The Nave of Peterborough Cathedral, looking East
Background to the Reformation
The Reformation was a time of huge political and religious upheaval in 16th Century England.
It began from the first movement of King Henry VIII to annul his marriage to Katharine of Aragon in 1527, and gathered momentum as Henry appealed to the Pope to grant a divorce.
Named ‘The King’s Great Matter’, There were a few reasons as to why Henry wanted to divorce Katharine.
Firstly in 18 years of marriage she had sadly been unable to give him a son, and secondly after 1526 he had fallen madly in love with Anne Boleyn, the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, one of Henry’s most prolific diplomats.
He stated that their marriage was never legitimate due to the fact that she had been married to his brother Arthur and that the union was disproved by God – sighting Leviticus:
“Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness.”
“If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing…they shall be childless.”
Henry argued that the dispensation given to him to marry Katharine in 1509 was invalid as the Pope did not have authority, where in which Thomas More, and others who disagreed with the divorce believed he did.
In 1531, Henry banished Katharine from court and by 1532 Henry had realised that the divorce wouldn’t be forthcoming from Rome.
There were many external influences that affected this, including the fact that the Pope was in the control of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V who was Katharine of Argon’s nephew.
During 1532 – 1534 parliament passed The Act of Supremacy which broke the English church from Rome and declared Henry the Supreme Head of Earth of the Church of England.
He married Anne Boleyn in 1533, and between 1536 and 1541 Henry, with the support of his adviser Thomas Cromwell began to close down the monasteries and absorb their wealth into the Crown.
Reformation and Peterborough Abbey
Peterborough Abbey had seen worship on the same site since 655 AD when a monastery was founded during the reign of the Mercian Kind Paeda by a monk named Saxulf.
The current Cathedral church was consecrated in 1238, and flourished until the Reformation in the 1530’s.
On the 27th of July, 1534, the Abbot John Chambers and 40 monks signed Henry’s Act of Supremacy.
In 1535, the monastery was valued at achieving an annual income of £1,679 15s 8 8¾d, approximately £540k in today’s money.
We know that the Abbot at the time of the Reformation, Abbot Chambers tried to negotiate with the Crown
to keep the monastery open by offering the King a years rent, but the monastery was eventually surrended to the Crown’s agents on the 29th of November, 1539.
On the day after the monastery was surrended, an inventory of the treasure and riches of the church was written up, and in December 1539, it was noted that 70 oz. of gold and 5,081 oz. of silver as taken from Peterborough.
Henry VIII separated the revenue of the Abbey three ways, one third to himself, one to a newly appointed Bishop, and the remaining third to the Dean and Chapter.
By September, 1541, the new see of Peterborough was created, and consisted of a Bishop, Dean and 6 prebendaries. The Abbey Church was changed into the Cathedral you see today, and the Abbot’s residence became the Bishop’s Palace
The first Bishop of this new cathedral was John Chambers, the last Abbot.
It paid to to go along with the Reformation, rather fight against it if you wanted to retain your position…. and your Abbey church. Not many of the Abbey’s of England were as lucky.
Next Post – Tudor Connections at Peterborough Cathedral – Mary, Queen of Scots