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Tudor Times

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Sea Corner

The Armada approaches


The ‘Golden Years’ of Henry VIII’s reign coincided with his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.   He married the last five of his wives and committed most of his acts of tyranny within the last third of his reign.  Henry blamed Catherine’s inability to conceive a son and heir on God’s punishment for marrying his brother Arthur’s widow.   He tried to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that it was unlawful, so he could remarry.  The matter eventually led to the break with Rome.   The divorce was finalised in 1533 and Catherine was banished from court.   She died alone in January 1536.

There was already a growing body of people who objected to, and protested against corruption within the Catholic Church.   They came to be known as Protestants and seized upon the opportunity to establish a new church in England by siding with the king.   When the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry determined to reject Papal authority.   The date to remember is 1534.   In this year a series of Acts of Parliament severed financial, judicial and administrative links with Rome and, eventually, in 1549, led to the first authoritative statement (the Six Articles) of the doctrines of the English church.   As a result of the new Acts, in particular the Act of Supremacy of 1534, Henry became the ‘Supreme Head of the Church of England’.

When Henry VIII died in 1547, his son Edward was only nine.   The young king’s uncle, Seymour, became Lord Protector of the Realm.  The Reformation of the Church of England had begun and he ordered the abolishing of the Mass and of the use of Latin in church services.   An Act of Parliament ordered the removal of all statues, paintings and images from churches.  Stone altars were broken up and replaced with a Holy Communion table.  The rood loft was taken away and destroyed.   Stained glass windows were smashed.  Wall paintings were whitewashed over when most lay completely forgotten, if not destroyed, under subsequent layers of whitewash.   In recent years some of these paintings have been rediscovered and conserved and they are among the great treasures of our historic churches.   None have come to light at St Nicolas’ Church but there are some fine examples at nearby Coombes, Hardham, West Chiltington and Clayton.

After Edward died in 1553 the throne went to his half-sister, Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who, like her mother, was a devout Catholic.   Mary, who sent a number of Protestant martyrs to be burned at the stake, declared the English church again Catholic, and churchwardens throughout the land reinstalled many of the church goods banned in the previous reign.

Mary died childless in 1558 at the age of 42 and her half-sister Elizabeth, who had been brought up a Protestant, acceded to the throne and repudiated papal supremacy.   She suppressed the Mass and made England once more a Protestant state.   She reigned for 44 years and died in 1603.   During her reign the composite register (of births, deaths and marriages) was begun in St Nicolas’ Church and Captain Richard Poole whose memorial brass can be seen in ‘Sea Corner’ sailed out from Shoreham against the Spanish Armada in 1588.   The people of Old Shoreham would have seen the beacons all along the coast and waited in fear for news of a Spanish landing.

Life in Tudor times sounds quite confusing for the parishioners of St Nicolas'.  Someone born in the year 1520 would have been Catholic to the age of 14, and then officially become Protestant for the next 19 years.  At the age of 33 they would again become Catholic for 5 years under Mary, then from the age of 38 until their death they would remain Protestant.  In practice, rural parishes away from the scrutiny of Royal Commissioners may not have noticed so much difference.  Services would probably have been conducted by the same priest using the same prayer book, and in many cases images of popular saints would be hidden away until a change in the religious climate meant they could be put back on show.

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He was born in the year Elizabeth I came to the throne,
and was 30 when he faced the Armada.
He lived to a great age for those days.