Early Modern Europe: Monarchies and the Consequences of the Reformation (55+)

In the 16th century, Europe faced serious crises. The Reformation, which spread rapidly through the new print media, challenged not only the authority of kings and popes but also key church doctrines. The Muslim Ottomans were poised to overrun Europe. Medieval Christendom’s two pillars, the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, were weakened. The monarch now headed the English church. Scots and Dutch Protestants, rejecting ancient doctrine that rulers, no matter how evil, had to be obeyed, deposed their monarchs.

These challenges to papal and royal authority led to civil turmoil and war. We will examine how in four key states—the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, England and France—the crises of the period led to very different outcomes and changed relationships between monarchs and their subjects.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 Garrett H. Polman $120.00 0 Join Waitlist

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • Identify the essential elements of the Reformation
  • Describe how the Reformation affected the role of monarchs in key countries
  • List the key local factors that led to very different outcomes in these countries
  • Discuss why traditional thinking prohibited the overthrow of monarchs, however evil, and why new thinking now justified deposing evil rulers

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: The Reformation: The issues that divided Europe

The Reformation rejected the authority of the pope and denied key doctrines of the Roman Church. We’ll examine how these controversies split medieval Christendom and led to civil turmoil and rejection of the traditional view prohibiting subjects from resisting their ruler by means of force.

Week 2: Decline of the Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Emperor was one of the two institutional pillars of medieval Europe (the other being the Pope). As his empire of several hundred semi-autonomous states was torn by religious turmoil we’ll see how Europe’s most powerful ruler ended up with diminished authority.

Week 3: The Low Countries split and the Northern Dutch depose their King

Can subjects legitimately depose their king? Not according to ancient church doctrine. We’ll discover how in the Netherlands, northern Europe’s most urbanized state, the overthrow of Hapsburg Spain resulted in the emergence of the Dutch Republic in the seven northern provinces, while the south remained loyal to Spain.

Week 4: England under the Tudors (I): Henry VIII versus Rome

Was Henry’s marriage to his deceased brother’s wife invalid? Henry thought so, but the pope didn’t, and Europe’s legal experts were divided. New acts of Parliament determined that the English church, not the pope, should decide. But what exactly was the English church?

Week 5: England under the Tudors (II): Henry VIII’s successors (1547–1603)

Henry’s three children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, succeeded him in turn, but they differed sharply on religion. With England changing from Protestantism under Edward to Catholicism under Mary and to a modified Protestantism under Elizabeth, each reign brought both change and dissent.

Week 6: Monarchy and religion in 16th-century France

For decades French Catholics and Protestants fought civil wars over a toxic brew of royal succession and religion. By 1598 a settlement was reached—Protestant Henry IV had converted to Catholicism, and Protestants obtained a measure of freedom. But would it last? 

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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