Repository logo

The Prosecution of Heresy in the Henrician Reformation

Accepted version



Change log


Cavill, P 


At the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign, the prosecution of heresy was based on three statutes of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Under this system, the Church tried the crime with the assistance of secular authority. Juries presented suspects, whose cases were then transferred to the church courts for determination. In 1532, the Supplication against the Ordinaries challenged the conduct of heresy trials. It invoked common-law principles about due process and standards of proof. Two years later, a new statute modified the system, although less drastically than had been proposed. The royal supremacy and new religious policies changed the context in which heresy was prosecuted. Up until 1539, however, the church courts still determined accusations. Thereafter, in the case of specified heresies, the Act of Six Articles made lay juries responsible for determining guilt or innocence. Commissions under this act combined elements of canon law and common law. These reforms were, however, not seen to have improved the conduct of heresy trials. It proved easier to criticize the traditional method of prosecution than to devise a better one.



4804 Law In Context, 48 Law and Legal Studies

Journal Title

Journal of Legal History

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Informa UK Limited