august, the end of the war of the roses, and the unintended beginning of religious tolerance within christianity
By Dave Wilson
August marks the anniversary of an unintended transformative event in the history of
Christianity, the English speaking world, and the concept of religious tolerance. The Battle of
Bosworth Field was fought on August 22, 1485, 534 years ago this month, near Bosworth,
England. The houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) had been fighting The War
of the Roses for 30 years, and had managed to eliminate the male heirs to the throne from both
extended families; Bosworth Field was the final battle of that war. Some increased attention to
the battle resulted from the 2012 discovery of the long-missing body of King Richard III, who
was killed in the battle. The victorious Lancastrians were led by Henry, Earl of Richmond, from
Wales. Henry, Richard, and the battle itself have many interesting stories, but space and
pertinent subject matter do not permit telling them here. Henry was crowned as King Henry VII
of England after the battle. He had two sons, the younger named Harry, but the eldest son Arthur died at age 15. After Henry VII died, Harry became King Henry VIII and married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, earlier financiers of an expedition by Cristoforo Colombo who had the dubious idea that he could find a passage to Asia across the Atlantic Ocean. Henry VIII was married to Catherine for most of his reign, but eventually became known in history for having 5 other wives in quick succession. In order to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Henry ultimately created the Church of England because the Catholic Church would not grant him a divorce from Catherine. Key figures in the new Anglican Church exhibited no more religious tolerance than most religions in any part of the world up until that time, often burning or torturing “heretics” who opposed the new branch of Christianity, including Catholics, adherents to England’s Christian religion for approximately the previous 1200 years. However, after Henry VIII died, his son and eldest daughter (Bloody Mary, who restored Catholicism and promoted widespread torture of Anglicans) both died within 11 years. Their younger sister ascended to the throne as Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, and because she herself had been imprisoned and threatened with death over religion, she had no use for religious persecution or intolerance, restored the Anglican Church, and introduced policies of religious tolerance to England that were almost unprecedented in history. Sadly, the tolerance was greater than that in the 64 of the 196 countries in the world today that are considered very restrictive of religion (they contain 70% of the people in the world), nearly 500 years later. The concept of comparative religious freedom within Christianity and toward other religions spread throughout the English speaking world. Colonization and expansion into indigenous areas did not uniformly result in religious tolerance, especially regarding people of color. Nevertheless, widespread torture and/or efforts to completely eliminate all adherents to other religions were not practiced by the English speaking people to the extent that they were by many other religions, societies, and empires. The unintended results of Henry Earl of Richmond and his son Harry’s thrusts for power created a basis for religious tolerance originated by their granddaughter and daughter that was reflected in the U.S. constitution 300 years later and largely exists in our society today.
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.