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The Influence of The Papacy on The Creation of King Henry Viii’s Anglicanism

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How did the papacy affect the creation of King Henry VIII’s Anglicanism? Henry’s immediate problem in the 1520s was the lack of a male heir. After eighteen years of marriage, he had only a sickly daughter and an illegitimate son. His queen, Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), after four earlier pregnancies, gave birth to a stillborn son in 1518, and by 1527, when she was 42, Henry had concluded that she would have no more children. His only hope for the future of his dynasty seemed to be a new marriage with another queen. This, of course, would require an annulment of his marriage to Catherine. In 1527, he appealed to the pope, asking for the annulment.

Normally, the request would probably have been granted; the situation, however, was not normal. Catherine had first been the wife of Henry’s deceased brother Arthur. Her marriage to Henry had required a papal dispensation, based on her oath that the first marriage had never been consummated. Now Henry professed concern for his soul, tainted by living in sin with Catherine for eighteen years. He also claimed that he was being punished, citing a passage in the Book of Leviticus, which predicted childlessness for the man who married his dead brother’s wife. The pope was sympathetic and certainly aware of an obligation to Henry, who for his verbal attacks against Luther had been named “Defender of the Faith” by a grateful earlier pontiff; but granting the annulment would have been admission of papal error, perhaps even corruption, in issuing the dispensation. Added to the Lutheran problem, this would have been doubly damaging to the papacy. On March 7,1530, Pope Clement VII issued the following bull: “Bull, notifying that on the appeal of queen Katharine from the judgment of the Legates, who had declared her contumacious for refusing their jurisdiction as being not impartial, the Pope had committed the cause, at her request, to Master Paul Capisucio, the Pope’s chaplain, and auditor of the Apostolic palace, with power to cite the King and others; that the said Auditor, ascertaining that access was not safe, caused the said citation, with an inhibition under censures, and a penalty of 10,000 ducats, to be posted on the doors of the churches in Rome, at Bruges, Tournay, and Dunkirk, and the towns of the diocese of Terouenne (Morinensis).

The Queen, however, having complained that the King had boasted, notwithstanding the inhibition and mandate against him, that he would proceed to a second marriage, the Pope issues this inhibition, to be fixed on the doors of the churches as before, under the penalty of the greater excommunication, and interdict to be laid upon the kingdom. Bologna, 7 March 1530, 7 Clement VII.” (LP iv. 6256) This was Pope Clement VII’s reaction to Kings Henry VIII”s disobedience to God’s Law. Catherine of Aragon had notified the Pope that the King Henry VIII was persistent to marry Anne Boleyn, a Protestant.

The Pope reacted by threatening excommunication. This attempt failed. King Henry VIII tried endlessly to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Continuing his efforts to prove this outcome he went as far as even sending his men to universities to acquire proof that his first marriage was opposed to God’s law. Understanding that this was not Henry’s first attempt. On April 13, 1528, a papal bull appointed Cardinal Wolsey as the Pope’s proxy “to take cognisance of all matters concerning the King’s divorce”.

The Pope appointed Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio as his papal legate in June to prepare for the upcoming divorce hearing. This had all raised from when in early 1528, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s right hand man, had written to Pope Clement VII concerning Henry VIII’s demand that the case for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon be decided in England by Wolsey and a visiting papal legate, who would act with the full authority of the Pope. On December 8, 1528, Cardinal Campeggio arrived in London but Eric Ives explains how his “powers were not complete” which necessitated “further wearisome and unsatisfactory negotiation with the papal Curia.” This was intentionally done in order to stall the proceedings. This made things worse for Henry VIII and Wolsey when Catherine of Aragon produced Pope Julius II’s dispensation for her to marry Henry. This caused a flaw and further delayed the case. In the meantime, Catherine was advised by Campeggio to join a convent, this would allow the marriage to be annulled easily. However, Catherine would not agree to this as she proclaimed herself to be Henry’s true wife and queen thus forbidding to taking the veil. Henry VIII and Wolsey then played dirty, threatening Catherine with separation from her daughter, Mary, if she would not obey the King. With the support of the people and men like John Fisher (Bishop of Rochester), Archbishop Warham and Cuthbert Tunstall (Bishop of London) instead of submitting to the King, Catherine fought back by appealing to Rome against the authority of Wolsey and Campeggio to try the case at a Legatine Court.

Campeggio could only stall for so long and formal proceedings finally began on May 31,1529 at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars. On the 21st June, Catherine of Aragon gave what David Starkey calls “the speech of her life”. She approached her husband, knelt at his feet and gave the following speech in slightly broken English: “Sir, I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice.

Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman, and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friends, and much less impartial counsel… Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved?… I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did any thing to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontent. I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years or more I have been your true wife and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me… When ye had me at first, I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man. And whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there be any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart to my great shame and dishonour. And if there be none, then here, I most lowly beseech you, let me remain in my former estate…

Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity and for the love of God – who is the just judge – to spare me the extremity of this new court, until I may be advised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much impartial favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my cause!” In this speech, Catherine also reminded Henry that his father, “The Second Solomon”, and her father, had considered “the marriage between you and me good and lawful”. She ended her speech still on her knees, though Henry had tried to raise her up twice during her speech. She then asked for the King’s permission to write to the Pope to defend her honor, which he granted. Catherine then curtseyed and instead of walking back to her seat walked straight out of court, ignoring the crier who called for her to return to her seat.

As her receiver general, Griffin Richards, told her that she was being called back, Catherine was heard to reply, “On, on. It makes no matter, for it is no impartial court for me, therefore I will not tarry. Go on.” And with that she left the Legatine Court. Continuing on from here King Henry VIII tried to prove that Catherine had consummated her marriage to his brother, Arthur, however, Catherine had already signed protestations of her virginity and Bishop John Fisher shocked the court in his defense of Catherine’s virtue, quoting from the Book of Matthew and saying: “Quos Deus conjunxit, homo non separet. ‘What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ And, for as much as this marriage was made and joined by God to a good intent, I say that I know the truth; which is that it cannot be broken or loosed by the power of man.” He then said that he was so convinced of Catherine’s cause that he would lay down his life for it. (Which, of course, he did in the end when he was tried and executed by Henry in 1535. This was the reason he was martyred and future canonized). This prompted Henry VIII to then send Wolsey and Campeggio to see Catherine. They tried to bully her into complying, but were unsuccessful. Without her knowledge, on July 13th, Pope Clement approved Catherine’s appeal, unfortunately she was not to hear of this for some time. And so with her hopelessness, Campeggio tried another tactic on her behalf. Thus in July 1529, he announced that the court would adjourn until October, for a summer recess due to the fact that it was “reaping and harvesting” time in Rome, a time when courts did not sit. This made King Henry VIII furious but nonetheless the Legatine Court was suspended. Furthermore not conjugating again when the news reached England that Catherine’s appeal had been successful. Henry, who was certain that the court would pass sentence and rule in his favor was distraught over this. In February 1531, these events led Henry VIII to claim the title of “Sole Protector and Supreme Head of the Church of England”, although he had to compromise by adding “as far as allowed by the law of Christ, Supreme Head of the same.”, which then extracted from Parliament the authority to appoint bishops, and designated his willing tool, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), as Archbishop of Canterbury. In return, this paved the way for the break with Rome and for the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine finalized by May of 1533. Thus allowing Henry VIII to marry Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony in January 1533, shortly before Anne’s coronation. Henry and the church began to stumble on to the edge of schism.

Any conflict with Rome was in accord with national pride, and often expressed in traditional resentment against Roman domination. Late medieval English kings had challenged the popes over Church appointments and revenues. More than a century and a half before Luther, an Oxford professor named John Wycliffe had denounced the false claims of popes and bishops. In more recent times, English Christian humanists, such as Sir Thomas More, had criticized the artificialities of Catholic worship. Thus when the pope delayed making a decision, Henry was relatively secure in his support at home. King Henry’s ambitions to gain control truly began when the pope threatened excommunication, this gave Henry the encouragement he needed. He passed one act forcing all to recognize the children of his new marriage as heirs to the throne. Then he passed another making him the “supreme head” of the church in England. He dissolved monasteries, redistributing their property to his nobles to reinforce their loyalty.

Monks who resisted were executed, and the money from their treasuries went into his coffers. Still, in an era of Reformation, his church reforms were conservative. He appeared to want a Catholic church—just one that was always loyal to him and to England. “I do not choose anyone to have it in his power to command me, nor will I ever suffer it,” he once said. So while he broke from Rome, he continued to uphold transubstantiation and demanded clerical celibacy. Parliament also ended all payments of revenues to Rome. Now, having little choice, the pope excommunicated Henry, making the breach official on both sides. Englands break from Rome happened in stages beginning with the March 1532 Act in Restraint of Annates thus being the first legal part of the process. This act limited annates (payments from churches to Rome) to 5%. In 1534 annates were abolished completely in the Act in Absolute Restraint of Annates. The 1533 Act in Restraint of Appeals began the process of transferring the power of the Church in Rome to Henry VIII and his government, and is seen as the starting point of the English Reformation.

All appeals to the Pope were prohibited and the King was made the final authority on all matters. Through the Act of Supremacy of 1534, the king made himself the “supreme head” of the Church of England in place of the Pope. After this dramatic move, King Henry dissolved England’s monasteries, destroyed Roman Catholic shrines, and ordered the Great Bible (in English) to be placed in all churches. However, Henry allowed few doctrinal changes and very little changed in the religious life of the common English worshipper. Under Henry VIII, and the Church of England remained almost fully Catholic with the exception of loyalty to Rome.

Amid a marked anti-Catholic campaign in the 1530s, Henry secured the Anglican establishment, which became an engine for furthering royal policies, with the king’s henchmen controlling every function, from the building of chapels to the wording of the liturgy. Former church revenues, including more than 40,000 a year from religious fees alone, poured into the royal treasury. In 1539, Parliament completed its seizure of monastery lands, selling some for revenue and dispensing others to secure the loyalties of crown supporters. Meanwhile, Catholics suffered. Dispossessed nuns, unlike monks and priests,ncould find no place in the new church and were often reduced to despair. One, the famous “holy maid of Kent,” who dared to rebuke the king publicly, was executed, as were other Catholic dissidents, including the king’s former chancellor, Sir Thomas More, and the saintly Bishop Fisher of Rochester.

Henry even forced his daughter, Mary, to accept him as head of the church and admit the illegality of her parents’ marriage. The new English Church, however, brought little change in doctrine or ritual. The “Six Articles,” Parliament’s declaration of the new creed and ceremonies in 1539, reaffirmed most Catholic theology, except papal supremacy. Catherine of Aragon could never have known that her refusal to accept the annulment of her marriage to King Henry VIII and with that by appealing to Rome for the Pope’s support would lead to England breaking with her beloved church. Furthermore, proving that the papacy’s involvement and reinforcement paved the way for Henry to break away from Rome and the Catholic Church leading to the King’s creation of Anglicanism.

The early church in England was a distinctive fusion of British, Celtic, and Roman influences. … Under King Henry VIII in the 16th century, the Church of England broke with Rome, largely because Pope Clement VII refused to grant Henry an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It was not that King Henry VIII had a change of conscience regarding publishing the Bible in English. His motives were more sinister… but the Lord sometimes uses the evil intentions of men to bring about His glory. King Henry VIII had in fact, requested that the Pope permit him to divorce his wife and marry his mistress.

The Pope refused. King Henry responded by marrying his mistress anyway, (later having two of his many wives executed), and thumbing his nose at the Pope by renouncing Roman Catholicism, taking England out from under Rome’s religious control, and declaring himself as the reigning head of State to also be the new head of the Church. This new branch of the Christian Church, neither Roman Catholic nor truly Protestant, became known as the Anglican Church or the Church of England. King Henry acted essentially as its “Pope”. His first act was to further defy the wishes of Rome by funding the printing of the scriptures in English… the first legal English Bible… just for spite.

Henry’s break from Rome was fundamentally over control of the English church. Though he instituted some Protestant measures during his reign (like putting English Bibles in all the churches), and though he always supported his Protestant-leaning archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, Henry sided with Rome on key issues of doctrine and practice “I do not choose anyone to have it in his power to command me, nor will I ever suffer it.”

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The Influence of the Papacy on the Creation of King Henry Viii’s Anglicanism. (2018, August 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from
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