By M. M. Badawi (auth.)
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As a res ul t Henry managed to pass throug h Parliament a series of acts (between 1529 and 1535) which severed all ties between the Church of England and Rome, and made him the supreme head of the English Church. Bishops now were elected from those nominated by the king instead of the Pope. In 1536 he dissolved monasteries and their rich estates passed to the Crown though ultimately they were sold to the gentry. Of course, it would be entirely wrong to attribute the Reformation of the Church solely to the king's desire to obtain Papal permission to rid himself of his wife; in reality this was only the occasion which precipitated the breach with Rome and without the presence of other and more significant factors the king would have met with much greater opposition.
On the whole the knights and esquires were a prosperous class and kept up the tradition of hospitality or housekeeping. For instance, the poet John Donne belonged for some time to the household of a knight. Although a coat of arms was the official sign of gentility, according to an Elizabethan author, the title 'gentleman' was not in common usage confined to the rich landed classes. In De Republica Anglorum (published in 1583) Sir Thomas Smith wrote: Whosoever studieth the laws of the realm, professeth liberal sciences, and to be short, who can live idly and without manual labour, and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be called master, for that is the title which men give to esquires and other gentlemen, and shall be taken for gentleman.
Yet this must in no way lead us to believe that the Tudor or Elizabethan age was an essentially secular one. Unlike the Italian Renaissance which had a somewhat pagan tendency, the English Renaissance was strongly religious and ethical. After all, we must not forget that one of the results of the Reformation was that the King of England became also the head of the Church. Queen Elizabeth herself translated the Christian author Boethius. People's minds were then preoccupied with religious and theological issues, and that in a deep sense.
Background to Shakespeare by M. M. Badawi (auth.)