The Reformation and the Modern State

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This past week my World History classes studied the Reformation and the rise of the modern state.

Following up on the brilliant outline sketched by Professor Eugen Weber in the above video lecture, I described how all states originated in conquest and exploitation, as bandit gangs besieging villages of peaceful productive families, murdering all who resisted, plundering the villagers of their food and meager possessions, and raping all the women and young girls.

Eventually the bandits decide this exhaustive process of plundering one village after another is extremely wasteful and time-consuming. They begin to post some of the thieves and rapists in each village to extract tribute. Over the course of time this extortion money becomes known as taxation.

In 1066 one such bandit, William the Bastard, invaded and conquered England. His lineal descendants continued this predatory practice until the dynastic Wars of the Roses forced two rival family gangs to compete for control of the turf and its spoils.

Out of this gang warfare emerged the victor Henry Tudor, known to posterity as Henry VII.

I proceeded to describe the tragedy surrounding Henry VII’s first-born son Arthur and his bride Catherine upon his premature death, her subsequent marriage to Arthur’s younger brother Henry (after receiving a papal dispensation to do so), Henry’s all-consuming dissatisfaction with her for not producing a male heir, and his desire for a papal annulment (or divorce) in order to marry Anne Boleyn.

This was all provided as essential background leading up the showing of the Academy Award-winning film, A Man for All Seasons, focusing upon the controversy between Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More concerning the question of Royal Supremacy over the Church in England.

After viewing and taking notes on the film, my students were to write an evaluative essay on the following topic:

Compare and contrast Sir Thomas More as portrayed in the Academy Award winning epic film, A Man for All Seasons, with Martin Luther as described in the documentary, Martin Luther: Reluctant Revolutionary. More was a great defender of the Roman Catholic faith and confronted English King Henry VIII concerning dramatic changes in England during the Reformation. Luther launched the Protestant Reformation challenging the Roman Catholic faith and its centuries of religious dogma and traditions. Both were men of conscience who were unyielding in their principles and core beliefs.

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