King Henry the VIII and the Catholic Church

Posted on November 17, 2011 by


King Henry the VIII

When someone mentions King Henry the VIII, the immediate thought that is transferred through the mind is of all of King Henry’s dead wives. The second thought is an image of a fat, ill man with a large ginger beard.  But this isn’t exactly what King Henry was; he wasn’t one who slouched around and killed his wives. King Henry did not actually kill all of his wives. Two were beheaded due to adultery, Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Catherine Howard, but the rest were divorced except for the exception of Queen Jane Seymour who died of sickness. The most significant of all these women, relevant to King Henry the VIII, was Queen Catherine of Aragon and Queen Anne of Cleves. These two women were a major breakthrough in the English Reformation because of King Henry’s divorcing of them.

Though King Henry wasn’t always only about politics and wives. King Henry was born on June 28th in 1491 in Greenwich Palace to the parents of Elizabeth of York and Henry Tudor [King Henry the VII], who was a survivor and leader from Wars of the Roses. Not much was recorded from Henry’s childhood, since he was the second son of the couple’s and was not in line to receive the throne. Instead, it was his older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales. When King Henry was ten, Arthur married Catherine of Aragon and they moved together to Wales. But their marriage ceased to last, because four months later, Arthur died. It is not certain why exactly he died, but it is suspected to be tuberculosis. He died at age fifteen on April 2nd, 1502.

Catherine was now widowed, and had signed a treaty before their marriage that she was obligated to marry the next son in line for the throne. So it was arranged for Henry to marry Catherine, but Henry was slow paying the required dowry, so Catherine’s parents refused to send their gifts. The wedding was halted until Henry paid the amount of the dowry, but nothing happened until the death of Henry Tudor on April 22nd, 1509. And the young man became King Henry the VIII at age eighteen. King Henry realized that he needed a queen beside him and married Catherine on June 11th, 1509. At this time, King Henry was much the opposite of how people recall him. Instead of being an obese, lazy king, King Henry was lean, tall, and athletic, a very different description then what is usually called to mind when his name is mentioned. The couple’s first son was born in January 1511, and they named him Henry after King Henry the VII. But little Henry caught a cold, and it progressed without getting better, and the baby died two months after birth.

While King Henry the VIII had been busy playing sports and such, he had allowed Cardinal Thomas Wosley and Catherine’s father Ferdinand to captain the army. After the death of his only son, King Henry tried to outlet his emotions through violence and helped lead war against France. He fought and won the battle of Guinegate, which ended in 1514. During that year, King Henry had been juggling with the idea to divorce Queen Catherine. Shortly after he had questioned divorcing Catherine, their second child was born, Queen Mary, who was also known as Bloody Mary. The sight of another child made King Henry halt the request for divorce and sought for another son. In 1516, Catherine’s father Ferdinand died and King Henry told Cardinal Wosley that he wanted a divorce from Catherine.

During this time, King Henry had developed a strong interest in politics and saw the Wolsey was making drastic mistakes that would not benefit the kingdom’s well being. King Henry ordered Wolsey to leave, and began to run the kingdom on his own terms, especially his divorce.

In the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church controlled most things, such as kingdoms and cities. The Roman Catholic Church also controlled marriage, one of the most important parts of one’s life. In the modern world, divorce is a common thing, in fact, more then 50% of marriages today end in divorce. But in the fifteen hundreds, the word divorce was one that wasn’t even spoken. The Roman Catholic religion believed that marriage was something that was life-long. The word divorce was not among their vocabulary. It did not support divorce at all. The only exception, which isn’t considered divorce at all, is if a woman was widowed, she was able to find another man and re-marry. But divorce was something church would not allow. When a citizens couple wanted to get married, the church also required them to pay a fine. A different fine was needed to be paid if one wanted to get her child baptized, and another if one wanted to bury their deceased loved one on the Church’s ground.

King Henry knew that if he went to the Pope asking for help, the Pope would excommunicate him, which meant that his soul would not enter heaven. Excommunication was just one of the many ways the Catholic Church kept its people in line, so they would have severe consequences if they went against the catholic law. So King Henry decided that the only way he was going to get a divorce from Catherine in the Catholic Church was through something called Papal Dispensation. This is where the Pope authorizes the divorce only because the person asking for divorce is one of the rulers of England. But Papal Dispensation did not in anyway affect the citizens divorce policy. The Pope of England, at the time, denied King Henry the right to divorce once again, and in 1533 the king finally demanded that the Archbishop of Canterbury granted him divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

This event of King Henry divorcing Catherine was one the people of his time had never witnessed. It lead to beginning stages of England separating itself from the Roman Catholic Church. The people of England took this chance to revolt against the church. They recognized that the King only received special treatment because he was their king. If one stripped away all of King Henry’s wealth and power, he would just be an ordinary citizen. The people of England realized just how much money the Catholic Church was taking from them, and the Church shrank in popularity. King Henry recognized the church’s diminishing state and took this time to because Supreme Head of the Catholic Church through an Act of Supremacy in 1534. This put the Pope out of work, but King Henry saw this act as an act of justice for the people. The Church became independent.

He then put the plan “Dissolution” into play. The richest in England lived in the monasteries with the Monks. But these rich citizens were fans of the Pope and not King Henry. They refused to send any money to the church while King Henry ruled it, and so King Henry shut down the monasteries. Then King Henry created the Act of Six Articles, which protected six Catholic principles so they could not be changed. This is solid evidence that the Reformation of England in the sixteenth century was a political act rather than a religious one. King Henry changed the Church slightly so that none of the prayers were offered in Latin, but instead English and there was an English Bible in each church. King Henry hired a strong supporter by the name of Thomas Cromwell who made King Henry even more powerful then he already was. The Church spread all around England, shutting down monasteries and taking their money to give it to King Henry.

Overall, King Henry changed the Catholic Church for the better. It no longer took money from civilians; He changed the rules of the Church completely. When he became king, the Catholic Church’s main principle was: “Head of the Church: the pope based in Rome Church services: all were held in Latin Prayers: all said in Latin Bible: written in Latin Priests: no allowed to marry.” (Richards, Reformation) Though, after King Henry took over the church and changed it, the principle changed and now read: “Head of Church: the king Church services: held in Latin Prayers: most said in Latin. The ‘Lord’s Prayer’ was said in English Bible: written in English Priests: not allowed to marry.” (Richards, Reformation)

Though King Henry did not have the most success in happiness and marriage, he was a ruler that changed history for the better through the church. He gained respect for the citizens and successfully separated the country of England from the church. Though King Henry helped significantly with the religious issues in England, he did not live to see the end of them. Religious issues continued for many years afterwards, but King Henry did the most by remarkably reforming the church for good.


Documents Illustrative of English Church History.

Henry Gee and William John Harvey, Eds.

London: Macmillan and Co., 1914. 232-2

Richards. (2000, 07 16). The reformation. Retrieved from

Thomas. (2002). King henry the eighth. Retrieved from

Jokinen, A. (1996). The life of king henry the eighth. Retrieved from

Kempt, G. (2007, September 07). Henry viii. Retrieved from

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