The Protestantisation of the English nation and English identity in the early modern period did not happen with the flick of a switch, if indeed, it really happened at all. In order to extrapolate the success and meaning of the indoctrination of Protestantism in this period, a dissection of the essay question into its key signifiers is necessary. The three emboldened aspects of the question would therefore be the words ‘flexible’, ‘Protestant educators’ and ‘Protestant religion’, in the context of the period, and in application to the English people at the time. Who were the ‘Protestant educators’, and how did they vary in degrees of piety and agenda? How did their degrees of ‘flexibility’ in educating Protestantism differ, and what were the cultural and political causes of this? By exploring these questions, the essay hopes to gain insight into a final and broader question, which is: to what effect did the formers combine to promulgate the Protestant ‘religion’; i.e. just how religious were the subjects of said indoctrination, and can that be attributed to the national identity?
There is a limitation to the extent of which a chronological development of Protestantism in England can be described, however to contextualize the education of Protestantism, some brief points about the development before the period in question will be made. The first point to be made is regarding where the root of authority for protestant education lies. The end of the reign of Henry VIII, which was characterised by a religious ‘policy of balance’, due to connections with the Pope and to the Emporer, could be considered a turning point in both the state’s stance on a national religion which trickled into the protestant education of the masses. Doran and Durston assert that although Henry’s successor, Edward VI’s reign was brief, the ‘radical changes to the theology and liturgy of the English Church’ made in it, characterised a Protestant Reformation.1 After the conservatives had lost royal favour because a quarrel between Henry and the conservative Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner, over an exchange of episcopal lands and who should govern the realm for his son in an event of a minority, the Duke was imprisoned, and his son executed for treason. When Henry died, the imprisonment of the Stephen Gardiner made it possible for Edward Seymour, Edward’s (the new King) uncle, to become Lord Protector and duke of Somerset, who was ‘committed to a policy of cautious religious reform’.2
The reign of Edward VI and allowing for the acquisition of Somerset’s position is of great significance, because contrary to Henry’s policy of balance, it paved way for Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who had long been a firm protestant, but quelled by Henry’s appeasement of the conservatives, to plan ‘a religious revolution of ruthless thoroughness’3. Though this phrase sounds rather militant, immediate reform was not visible. However, over the first two years of Edwards reign ‘government initiated a number of significant religious changes’4. Doran and Durston make an excellent point, in showing that the ‘piecemeal fashion’ of the gradual reform that started to take place was not because of a ‘lack of evangelical zeal’, but cautious, strategic and tactful. Cautious, because in the year of Edwards coronation, 1547, the Emperor Charles V had just defeated the German Lutherans at Muhlberg, and did not want to provoke him further with radical reform in England; strategic and tactful, because of a conscious awareness that ‘bishops, lay lords and gentry were generally opposed to radical theological and liturgical reform’5. These points have coherence to the specific debates of this essay, because they illustrate firstly, the danger that England could face in declaring itself a Protestant nation (and thus cautiously moderate in reform),