. . . Recent scholarship on the changes taking place after Henry VIII’s break with the papacy tends to assert their relatively peaceful character, and points to continuities across the Reformation divide. Certainly, some important things didn’t change – most folk carried on worshipping in the same church, for example. It’s also true that England witnessed no slaughter on the scale of the German Peasants’ Rebellion of 1524–25 (when as many as 100,000 people were butchered), or the Wars of Religion breaking out in France after 1562 (in which as many as 4 million may have lost their lives).
But only by such selective comparisons does England’s experience of the Reformation look ‘peaceful’. Thousands died in the convulsions of 1549, and blood was spilled in encounters between armies fighting for religious causes in every decade between the 1530s and 1570s: after the Pilgrimage of Grace (a rising in the north of England against Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1536–37); during Wyatt’s Rebellion (against Mary I in 1554); and in the Rising of the Northern Earls (a Catholic attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I in 1569–70). Over the same period and beyond, hundreds more were put to death for opposing the state’s religious policies. People were willing to die, and to kill, because they rightly believed that momentous, unprecedented, and perhaps irreversible transformations were taking place. For good or ill, England’s first exit from a European union, anchored on the church, rather than the Treaty of Rome, was a hard, not a soft one.
He analyses the divisions between Catholics and "Protestant" Evangelicals throughout the reigns of Henry VIII and his children. Marshall discusses the central positions of both the Catholic Mass--for which the BBC insists on using the lowercase ("mass") and the Evangelical Bible and describes various instances of violence and bloodshed. He concludes:
The Reformation in England ‘succeeded’, in the sense that people born after Elizabeth’s accession, and coming to adulthood before the turn of the 17th century, usually identified as Protestants. Their cultural outlook was shaped by the Prayer Book, the English Bible and a sense – long to endure in the English psyche – that Catholic foreigners were not to be trusted. [nor native-born Catholics!]
Yet to see the story of the English Reformation solely as the transformation of a Catholic country into a Protestant one minimises the extent to which its most vital result was an entrenched religious and cultural pluralism. [a pluralism the government constantly wanted to suppress] It is also to misconstrue the significance of the process itself. Through decades of incessant public debate, punctuated by episodes of intense suffering and violence, the very meaning of ‘religion’ changed. Before the Reformation, the word meant an attitude of mind, devoted service of God. Afterwards, it came to signify a programme, party or identity: ‘my religion’, ‘the true religion’.
The realisation, by significant numbers of English people, that their monarch was not on the side of ‘true religion’ had momentous, long-lasting effects for political authority. That kinsfolk or neighbours might also be wrong-believers was equally novel and troubling. Five centuries on, the challenge of how to live non-violently with difference remains a very real one.
Those sentences, "Through decades of incessant public debate, punctuated by episodes of intense suffering and violence, the very meaning of ‘religion’ changed. Before the Reformation, the word meant an attitude of mind, devoted service of God. Afterwards, it came to signify a programme, party or identity: ‘my religion’, ‘the true religion’." demonstrate the influence of John Bossy's view of religion before and after the Protestant Reformation. Eamon Duffy cited that thesis often in his book, Reformation Divided. Marshall's article was written to promote his book, Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation. As he notes in the preface to that book--and in this artcle--whatever victory Protestants achieved in England over Catholics, it was Pyrrhic: it weakened the Monarchy, destroyed the bonds of community, and drastically changed religion from focusing on God to focusing on the self. That was not what Henry, Cromwell, or Cranmer wanted to accomplish.