The church at Castle Bromwich was the centre of village life. Rich or poor, peasant or lord, everyone was expected to be here every Sunday and on special Christian feast days such as Easter and Christmas.
People came here from the village or from Hodge Hill close by or they walked the two miles from Bromford or Shard End.
Medieval Christians believed that it was by means of the priest and the church that they would go to heaven when they died. Church was the place where the most important events in their lives were celebrated. And it was also the village hall where everyone came together for harvest festivals and other celebrations.
But from the time of Henry VIII, for a hundred years, there was to be constant change which must have been very difficult and confusing for the ordinary people of Castle Bromwich. This time of change in the Church is known as the Reformation.
Henry VIII - reigned 1509-1547
Henry separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic church and made himself head of the church. Although some people thought that the Pope in Rome had too much power over the English church, most ordinary people, priests and monks disagreed with Henry. However, Henry did not change church services, except to place a Bible in English, rather than Latin, in every church. It was the first time that people in Castle Bromwich had ever heard the Bible in their own language.
Edward VI - reigned 1547-53
Edward was influenced by a form of Christianity spreading across Europe led by people such as the German monk Martin Luther, who protested against the power and wealth of the Roman Catholic Church and wanted a simpler religion.
Edward changed the Latin services into simpler ones in English. He ordered statues of the saints to be removed, stained glass windows to be smashed and paintings on the walls to be whitewashed. Most people found this outrageous. Their churches were very special to them with all their decorations and the way in which services were held.
Edward sent Protestant missionaries round the country to explain to the people that the Word of God in the Bible was more important than statues and paintings; but the missionaries were also checking to see if Edward’s orders had been carried out.
We know there were paintings on the wall in the old church at Castle Bromwich and we believe there were stained glass windows. They would have been destroyed by Edward's men.
Mary - reigned 1553-1558
Mary was a Roman Catholic and changed things back to the way they had been. She accepted the Pope as head of the Church in England again. Decorations were restored to English churches, including paintings on walls, gold ornaments and stained-glass windows. Church services were held in Latin again. Mary was very cruel to people who disagreed with her. During her short reign of 5 years over 300 people were burned to death for being Protestant. It is said that the church bells were rung in celebration when she died.
Elizabeth I - reigned 1558-1603
At the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign England was split between those who supported the simpler Protestant religion and those who supported the more elaborate and traditional Catholic one. Elizabeth was a Protestant.
However, she decided that she could not keep changing things as had happened over the previous twenty years. So she steered a middle path between the two religions. After Mary’s death Parliament began to pass more extreme Protestant laws, for example, they wanted to forbid playing games on a Sunday.
But Elizabeth refused to agree. She allowed some decorations and ceremonies back into the churches. And although she made herself the head of the Church of England and not the Pope, she called herself ‘Supreme Governor’.
For the most part her middle way was successful.
However, a number of plots against the Queen were discovered led by Roman Catholics. The leaders were executed: hanged, drawn and quartered and their heads put on spikes on London Bridge as a warning to other people. Edward Arden of Park Hall was one such. Roman Catholic priests who were discovered holding services in secret were tortured and executed. By the end of her reign (a much longer one than Mary’s) Elizabeth had executed as many Roman Catholics as her sister had burned Protestants.
Nonetheless, by Elizabeth’s death in 1603, England was largely a Protestant country with a common view on English religion.
James I - reigned 1603-1625
James was a Protestant king but sympathetic towards the Catholics. However, after Guy Fawkes and his Roman Catholic plotters unsuccessfully tried to blow him up in the Houses of Parliament, he passed strict laws against Roman Catholics.
Charles I - reigned 1625-1649
Charles was also a Protestant and, like his father, he was sympathetic to Roman Catholics. He was an autocratic king who believed that monarchs were given the right to rule by God and need take no notice of what Parliament or the people thought. Charles came into conflict with Parliament and its supporters, many of whom were Puritans.
After a savage Civil War Charles was executed. The country had no king and was ruled by the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell.
The Commonwealth 1649-1660
Cromwell was a Puritan, and did not trust Roman Catholics. Puritans were Protestants who carried their religion to greater extremes than most people. Some Puritans believed that there should not be bishops; some believe that there should not even be priests ('Why do you need a priest when you can read the Bible yourself?' they said.) Some did not want to belong to the Church of England and set up their own churches (They were known as Dissenters).
Puritans believed that hard work would get you to Heaven. And so fun for its own sake was not allowed: Cromwell closed most of the pubs and all of the theatres. Sport was forbidden; boys caught playing football on a Sunday would be whipped. If you swore you could be fined or sent to prison. On Sundays most kinds of work were banned; women caught doing unnecessary work on a Sunday could be put in the stocks. Even going for a walk (unless you were going to church) could get you a heavy fine. And on one day every month people were expected to fast - you did not eat all day. In 1644 Cromwell banned Christmas; he wanted it to be a religious celebration rather than a festival where people ate and drank too much.
Many people objected strongly to Cromwell’s reforms, but he had a large army of soldiers to enforce his laws. Priests who objected were thrown out of their churches. It is not known whether Castle Bromwich church had a priest at this time.
Charles II - reigned 1660-1685
After the Commonwealth, Charles II was welcomed to England. Sympathetic to Roman Catholics, he tried to introduce religious freedom for Roman Catholics and Dissenters, but Parliament would not agree.
However, towards the end of his reign, Charles was grew more and more unpopular. He decided it suited him better to strongly support the Protestant Church of England of which he was the Head. So strict laws were passed to make sure that everyone attended Church of England churches. Dissenters were especially targeted.
Although no-one was executed for their faith in England, many were thrown into prison. And conditions in prisons at this time were so bad that many people died there. It is thought that as many as 3000 dissenters died and 60,000 families lost everything during Charles’ reign.
As he was dying Charles became a Roman Catholic.
James II - reigned 1685-1688
James II was a Roman Catholic. He tried to relax the laws against Catholics and Dissenters and when Parliament objected, he sent them home. James began to give important government and army jobs to Catholics. He issued a law allowing religious freedom in England by allowing people to worship in their homes or chapels as they saw fit. People no longer had to belong to the Church of England.
When James’ wife gave birth to a son who would be a Roman Catholic king after him, the leading lords of the country took action. They called on his Protestant daughter’s husband, William of Orange, to bring an army from the Netherlands and take over the country.
James fled the country and in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he was replaced by his Protestant daughter, Mary II and her husband Prince William III who ruled jointly.
William - reigned 1689-1702
& Mary - reigned 1689 -1694
When William and Mary ruled the country there was at last some stability in the Church of England. But it was to be another century and half before Roman Catholics and Dissenters were given the same rights as members of the Church of England.
Queen Anne was the last of the Stuart monarchs. She was strongly Protestant and Church of England.
Medieval churches were full of colour and decoration. Paintings on the walls showed stories from the Bible or the lives of the saints. A screen separated the people in the nave from the priest in the chancel. There were no seats in the nave except for the old.
After the Reformation the walls of churches were whitewashed. Churches were kept plain so that people could concentrate on listening to the priest preaching from the pulpit. Seats were put in the nave so people could sit and listen to the Word of God in the Bible.
'A History of Castle Bromwich for Young People' written by William Dargue 2016 for the Castle Bromwich Bellringers.
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