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The Wills of 3 John Merrells
Will of John Merrell 1600
Wherstead and Belstead
John Merrell chart
Will of John Meryell 1551
Will of John Meryell 1528
The Reformation

A Merrill Memorial


    Samuel Merrill, 1928, reprint 1983

The Wills of Three John Merrells - Chapter IV, pp32-47

The Reformation

   In the pious phrases of these wills may be read something of the history of the Reformation. In 1528, when John Meryell of Wherstead made his will, England was a Catholic country. Henry VIII was at the beginning of his long controversy with Rome over the question of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, but the king was then, and to the end of his days, a Catholic in all doctrinal matters. Even the excommunication of Henry in 1534 did not cause him to give up the belief that private masses ought to be continued and auricular confession retained, and these and other Catholic dogmas were endorsed by Parliament in the bill of the Six Articles in 1539. The king merely repudiated papal authority. It was thus quite natural that John Meryell should bequeath his soul to “our blessed Ladye saynt Marie,” make bequests to the high altar of the church, and provide for masses for his soul.

   Henry VIII died in 1547, and under Edward VI (1547-1553) the Reformation made rapid progress, especially in London and the eastern counties. The Six Articles were repealed, a Book of Common Prayer and Liturgy replaced the missal and breviary, and in 1552 the Forty-two Articles of Religion (later reduced to thirty-nine) were introduced.

   It was at this time (13 Dec. 1551) that another John Meryell of Wherstead made his will. The Reformation had seemingly prevailed, but the heir presumptive to the throne was Mary Tudor, a Catholic, destined to be an object of execration through all time under the name of “Bloody Mary.” Under these circumstances it is not strange that the testator of 1551 should omit the churchly phrases which might be out of place, or unpopular, or something worse, when the will should ultimately be offered for probate. With worldly wisdom which does his memory credit he drafted a will which would meet any theological situation which might arise.

   Mary succeeded to the throne in 1553, and soon after the Catholic church was reestablished. Many were imprisoned, and others burned alive, in Suffolk and elsewhere, for their Protestant faith. But this did not long continue. Elizabeth assumed the scepter in 1558, and soon brought about a return to Protestant forms and ceremonies. At the very beginning of her reign Parliament voted to abolish the mass and to reestablish the liturgy of Edward VI. The will of John Merrell of Wherstead, executed in 1600, shows no evidence of Romish sentiment, and among its many bequests are none for superstitious uses. The annuity given the widow was payable, to be sure, at the feast of the Annunciation of “the blessed virgin Saint Marie” and the feast of St, Michael the Archangel, but these were merely the “two termes in the yeeres usuall,” and had legal rather than religious significance. The Reformation had been accomplished.

Chapter V


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     © Merrill.org - Updated 8 July, 2002