Perhaps Germany’s greatest rival during the Reformation was France. The king of France during this time was Francis I, a man of intellectual talent, though he was far too aggressive in his campaigns against the empire. In terms of religion, Francis considered himself a humanist and in favor of general reform, though not of the Reformation itself. This humanist world nurtured Calvin in his early years, though it did not last long. In 1534, a band of reform-minded men placed placards throughout Paris—one even on the king’s bedchamber door—mocking the Mass and the veneration of Mary. Francis was livid, and he launched a campaign against reform, sweeping Calvin and others out of France and down into the Swiss regions.
England during the Reformation was a hereditary monarchy ruled by a usurping family, the Tudors. Much as history has loved the Tudors—for their style no less than the world that gave us Shakespeare—the Tudors had little legal claim to the throne when Henry VII took the crown from the corpse of Richard III after the Battle of Bosworth Field. As such, they looked to the pope to secure the authority of the regime. They also allied themselves with leading English leaders in the church, ultimately making England dry soil for Protestantism. Indeed, if we were to select one kingdom as the least likely to embrace the Reformation, it would be England. Were it not for Henry VIII’s need for an heir, jolly old England might never have become a Protestant nation.
Henry VIII is the hinge on which the early English Reformation turned. He sanctioned moves to root out Protestants in small enclaves such as Cambridge, and he even wrote a tract against Luther in 1521 (the same year as the Diet of Worms). Still, the Tudors needed heirs, and given the weakness of their dynasty, male heirs were ideal to secure later generations. In time, after numerous miscarriages with Catherine of Aragon, Henry convinced himself he never should have married his brother’s wife. He sought to divorce her, but the Roman Catholic Church blocked him. So, he plunged England into the Reformation, opening the door for Thomas Cranmer and others to provide leadership. Still, given England’s original Roman Catholic fervor, it was not for two generations that lasting Protestant fruit would grow from the Church of England.
England’s longtime rival to the north was Scotland. At the start of the Reformation, Scotland’s closest ally was France. Scotland was also fiercely Roman Catholic, both in terms of church vitality and support from the crown. Indeed, John Knox, the man who would later spearhead the Scottish Reformation, spent most of his early ministry in exile in northern England.