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HIST6124 Religion and Politics in Henry VIII's England

Module Overview

The aim of this module is to increase your knowledge and understanding of the Henrician Reformation, a period of crucial importance in English political and religious history. The heart of the course is a study of the 'high politics' of the break with Rome in the early 1530s, set in the context of the nature of early Tudor government and society. The course begins with three case studies - the Hunne affair, the fall of the duke of Buckingham in 1521, the Amicable Grant of 1525 - to raise questions about the late medieval church, the power of the nobility and the effectiveness of royal and ministerial government. There follows consideration of the ascendancy of Cardinal Wolsey and the condition of the church. Henry VIII's desire for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon ended with his break with Rome. On the way he brought down Wolsey, put pressure on churchmen to acquiesce, and asserted his royal supremacy over the church. How Henry dealt with opposition, notably from Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, will be discussed. In 1536 major rebellions took place in the north of England. Just what the rebels sought and how they were ultimately defeated will be explored. The dissolution of the smaller monasteries was a key issue; in the years after the rebellions all the monasteries were dissolved. Just how central Henry was in the politics of his reign has been fiercely argued over: key aspects, especially the fall of Anne Boleyn, will be probed in detail. Assessment of Henry’s political and religious legacy will then conclude the module.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

Develop your knowledge and understanding of religious and political change in early modern England. Encourage you to engage with primary source material for an in depth understanding of how historians research early modern English history. Introduce you to a range of historiographical perspectives on key issues in the sixteenth century. Facilitate your independent research on an aspect of early modern English History for an extended essay project.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Having successfully completed this module you will understand how the sources available to historians of early modern England can be used to illuminate particular questions and controversies.
  • Having successfully completed this module you will have a good understanding of the key political and religious events of Henry VIII's reign.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to research and write an extended assignment using the methods and approaches explored during the seminars.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to read, summarize and assess complex material.
  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to work independently on a substantial piece of research.
  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to write in a literate, sophisticated manner.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches taken by historians to studying the politics and religion of Henry VIII's reign.
  • Having successfully completed this module you will be able to reflect on how academic debate about Henry VIII's reign has developed over time.


Typical topics that will be studied include: The Hunne Affair. The fall of Edward Stafford (d. 1521), third duke of Buckingham. The Amicable Grant, 1525. The age of Thomas Wolsey. The condition of the late medieval church. Henry VIII’s search for a divorce. Henry VIII’s break with Rome Opposition 1529-1536 Rebellions 1536: The Lincolnshire Rising and the Pilgrimage of Grace The dissolution of the monasteries Politics and Faction: the fall of Anne Boleyn Henry VIII’s political and religious legacy

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

This course is exceptionally fortunate in the availability and accessibility of source materials in print, notably the magnificent Victorian edition - which we have in the University Library - of the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, (21 volumes in 36 parts, 1862-1932), which is also available electronically through British History Online and State Papers Online (where the original documents are also accessible). Letters & Papers of Henry VIII includes everything of which the editors were aware, not just in the Public Record Office [now the National Archives] and British Library, but also in a large range of private archives. Moreover they prepared full summaries - and often lengthy quotations. The indexes are also excellent. As the volume of evidence that survives is not huge, on any given topic, it is easily possible for a reasonably hard-working student to master the material in a week, examining the same materials as professional historians do. In weekly classes, guided by reading lists including references to the documents edited in L & P, students will consider the topics listed under course content. Each week a general topic will be divided up into over-lapping sub-topics; sub-topics will be allocated to students who will be asked to prepare a brief report; these will be followed by class discussion.

Preparation for scheduled sessions86
Completion of assessment task39
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

C. Haigh's English Reformations (1993).. 

G.W. Bernard, The Late Medieval English Church: Vitality and Vulnerability before the break with Rome (2012).. 

J.J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (1968, rev. 1997).. 

J.S. Brewer, J. Gairdner and R.H. Brodie, eds., Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the reign of Henry VIII (21 vols. in 36, 1862 1932). Available online or in hard copy in Hartley library

P. Gwyn's The King's Cardinal: the rise and fall of Cardinal Wolsey (1990).. 

L. Wooding, Henry VIII (2009).. 

E. Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars (1992).. 

P. Marshall, Heretics and Believers (2017). 

A.G. Dickens, The English Reformation (1964, rev. 1989). 

G.W. Bernard, The King’s Reformation Henry VIII and the remaking of the English church (2005).. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%
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