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Although the desire to reform religion played some role in the creation of the legislation for Royal Supremacy, it was not a primary motivation – instead this was focused on Henry’s need to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This would permit him to marry Anne Boleyn, as he believed he could acquire his male heir through this new mistress of his. While MPs passing the legislation may have used their influence in order to reform religion and Henry would have welcomed the new enhancement of his own power, ultimately it was motivated by the need for the annulment.
Whilst a desire to reform religion was not the main motivating factor behind the Acts establishing the Royal Supremacy it still may have been a consideration. Sources A and B describe the existence of anticlericalism in England although historians are divided on how extensive it was. Rosman argues there was ‘little evidence of much opposition to the existence of the clergy as such’ but does suggest that the higher clergy were a source of complaint as were those clergy who failed to live up to the ‘ideals’ of what a priest should be. Simon Fish supports this view by providing a list of anticlerical complaints which point to ways in which the clergy were acting as ‘hungry wolves’ exploiting the very people they were supposed to help. Whilst the existence of a desire to reform the behaviour of the clergy is not in doubt, it does not seem to have been a motive of Henry’s in establishing the Royal Supremacy as none of the Acts were specifically aimed at reforming religion. However, we know that some MPs did have anticlerical views and it is possible that in passing the Acts they hoped that as the new leader of the Church in England Henry would reform the abuses of the clergy.
While power is not the most important factor regarding the establishment of the Royal Supremacy, it also may have been seriously considered. Rosman states that ‘given its power, the Church was bound to be the focus of resentment’. This is backed up by Fish who wrote to Henry that the church ‘suck all rule [and] power’ from him, both here referencing how the Church is a very powerful force. These views highlight the might of the Church at the time and see it as an opposing force to Henry, showing how they have ‘the best lands’ and ‘authority’, rights which should belong to Henry. Henry believed he was an ‘Imperial King’, therefore he would have hated anything that took power from him or whose power rivalled his own. Therefore he would have wanted to claim the power of the Church for his own. However, the original legislation was created not to draw power from the Church, but to earn him his annulment. This desire for a male heir drove him, making him desperate to divorce the wife who he believed could bear him no son (due to God’s judgement of them). Although important, power was only the means by which achieving this annulment, therefore a method as opposed to a motive.
The most important motive for creating the Royal Supremacy was the need for an annulment with Catherine of Aragon, driven by Henry’s unyielding quest for a male heir. Source C is the only one which mentions Henry’s chase for the divorce. Bernard explains how the Acts of Succession and Supremacy ‘dealt directly with the King’s divorce’. In addition, the Act of Succession ‘dealt with the consequences of the King’s divorce at his death’ – this proves that the Acts were all revolved around receiving this annulment, and that neither power nor a desire to reform religion were truly at the heart of it. Henry was very young in the Tudor dynasty and needed a male heir in order to secure his family. This desire was what defined his every action, as he felt that God was punishing him for taking his brother’s widow by not allowing him a son. Therefore he believed the only way to birth one was to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which is the entire reason he begins his journey of legislation. Every single one of the Acts is focused on getting the annulment, and the other ‘motives’ are little than fringes. Power was simply a method with which to achieve this, and the desire to reform religion was not Henry’s own aim, though it may have been influenced by MPs who did seek religious reformation.
Therefore it is clear that the need for an annulment was the key motivating factor behind the legislation creating the Royal Supremacy – Henry desperately needed a male heir to secure his dynasty (being only the second in the so-far dubious Tudor line) and felt that God would not permit him a son with Catherine. Although the MPs passing the legislation may have sought to bring about religious reform due to the massive power and trade-interference of the Church, Henry was main man of the process, subsequently these ideals would have periphery. And despite power being very appealing to Henry, it was merely a fringe benefit which later became an ambition, but no more key than the desire to reform religion.
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