“Britain is an island in the Ocean.” Bede, A.D. 731.
In 332 B.C., Pytheas of Marseilles was the first to write about this island in the Atlantic Ocean. His account was followed by Julius Caesar’s spellbinding reports of the Roman Legion defeating the Celts in 55 B.C. The island received its name from this Roman conquest, for Britannia is Latin for “Land of the Britons.” During the decline of the Roman Empire, Britannia was once again subject to invasion. This time the invasion came from the barbarians of the North Sea. Many of these Germanic invaders made Britannia their permanent home. The word England means the “land of the Angles.” Except for Wales and Scotland, the island was called England after this Anglo-Saxon invasion.
In A.D. 937, Athelstan of Wessex was the first man to claim the title as the King of the Anglo-Saxons. He was followed by his nephew Edgar. Edgar was crowned king of the Anglo-Saxons in a spectacular ceremony that has been the standard tradition for all the British monarchs since his coronation. He was followed by his two sons, Edward and Ethelted. Edward was murdered in A.D. 978, so at the age of twelve, Ethelted the Unready became King. Ethelted was followed by Canute, Harold Harefoot, Harthacanute, Edward the Confessor, and Harold.
In 1066, the House of Normandy put four kings and one empress on the throne: William the Conqueror, William II, Henry, Empress Matilda, and Stephen. The House of Normandy was replaced with the House of Plantagenet in 1154. It had a line of eight kings: Henry II, Richard the Lionhearted, John, Henry III, Edward Longshanks, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II. Plantagenet was then followed by the House of Lancaster in 1399 with Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI. The line of Lancaster was followed by the House of York in 1461. The House of York had three kings: Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III. The House of York was then followed by the famous House of Tudor.
The Welsh House of Tudor ruled England and Ireland from 1485 until 1603. The five Tudor monarchs were Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Bloody Mary, and Elizabeth. During this dynasty, England emerged from the Middle Ages as one of the most powerful Renaissance nations. Henry VIII, the second Tudor king (1509-1547), considered himself a devout Roman Catholic, yet his reign was overshadowed by his six marriages. He first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Henry wanted a son to carry on the Tudor line, but the only child to survive this marriage was a daughter, Mary. In 1527, he asked the Pope to annul his marriage so he could marry Anne Boleyn. While Henry VIII was waiting on an answer from Rome, the archbishop of Canterbury died, and Henry VIII replaced him with Thomas Crammer. This newly appointed archbishop declared the marriage to Catherine dissolved. Likewise, Parliament declared Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England.
Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, and she gave birth to Elizabeth. Anne Boleyn was not able to give Henry VIII a son, so she was tried for misconduct and was beheaded. Henry VIII then married his third wife, Jane Seymour. She died while giving birth, but her baby boy survived childbirth. Henry VIII named him Edward. Edward VI was ten years old when he came to the throne in 1547. His rule was carried out through a regent, his uncle the Duke of Somerset. The Duke, being influenced by the Protestant Reformation, allowed religious freedom, but it did not last for long. At sixteen, Edward VI died from tuberculosis, and his older sister succeeded him to the throne.
Mary was a devout Roman Catholic. She decreed that England should return to the authority of the Catholic Church, and the country suffered greatly under her five year reign. She persecuted the protestants, declaring them heretics and burned three hundred at the stake. Archbishop Thomas Crammer was among that number. The country was in ruins when she died in 1588. Since Mary was childless, the throne was passed on to her sister, Elizabeth.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
British Church History