Reformation without Reform: Recent Celebrations Marking 500 Years of the Protestant Reformation and the Wider Impact of Martin Luther's Revolution on Europe, and in Particular the UK, Provide Interesting Insights for Africa

By Wambu, Onyekachi | New African, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Reformation without Reform: Recent Celebrations Marking 500 Years of the Protestant Reformation and the Wider Impact of Martin Luther's Revolution on Europe, and in Particular the UK, Provide Interesting Insights for Africa


Wambu, Onyekachi, New African


Against the wider backdrop of the turmoil unleashed by the Reformation, the British break with the Catholic Church began with Henry VIII's need for a divorce from a wife unable to provide him with a male heir to protect his dynasty.

Following the breach with the Pope, legislation was quickly passed from 1532 onwards overturning the old order. He first appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church, usurping the authority of the Catholic Church.

He then moved immediately to establish his new order, while destroying the old structure and its supporters. The old still had enormous power through leading personalities unhappy with the changes and their access to land and money. Further legislation enabled Henry, through the dissolution of the monasteries, to take control of Catholic Church property and land and distribute the assets to his supporters, thus creating an elite invested in the new order.

Those who subscribed to the old power (Catholics) were marginalised, and in some cases seen as traitors. They in turn fought back, as the dispute and plots (e.g. Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot--celebrated every 5 November with fireworks) rumbled on over the next hundred years. They occasionally won the support of short-lived British kings/queens, interested in reasserting the old religion through alliances with European powers, principally Spain, which was also threatened by the new Protestant order.

However, over the years Catholics were pushed to the margins and this marginal status was codified. From 1701 Royals could no longer be Catholic or marry one, to prevent a reopening of the old treacherous allegiance to the Pope.

A suspicion of Catholics echoes even today. Tony Blair felt that being seen as a Catholic would damage his prospects as prime minister, so he waited until after he left office to convert to Catholicism. It was only in 2013 that Royals were finally allowed to marry Catholics, the last group of people you were legally allowed to discriminate against in the UK.

Old structures remain unchanged

So what has all this got to do with Africa? The period of decolonisation involved a rapid switch in authority and power from one ruling order/elite to another. …

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