When John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, gained power in 1550 after the fall of Somerset, religious reform in England and Wales became more radical. The changes that were made were such that any hint of Catholicism that existed under Somerset was removed so that by 1553, the Church of England was Protestant. Historians argue as to why government reform became more radical after 1550; some argue that the government felt more secure after the Western Rebellion was put down and was confident in its own ability to enforce changes; others argue that anyone who wanted to lead a rebellion was sufficiently put off by the events in Devon. Probably both are important in explaining why Dudley and the Privy Council felt more confident about introducing major religious reform.
Dudley himself played a pivotal role in the introduction of these reforms. However, Dudley himself cut a curious figure from a religious point of view. Whether he was a committed Protestant is hard to argue as he re-converted to Catholicism just before his execution. However, this re-conversion may well have been a last desperate attempt to get his life spared. But it does show that he did not have the conviction of those Protestant martyrs who were executed in the reign of Mary I. Yet Dudley was an energetic supporter of John Hooper, someone who wanted England to convert to Protestantism sooner rather than later.
Few doubt that Dudley was willing to use religion and religious reform to advance his own political power. At the fall of Somerset, Dudley was associated with the conservatives in the Privy Council. However, when the conservatives in the Council pushed for the withdrawal of the 1549 Act of Uniformity and to give bishops greater power, Dudley moved to the radicals in the Privy Council. In December 1549, Parliament passed laws that would speed up the removal of images in churches and enforce the use of new versions of the service book.
No major reform was introduced in 1551. The year saw Cranmer revising his ‘Prayer Book’ and the conservative Gardner was finally removed from his position in Winchester.
Parliament assembled in January 1552 and the government started on a comprehensive programme of religious reform.
1) To enforce doctrinal uniformity, a new Treason Act was passed which made it an offence to question any of the articles of faith of the Church of England. It was also an offence to question royal supremacy.
2) The number of Holy Days was limited to 25.
3) In March 1552, a second Act of Uniformity was passed. This made it an offence for any member of the clergy or laity not to attend a church service. Offenders could be fined or imprisoned. Cranmer’s new ‘Book of Common Prayer’ became the official basis for Church of England services. All semblance of Catholicism was removed. The Eucharist was confirmed as consubstantiation. However, the more radical reformers found complaint with this as communicants were expected to kneel which some deemed to be idolatrous.
4) A review of Church wealth carried out in 1552 estimated that the Church was worth over £1 million. The government decided to take steps to acquire some of this wealth. However, the untimely death of Edward VI stopped this from going through.
By the time of Edward’s death, there was a recognisable Church of England with characteristics that were plainly Protestant. After a number of years of religious upheaval, many would have welcomed an era of stability. The death of the Protestant Edward and his Catholic successor, Mary, ensured that this was not to be the case.