Henry VIII wanted nothing more than to be remembered in history. Due to his reformation of the Catholic Church in England, his wish was granted. However, eternal infamy was not his primary motivation in the dissolution of the long-held Catholic beliefs and implementation of new "Protestant" ideals. Nor was he preoccupied with ensuring the spiritual well-being of his people, or with radically changing the face of European politics. Henry VIII completely redesigned English spirituality and created an entirely new religion because he wanted to get married. Rather, he wanted an annulment, his child to be deemed illegitimate and then to remarry.
To understand why the King of England would cross so many boundaries, create so many enemies and endanger so many alliances, one must first understand the King – and his marriage. Henry VIII was not a man born to rule; he was in fact, born to be a priest. But when his elder brother Prince Arthur died in 1502, Henry suddenly became the heir to the throne, and to an entire way of life for which he had not been prepared.
As a child, Henry had been sheltered, protected and spoiled – all of which did not bode well for the future king. For his exorbitant demands and childhood tantrums followed him throughout his adulthood and reign, and ultimately led to the break with the Catholic Church.
For Henry VIII (as he became known upon his father’s death in 1509) did not just inherit his brother’s crown – he inherited his wife as well. Although the exact reasoning behind the marriage remains unclear, Henry VIII married Arthur’s widow, Catharine of Aragon, in June of 1509. Of course, seeing as Catharine was, legally, his sister, special dispensation had to be given by the Pope allowing the marriage to go through. It was this very document that would come into question many years later, when Henry sought to marry a new love – Anne Boleyn.
Over the 20 years of their marriage, Catharine of Aragon and Henry Tudor had only one surviving child, who was a female (completely undesirable at the time). Henry’s father had won the crown only through warfare, and thus his hold on it was not secure. He desperately yearned for a son to secure the succession, and when it appeared that Catharine of Aragon was no longer able to bear sons, he turned to Anne Boleyn.
He had become enamoured with her in 1525, but she refused to submit to his overtures unless he made her Queen. Thus, Henry needed an annulment, and believed he had just the grounds for it. Henry claimed that his lack of sons was because he had married his brother’s widow, which the Scriptures warned against. The Queen fought viciously to retain her post, and when the Catholic Church refused to submit to Henry’s demands he simply decided to ignore them.
Through reformers such as Thomas Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII was exposed to many “Protestant” writings by authors such as Tyndale and Luther. Theologian debate determined that Kings should answer to no one but God, and as such England separated itself from the Catholic Church. The Reformation of the Catholic Church had begun. Monasteries were dissolved, sacraments altered, and Mass spoken in English.
But what did Henry see as the real reward? He divorced Catharine and married Anne, just as he wished. After all the spiritual and emotional upheaval wrought across England, King Henry VIII got his bride – and beheaded her three years later.
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