By the mid-1520s, King Henry VIII had grown very unhappy in his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. She had, by then, borne him eight children, with only the Princess Mary (born 1516) surviving infancy. Henry wished for a male heir to stabilize the future succession of the Crown. For state and personal reasons, he sought a divorce from Catherine so that he might marry Anne Boleyn, a young lady of the court with whom he had fallen in love. Between 1527 and 1535, England was preoccupied with the political and religious questions attendant to what was called “the King’s great matter.”
In 1525, Henry VIII became romantically interested in Anne Boleyn, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine who was 11 years younger than Henry.
Henry began pursuing her;Catherine was no longer able to bear children by this time. Henry began to believe that his marriage was cursed and sought confirmation from the Bible, By 1527, Henry was citing Biblical verses Leviticus 18:1-9 and Leviticus 20:21, interpreting these to mean that his marriage to his brother’s widow explained his lack of a male heir by Catherine.which he interpreted to say that if a man marries his brother’s wife, the couple will be childless.Even if her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated (and Catherine would insist to her dying day that she had come to Henry’s bed a virgin), Henry’s interpretation of that biblical passage meant that their marriage had been wrong in the eyes of God.Whether the Pope at the time of Henry and Catherine’s marriage had the right to overrule Henry’s claimed scriptural impediment would become a hot topic in Henry’s campaign to wrest an annulment from the present Pope. It is possible that the idea of annulment had been suggested to Henry much earlier than this, and is highly probable that it was motivated by his desire for a son. Before Henry’s father ascended the throne, England was beset by civil warfare over rival claims to the English crown, and Henry may have wanted to avoid a similar uncertainty over the succession.
It soon became the one absorbing object of Henry’s desires to secure an annulment.Catherine was defiant when it was suggested that she quietly retire to a nunnery, saying: “God never called me to a nunnery. I am the King’s true and legitimate wife”.He set his hopes upon an appeal to the Holy See, acting independently of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, whom he told nothing of his plans.
William Knight, the King’s secretary, was sent to Pope Clement VII to sue for an annulment, on the grounds that the dispensing bull of Pope Julius II was obtained by false pretenses.
As the Pope was, at that time, the prisoner of Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V, following the Sack of Rome in May 1527.
Knight had difficulty in obtaining access to him. In the end, Henry’s envoy had to return without accomplishing much. Henry now had no choice but to put this great matter into the hands of Wolsey, who did all he could to secure a decision in Henry’s favour.
However, the Pope had never had any intention of empowering his legate. Charles V resisted the annulment of his aunt’s marriage, but it is not clear how far this influenced the Pope. But it is clear that Henry saw that the Pope was unlikely to give him an annulment from the Emperor’s aunt.
The Pope forbade Henry to proceed to a new marriage before a decision was given in Rome, not in England. Wolsey bore the blame. Convinced that he was treacherous, Anne Boleyn maintained pressure until Wolsey was dismissed from public office in 1529. After being dismissed, the cardinal begged her to help him return to power, but she refused. He then began a plot to have Anne forced into exile and began communication with Queen Katherine and the Pope. When this was discovered, Henry ordered Wolsey’s arrest and had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, he probably would have been executed for treason.
A year later, Catherine was banished from court, and her old rooms were given to Anne Boleyn. Catherine wrote in a letter to Charles V in 1531:
My tribulations are so great, my life so disturbed by the plans daily invented to further the King’s wicked intention, the surprises which the King gives me, with certain persons of his council, are so mortal, and my treatment is what God knows, that it is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine
Wolsey was replaced by Sir Thomas More, who took the job on the condition that he not be involved in the divorce matter, and who would later prove a greater problem for Henry than Wolsey.
At this time the government was effectively in the hands of the dukes of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Wiltshire, the last of whom was Anne Boleyn’s father. .
In July 1531, Henry officially separated from Catherine and began to live openly with Anne Boleyn. Also that year, the politically enterprising Thomas Cromwell was appointed to the inner circle of the king’s council, soon gaining the king’s confidence and advising him toward a direct break with the Roman Church.
Matters came to a head when Henry married Anne Boleyn secretly in January 1533, after discovering she was pregnant with the king’s child. Also that month, the reform-minded Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. In March, all appeals to Rome were suspended with Parliament’s Act of Appeals, effectively breaking off England’s legal ties to the Papacy. In May, Cranmer assembled a court at Dunstable that delivered sentence that the marriage with Catherine was void, and the marriage with Anne was true. Catherine lost her title, Anne was named Queen of England, and the infant Elizabeth born in September 1533 replaced Princess Mary as the legitimate heir to the throne. Henry received his divorce and his new wife, but he did not yet have a male heir, and in conjunction with these events, he declared himself the Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England, igniting a virtual revolution of Church and State.The declaration received legal force in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, and was followed by the Oath of Succession which was demanded from all government officials, lay and clerical. The oath concerned the transferral of the primary sovereign right to the inheritance of Anne’s daughter Elizabeth, taking it from Catherine’s daughter Mary.
Thomas More, also unwilling to take an oath to support the Act of Succession, and having opposed Henry’s marriage to Anne, was charged with treason, imprisoned, and executed. Bishop Fisher, an early and consistent opponent of the divorce and supporter of Catherine’s marriage, was also imprisoned for refusing to recognize Henry as head of the church. While in prison, the new Pope, Paul III, made Fisher a cardinal, and Henry hurried Fisher’s trial for treason. More and Fisher were both beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1886 and canonized in 1935.
In 1534 and 1535, when Catherine heard that her daughter Mary was ill, each time she asked to be able to see her and nurse her, but Henry refused to allow that. Catherine did get word out to her supporters to urge the Pope to excommunicate Henry.
When, in December 1535, Catherine’s friend Maria de Salinas heard that Catherine was ill, she asked permission to see Catherine. Refused, she forced herself into Catherine’s presence anyway. Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, was also allowed to see her. He left on January 4. On the night of January 6, Catherine dictated letters to be sent to Mary and to Henry, and she died on January 7, in the arms of her friend Maria. Henry and Anne were said to celebrate upon hearing of Catherine’s death.
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