Henry VIII - Founder of the Church of England

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Henry VIII - Founder of the Church of England


The sixteenth century is the Renaissance age – the age of development of fine arts, the age of religious and social changes, the age that shut the door of Middle Ages. And maybe only the age like that could create a person like Henry VIII. He was probably the greatest monarch of his time. Henry was also one of the greatest English kings of all time and his policies led at the end to the English Reformation. This research paper will focus on his private life, his policies and on circumstances of rise of the Church of England.
Henry’s childhood was quite common for a member of a royal family. Henry was born in 1491 as a younger son of Henry VII Tudor. He was very skilled in physical and also artistic way (Henry VIII, 1992; Halliday, 1995). He was not a heir to the throne till his older brother died. When he was 18 his father died and he accessed the throne (Halliday, 1995). With the pope’s permission he married his brother’s widow Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII, 1992).
One important man stood at the beginning of Henry’s reign. It was Thomas Wolsey. He was the first minister, lord Chancellor, archbishop of York (later Cardinal), king’s right hand and also a friend. Wolsey’s government supported Henry in a invasion to France where he fought on the side of Spanish king, his father-in-law (Henry VIII, 1992). According to Halliday (1995), good relationship with Spain was important as Spain ruled Netherlands and English trade went mainly through Antwerp. In these years Wolsey became very rich and powerful and therefore very unpopular. His position brought him later big problems.
The most important political issue in Henry’s reign had become so-called “king’s great matter”; in other words, divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The reason was obvious, Henry still had no male heir. Catherine gave only one daughter, Mary (Henry VIII, 1992).
Therefore Henry ordered to Wolsey (Haigh, 1992) to ask the pope to pronounced Henry’s marriage invalid. As a reason he stated that marriage with his brother’s widow is against Bible and that lack of a son is kind of punishment from God. The pope refused as he was under a strong influence of the Emperor, king of Spain and Catherine’s nephew (Henry VIII, 1992). Pope’s reluctance meant a fall of Wolsey (Haigh, 1992).
However, Henry did not respect the papal decision.

In 1533 Henry married Anne Boleyn, one of the ladies of the court (Henry VIII, 1992) Archbishop Thomas Cranmer annulled his marriage with Catherine. Pope’s reaction was a excommunication of Henry from the church. So Henry became “Supreme Head of the Church of England” (by the Act of Supremacy in 1534), a church that was independent of Rome (Halliday, 1995).
This whole situation was a bit complicated for Henry. He had to decide what next. He himself did not want to change anything from Catholic religion, he did not sympathize with the Protestants (Halliday, 1995). His Act of Six Articles was supposed to protect six Catholic dogmas against changes (Haigh, 1992). This is the evidence that English Reformation was political and not religious act.
Although it seemed that the religion had not changed, there was at least one big difference. Service was served in English not in Latin any more and English Bible was supposed to be in every parish church (Halliday, 1995).
However, the Reformation did not happen to be without problems. There were several rebellions all over England. The biggest one (called Pilgrimage of Grace) took place in Yorkshire in 1536. All of them were suppressed (Haigh, 1992). Henry needed some help in the political field. He found a supporter in Thomas Cromwell, who replaced Wolsey. This minister made him even more powerful. As a quarter of the country was owned by the church (Halliday, 1995), a dissolution of monasteries (1536-40) sorted out Henry’s financial problems. Newly obtained wealth served mainly to finance Henry’s wars (Haigh, 1992).
As was pointed out previously, the main reason for the whole Reformation was lack of a male heir. But Henry’s hopes for a son were not fulfilled. Anne gave him also only a daughter, Elizabeth. Soon after, Anne was convicted of treasonable adultery and executed (Haigh, 1992). Henry than married Jane Seymour who gave him long-awaited son Edward (Henry VIII, 1992). Henry finally had the male heir and both of his daughters were declared bastards (Haigh, 1992). Henry’s fourth wife was Anne Cleves (Jane died at childbirth). This was political marriage and Henry did not like her, so he divorced. Failure of this marriage and intrigues of the court caused a fall of Cromwell who was executed (Haigh, 1992). Henry than had two more wives; Catherine Howard (executed) and Catherine Parr, but no other children (Henry VIII, 1992).
The later years of Henry’s reign were in were characterized by constant suspicions. Many people were executed after being convicted of treason (Henry VIII, 1992).

Encyclopaedia Britannica (Henry VIII, 1992) goes on to say: “Henry had by now become truly dangerous: always secretive and suspicious, now he was beginning to how paranoiac tendencies. Convinced that he controlled everyone, he was in fact readily manipulated by those who knew how to feed his suspicions and pander to his self-righteousness” (p. 841). Even the final years of Henry’s life were not calm. He led wars with France and Scotland. He ruled the country on is own and as he was not very psychically balanced his policy
was not very good. He died at the beginning of the year 1547 (Henry VIII, 1992). “He left the realm feeling bereft and the government even more bewildered because, to the last, he had refused to make full arrangements for the rule of a boy king”(Henry VIII,1992, p. 842).
To sum up, Henry VIII was a true monarch. He really is a colossus among English kings. Although, the early and late years of his reign do not seem to be of a big significance he did something that highlighted his name in a history. He wanted so much to have a male heir. When the pope deny his claim for a divorce he did not step back from his aim and did what probably many kings in a history were secretly longing for, but they were too cautious and afraid to do that. He escaped from the papal influence and changed the face of the church in England forever. He was first among English kings who became “Supreme Head of the Church of England” and that is Henry’s biggest significance for a British history. Even after more that 450 years from Henry’s death his heritage – The Church of England – is still alive. Sources:
Halliday, F.E. (1995). England concise history. London: Thames and Hudson.
Haigh, Ch. (1992). The Cambridge historical encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland. London: Cambridge University Press. Henry VIII(1992). New Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia, vol. 5. Chicago:.

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