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The Myth of the Church of England

Ryrie, Alec



Ellie Gebarowski-Shafer

Ashley Null


This essay considers an example of how shifting orthodoxies can be disguised as continuities by the use of linguistic ambiguities, and also at how the universal claims of orthodoxy can clash with the particular claims of nationalism. Henry VIII legitimised his schism and other religious innovations in part by mobilising the term ‘the Church of England’, a longstanding but relatively little-used phrase which was now infused with new and nationalistic meanings. The essay argues that by the later sixteenth century the phrase ‘the Church of England’ had at least four distinct meanings, ranging from innocuous descriptive reference to the historic church in that country to the specific set of ritual and legal norms that the established church under Elizabeth I had instituted; and that blurring the distinctions between those meanings, so as to give the Tudor reforms a veneer of ancient orthodoxy, provided those reforms with critical and under-appreciated legitimacy. It also looks at how, when the stresses of the Civil War era forced some of those meanings apart, advocates of those ritual and legal norms were driven to adopt a new terminology, that of ‘Anglicanism’, which claimed orthodoxy less from being one part of the universal Christian church and more with reference to the specific history of the English nation.


Ryrie, A. (2021). The Myth of the Church of England. In E. Gebarowski-Shafer, A. Null, & A. Ryrie (Eds.), Contesting Orthodoxies in the History of Christianity: essays in honour of Diarmaid MacCulloch. Boydell & Brewer

Publication Date 2021-09
Deposit Date Nov 1, 2021
Publisher Boydell & Brewer
Series Title Studies in Modern British Religious History
Book Title Contesting Orthodoxies in the History of Christianity: essays in honour of Diarmaid MacCulloch
Chapter Number 9
Publisher URL