Skip to main content
Museum of Oxford Digital Exhibitions

Oxford and the Reformations

Martyrs Memorial - Anna Clark.JPG

Not a single event but a long-lasting process, the English Reformation began in the 1530s. Henry VIII rejected the claims of the Pope to rule the Church and closed England’s monasteries and shrines. His son, Edward VI, enforced a still more radical Reformation, using the new Book of Common Prayer to impose Protestant worship and teachings on the nation. Edward’s successor, Mary I (reigned 1553-1558), attempted to restore Catholic forms of worship and belief. Yet this Catholic revival was short-lived. A distinctive Protestant Church emerged under Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-1603). The monarch would govern the Church; the Bible and worship would be in English rather than in Latin; and traditional beliefs and ceremonies would be suppressed.

Arguments about what to believe, how to worship, and who should have authority over the Church did not cease, however. On the contrary, religious debates and divisions proved fierce and unending, as did the attempts by different Christian groups to commemorate the battles of the past and to use them to fight those of the present.

The Reformation had global consequences. It prompted religious refugees to flee Europe and motivated missionaries to travel the world – from North America in the seventeenth century, to Africa in the nineteenth. In Oxford, museums, colleges, churches, and homes all filled with the spoils of Empire. Men and women came from the colonies to study here. This globalization helped transform the City and University, as mosques, temples, and synagogues took their place alongside churches and chapels. In this sense, too, Oxford continues to be re-formed.

Oxford and the Reformations