The Armada approaches
‘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
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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The cost of living
HEARE LYETH INTERRED THE BODY OF CAP:RICHARD POOLE OF THIS PARISH
WHO DYED THE 17 OF SEPTEMBER
ANNO DOMINI 1652 AGED 94 YEARES . . .
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.