In the past several postings I mentioned Cuthbert Tunstall and I would like to do a posting on him as he is in many ways typical of the Churchmen of the time of Henry’s break with Rome. By looking at his role in the creation of the Church of England we can get an insight into the complexity of the issue of “how Catholic” and “how Protestant” the Church of England was and became as the English Reformation developed from Henry’s 1534 break through the reign of Elizabeth I (d. 1603). The history of the changes in the English church is not as cut and dried as many Catholics and many Anglicans believe.
Again, remember that the Church of England does not start with Henry VIII. There is a Church of England going all the way back to the Roman colonization of Britain and the period when bishops from England attended Council of Arles (314), Sardica (347) and Rimini (359). From the earliest days the Church of England was in communion with the Universal Church—that is why they were at these councils—and so with the Papacy, but it was only with the Norman Invasion (1066) that the Church of England gradually accepted the same model of papal jurisdiction as was followed by the Continental Churches. Ever since the time of Pope Gregory the Great sending Augustine to Canterbury (595), there were attempts to extend papal jurisdiction over England, and indeed in the Anglo-Saxon period there was great reverence for the Apostle Peter, his tomb at Rome, and his successor in the papacy—but the primacy of the Pope, especially over England, was more a matter of honor that jurisdiction until the time of King John. And right up to the eve of Henry’s break there was always some resistance to papal power in England—as there was in France, the Empire, and other European nations. In fact, one of the reasons contributing to the break of England—and the Scandinavian countries—with Rome was resistance to the expansion of Papal power. All that being said, let’s look at Cuthbert Tunstall.
Tunstall, born in 1574, was the illegitimate son of a Yorkshire knight. His superior intelligence was recognized and his illegitimate birth not allowed to hold him back. He made his way through three universities—Oxford, Cambridge, and Padua—where he studied both theology and law. Proficient in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as several modern languages, and earning the Doctorate in Law he was destined for great things. He was brought in the service of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury and received several ecclesiastical preferments, including a canonry (Lincoln) and archdeaconry (Chichester). In 1515 he was picked up in the service of Cardinal Wolsey and sent with Thomas More on a diplomatic mission to Flanders where he met the Dutch scholar, Desidarius Erasmus.
Educated, admitted to the circle of thinkers that linked More and Erasmus, Tunstall became, like them, one of the humanists who hoped for Church Reform. Moreover, Diplomatic missions to Cologne in 1519 and Worms in 1521 convinced him that Luther’s path of Reform was not the way to go. Meanwhile, he continued to advance both in Royal Service under Wolsey and in the Church—also with Wolsey’s support. He was named Master of the Rolls in 1516 and Lord Privy Seal in 1523. He was named Dean of Salisbury in 1521 and Bishop of London in 1522. He was on a diplomatic mission to the Emperor in 1525 and helped to negotiate the peace of Cambrai with France in 1529.
Meanwhile, of course, tension was heating up over the “King’s Great Matter”—Henry’s desire for an annulment of his Marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Tunstall served alongside Bishop John Fisher in defending Katherine’s interest in the proceedings, but unlike Fisher Tunstall ultimately acceded to the King’s wishes. In the midst of the proceedings, Tunstall was elected (with Henry’s support) Bishop of Durham. This was a particularly prestigious post as the Bishop of Durham, unlike the other Bishops of England—and even the two Archbishops—was a “Count Palatine.” This is a particularly rare title which involves military and judicial powers general reserved to the King and rarely granted to non-royals. The designation of the Bishopric of Durham as a palatinate is because the diocese forms the northernmost part of the realm on the Scottish border—through many years the site of many conflicts between the English and the Scots. This title was held by the Bishops of Durham from the time of William the Conqueror until abolished in 1837.
When Katherine was replaced as Queen, Tunstall passively went along with Henry’s policies. Naturally conservative and somewhat an idealist, he struggled with the idea of a break with the papacy but gave his assent. He was unable to see the long-term consequences of this break but learned his lesson for while little changed in Henry’s time, the break permitted a far more radical reformation to occur in the not-too-distant future. Tunstall was rewarded for his compliance by being made president of the Council of the North—a standing committee of northern nobility that administered affairs in that part of the realm far from London and London’s ability to oversee the day-to-day affairs so distant.
Under Henry there was little effort to Protestantize the Church of England. Mass remained in Latin; priests were required to be celibate; communion was in one kind. Some shrines—particularly those dedicated to Thomas Becket who was a symbol of resistance to royal authority—were done away with and around the time of Henry’s marriage to the Protestant Anne of Cleves there was some attempt to get rid of statues, but very little else changed. Henry abolished the religious orders—and we will cover this in a future posting—but former monks and nuns were pensioned off, were not free to marry and had to keep their vows, and required to continue wearing their religious garb.
Henry kept the Church “Catholic,” albeit without the Pope, but once dead the Reformers moved in and the new king, under the influence of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the King’s uncle, the Duke of Somerset, began a thorough protestantization of the Church. Liturgical Reforms were introduced with the 1549 Prayer Book—and a far more Calvinist liturgy with a 1552 Prayer Book that alarmed Tunstall and others who espoused an Henrician Catholicism, ie a Church Catholic in doctrine and practice, but under the King. Tunstall’s objections caused him first to be arrested—first house-arrest and later in the Tower of London—and then deprived of his bishopric.
Fortunately for Tunstall, Edward died shortly thereafter and was succeeded on the throne by his half-sister, Mary, who was a Catholic. Mary set about restoring the union between the Church of England and the papacy. Tunstall was released from prison and restored to his see. With the rest of the realm, he was restored to union with the Holy See in November 1554. Tunstall, while himself totally Catholic, openly tolerated Protestant practices in his diocese, refusing any sort of inquisition or persecution.
Four years later, Queen Mary died and was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was reluctant to make any more changes in the hierarchy than she had to, but the majority of the bishops—including Tunstall—saw that her agenda was restoring the Protestantism of her brother, King Edward VI, and knew this time what the consequences of going along with royal policy would be. Tunstall refused to participate in the consecration of the new Archbishop of Canterbury—Matthew Parker—as did most other sitting bishops. He was arrested and confined in Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he died several weeks later at the age of 85.