were lost to us in what we thought seemed to be somewhat muddled thinking.

The claim to benefits seemed mostly to be about those derived from the dissolution of the monasteries and the appropriation of their wealth and lands. He said this netted Henry over 1 million at that time, but a series of unproductive wars had again drained the coffers again and Henry was obliged to sell land to the gentry which increased their power and influence as, at the same time,  his was diminished.

The continuation of this process inevitably meant that in the future, the Monarch would become beholden to a powerful parliament for the costs of running a kingdom.

He also spoke at some length about various wars which, with his military background, we're sure he knew about.

But to be honest, his presentation was more a history lesson peppered with regular references to Brexit than what the other side was delivering - which was more about the consequences and interpretation of what had happened - and less about what had happened.


Was the third speaker for the motion that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde step.

He began by saying that as an ordained priest of the Church of England, it might seem odd that he was speaking against Henry VIII's reformation. 'Biting the hand that feeds him' might be the comment from some people on this state of affairs. But, he said, although the modern church was his spiritual home, as a historian he found it next to impossible to argue in favour of the Reformation.

He said the (Catholic) church in England (as opposed to the Church of England) was widely recognised as the best organised of all Catholic dominions. And on the even of the reformation it was flourishing.

He said he thought it was rubbish to say that people in church could not understand what was going on and the (pre-Reformation) Church was very popular. He said in the north of England 40,000 men rose up against the changes that the reformation brought, and Henry's Reformation was not a popular movement, but something imposed by a small number of religious enthusiasts and intellectuals, backed up by the use of terror.

He said it wrecked the social fabric of the north of England and made the country far more London-centric. He argued that the reformation created the conditions in which Henry could centralise power in the Capital. This gravely damaged not only social cohesion, but also the country's economic and technological progress as well, and he cited recent evidence that the Cistercian Monks of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, were starting to develop an early blast furnace as evidence of his claim, adding that had it been successful, it might have brought forward the industrial revolution by a century.

So he concluded that Henry's reformation had actually de-railed progress, and left us with a more London-centric country, a more socially divided country.

We found these arguments probably the least convincing of the three speakers who spoke in support of the motion that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde step.


Was the final speaker against the motion that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde step.

We were pleased to hear him open his comments from the basis of faith, religion and the Bible rather than politics, finance and power. He said of course politics was involved, but his approach was less secular.

He spoke of the benefits to the Church saying the Reformation - and having the King as it's head - had brought a focus onto the church in the UK that was absent in Rome, where bureaucracy and politics prevailed

He argued that one of the main points made by his opponents in the debate was that the reformation had been bad for church unity, but he gave examples in  the Catholic Church - including its indulgence in the sacking of Constantinople which, he said, was not a good example of church unity in any case.

He also made the point that the Pope had reacted to Henry's divorce of Catherine of Aragon, not his declaration of the Act of Supremacy.

Approaching his conclusions, he said he would turn to address some of the points made by the opposing side, and argued that the industrial revolution had been led across Europe by protestant countries and much of the opposing team's argument had been based on 'what if' scenarios. He argued that post-Reformation troubles and the Civil War in England, whilst unwelcome, were less bloody than some of the European wars that took place.

He said he would end where he began with reference to the Bible which, when published in English, meant that people could read the Bible for themselves, and that was an enduring legacy of the reformation.


With all the speakers having completed their arguments, the Bishop asked for questions or comments from the floor, and about three or four people made comment on what had been said, following which the Bishop called on each of the Team Captains to sum up


First to speak was Cllr Redcliffe who introduced a little ironic humour about respecting the arguments even if the were said to be rubbish, and a comment about the fact that they would not be in St Margaret's were it not for the Reformation, so those arguing against it perhaps ought to have been shown the door.

Then he went on to list what he saw as the important the benefits of the Reformation which he said he did believe had led to greater church unity and diversity of churches from High Church to those featuring guitars and drums, and the Henrician reformation was certainly not a retrograde movement.

Then came the turn of the supporters of the motion led by Major Richard Crawshay who said disagreements between England and Rome were not uncommon, but the lengths that Henry went to were unheard of.

He mused whether it was religious conviction that drove Henry to break with the Pope, but then said it was clear that Henry's convictions were never that solid, and in any case they were more political than theological.

He said Henry's need for an heir was the principal driver, and it was hard to find any other compelling motive in Henry for the actions he took, and whatever theological actions he took were all borne out of a desire to fulfil his political goal, not because he desired to be Biblically correct.

He said:

"One gets a picture of a King, whose complaint is not so much with Catholic theology, but with the head of the Catholic Church."

He concluded by saying that given the broad latitude being employed by the Pontiff at the time as far as theological interpretation was concerned, he couldn't help thinking simply granting the divorce would have been the expedient and prudent decision. It may have curbed the spread of reformation in Europe and maintained the binding unity of the Church.

He also suggested that the only way Henry could be assured that the Pope would stay out of English affairs would be to have an heir as anti-Papal as he was, and he ensured his son's tutors were of that opinion.

He said the opposing team had failed to convince him and he said they had failed to undermine the arguments about the positive things that might have ensued had the reformation not taken place and he said the inescapable conclusion must be to vote for the proposition.


The teams retired whilst the vote was taken, and recalled (if not actually re-formed)  for the result.

There were two results, the pre-debate opinion poll and the result of the show of hands after the debate concluded.

Announcing the result the Bishop said there were less people who had completed the pre-debate slips, so they had converted all the results into percentages to make them more comparable.

To the motion: "This house believes that the Henrician Reformation was a retrograde movement' there were

Result Before
the debate
the debate
For the Motion 47% 45%
Against the Motion 43% 48%
Abstentions 10% 7%

And after a warmly applauded vote of thanks to Rev Hodgson for organising the whole event, the evening drew to a close with "The day thou gavest..." featuring organ and trumpet.


It is always a really good and enjoyable event, and this was no exception.

We thought those speaking for the Motion had a more clear and compelling line of argument and the first two speakers especially so, albeit for different reasons.

We felt disappointed that those speaking against the Motion didn't marshal better arguments - although to be fair to them, we're not sure we would know what they should have done better.

In terms of our own voting, we began the evening with the expectation that we would vote against the motion, so we were one of the 43% in the original pre-debate opinion poll.

However, that arguments made in favour of the motion did cause us to shift our position - albeit not enough to go so far as to vote for it.

So, we were in the minority group of 7% who abstained in the final vote.

It wasn't a political or principled abstention, it was simply that the proponents of the motion caused us to become more undecided about whether the reformation was a retrograde step or not.

Dated:  19 February 2018



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