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The Eve of the Reformation

The Catholic Church in Britain on the eve of the Protestant Reformation was not especially sick. As recent historians have shown, the faith was firmly embedded throughout society and in the daily habits of the people. In Oxford, Blackfriars continued to flourish. In the early 16th century, improvements to the buildings were being made right up to the eve of the Dissolution.

However, within a few years, the earthquake came that would shake the English Church to its foundations, as an impatient Henry VIII sought to dissolve his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to remarry. It was indeed in the Dominican priory, at Blackfriars, London (see picture), that Queen Catherine made her moving plea to her husband to save their marriage.

The outcome of this ill-fated dispute would divide the entire country as the King sought to enforce conformity to his will.

The Eve of the Reformation

The Catholic Church in Britain on the eve of the Protestant Reformation was not especially sick. As recent historians have shown, the faith was firmly embedded throughout society and in the daily habits of the people. In Oxford, Blackfriars continued to flourish. In the early 16th century, improvements to the buildings were being made right up to the eve of the Dissolution.

However, within a few years, the earthquake came that would shake the English Church to its foundations, as an impatient Henry VIII sought to dissolve his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to remarry. It was indeed in the Dominican priory, at Blackfriars, London (see picture), that Queen Catherine made her moving plea to her husband to save their marriage.

The outcome of this ill-fated dispute would divide the entire country as the King sought to enforce conformity to his will.

The Collapse

Having benefited so greatly from royal patronage, the turning of the monarch against the Catholic religion caused great confusion among the religious orders, and this was certainly the case among the Dominicans. John Hilsey OP, Prior of Bristol, became persuaded to the point of view of the reformers, and subsequently, he was, in 1534, imposed by the king upon the friars as its Prior Provincial, in order to bring the friars into conformity.

As royal supremacy was imposed, the Dominicans began to fragment. Some friars conformed, some privately expressed dissent, a few fled abroad. This confusion is typical of the Church as a whole in this unprecedented period. Only the unworldly Carthusians showed any sort of corporate resistance against the King, and they paid for it with their lives.

A small handful of friars attempted to defy the King. Among them was John Pickering OP, Prior of York, who was one of several friars who assisted the rebels during the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ (pictured). He composed the rebels’ marching song, however later recanted under torture and was executed at Tyburn in 1537.

The Collapse

Having benefited so greatly from royal patronage, the turning of the monarch against the Catholic religion caused great confusion among the religious orders, and this was certainly the case among the Dominicans. John Hilsey OP, Prior of Bristol, became persuaded to the point of view of the reformers, and subsequently, he was, in 1534, imposed by the king upon the friars as its Prior Provincial, in order to bring the friars into conformity.

As royal supremacy was imposed, the Dominicans began to fragment. Some friars conformed, some privately expressed dissent, a few fled abroad. This confusion is typical of the Church as a whole in this unprecedented period. Only the unworldly Carthusians showed any sort of corporate resistance against the King, and they paid for it with their lives.

A small handful of friars attempted to defy the King. Among them was John Pickering OP, Prior of York, who was one of several friars who assisted the rebels during the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ (pictured). He composed the rebels’ marching song, however later recanted under torture and was executed at Tyburn in 1537.

Devastation

From 1538, the priories were closed, with the buildings eventually being sold off and the stone and fittings recycled. The last Dominican priory to be closed was Scarborough in March 1539. With this, the English Dominican Province ceased to exist as a physical reality, though many urban neighbourhoods continue to this day to bear the name ‘Blackfriars’.

By 1584, Elizabeth I had outlawed and expelled all Catholic clergy from the realm.

Devastation

From 1538, the priories were closed, with the buildings eventually being sold off and the stone and fittings recycled. The last Dominican priory to be closed was Scarborough in March 1539. With this, the English Dominican Province ceased to exist as a physical reality, though many urban neighbourhoods continue to this day to bear the name ‘Blackfriars’.

By 1584, Elizabeth I had outlawed and expelled all Catholic clergy from the realm.