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Portrait of Henry VIII

Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein c. 1536

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King Henry VIII of England (1509-1547)

In 1527 Henry VIII decided to marry again. The only problem was that his wife, Catherine of Aragon, was still very much alive. Henry was very determined, however, and sought Pope Clement VIII's permission to annul (cancel) his marriage. Henry badly wanted a male heir and Catherine had only produced a daughter, Mary. After nineteen years of marriage, Catherine was too old to have any more children and, besides this, Henry had become infatuated with Anne Boleyn, a Protestant lady-in-waiting, and was intent on making her his wife.

Unfortunately for Henry, the pope was in no position to grant his request even if he had wanted to. Clement VIII was practically the prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Charles had invaded Rome in the same year, 1527, and he happened to be Catherine of Aragon's nephew. The pope failed to give Henry a hearing and, for two years, put off making any decision.

Henry was not a man to wait for too long and, when Anne became pregnant in 1533 he married her anyway, in secret. Now, with two wives, he by-passed the pope and used the Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to call a meeting of the clergy and declare his marriage to Catherine annulled. The English clergy had already recognised the king as the head of the English Church and, in 1534, the Act of Supremacy confirmed the king as the "only supreme head on Earth of the Church of England". Of course, there were some people who refused to accept this act and Henry had them executed. Among those who died were Bishop John Fisher and Henry's ex-chancellor, Sir Thomas More.

Now all that had belonged to the pope belonged to Henry and the Church funds went to the king's treasury. Henry was able to appoint whoever he wished to positions within the clergy. Between 1536 and 1540 Henry dissolved (closed) all the monasteries, seizing their lands and possessions for the crown. A lot of ex-monastery land was sold.

Although he had broken away from the pope, Henry remained very Catholic in his beliefs. Certain changes were made, however, which pleased the Protestants. In 1535 Miles Coverdale published his English version of the Bible and, by 1536, every church had copies of the Bible in both Latin and in English.

 

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