When most people think of the Act of Supremacy and the English Reformation they think of the creation of the Church of England but what we think of, is one of the largest transfers of land in English history.
Contrary to popular belief the Act of Supremacy of November 1534 was an Act of Parliament and not an act by Henry VIII. It was written in the 26th year of Henry’s reign and although not having Henry’s name on it, it was to fundamentally change the position of the church in England.
The important part of the Act that we look to is “the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England” which had previously been the Pope. “The English crown shall enjoy all honours, dignities, pre-eminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity.” The first quotation effectively made Henry VIII the owner of the Church of England. The second quotation confirms that the crown owns all the property of the Church of England.
The reason for the second quote becomes apparent when you realise that the Church of England owned approximately one third of all land in England, making it the second wealthiest entity, the Crown being the first. This came about as many land owners liked to enjoy their positions way beyond the bounds of respectability and they felt that once their time was up they would almost certainly go to hell. By giving land and other wealth to the church they believed that this would make up for their indiscretions and they would be destined for heaven.
In theory the Act of Supremacy would legally transfer the land and property. However both the Church of England and the Crown were both governed by the laws of England. Whilst it could be said that all the land owned by Catholic churches, priories and abbeys was legally owned by the Crown as head of the church, the land was also owned by the local leaders of these places. This meant that Henry could not just take each property and pass it onto a Protestant to own or manage he had to create a fresh grant of the land using his right as supreme owner of all property in England.
This is also one of the reasons that the English Reformation took so long as it required English law to be adhered to. Another interesting point to note is that not all Catholic lands were transferred to the Protestant Church of England. Henry like most monarchs saw this as an opportunity to add to the crown’s wealth. In fact part of the dowry paid by Henry to marry his wives came from Catholic land.
So how does our business fit with the Act of Supremacy? Each manor confiscated had a legal right to the lord of the manor titles. By having a grant from the crown at that time, using current law, proof of ownership of the lordship titles only has to be proved back to the 16th century and not the 12th century as no later crown grant is made.
One particular lordship title that really stands out from this time is “Bridgwater”. Henry VIII gave this manor to each of his six wives in turn – obviously a favourite wedding gift.
To find out more about this unusual area of history and how you can become custodian of English history contact us