Break of the English’s church from Rome

King Henry VIII

Henry VIII was one of the most influential monarchs of England. From his scandalous marital life and his ruthlessness to the break of the English’s church from Rome, Henry secured his place firmly in history. Following is a biographical outline of the life of King Hernry VIII.

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Early Life:

Henry was born in the royal palace at Greenwich, on June 28, 1491. His early education was directed by the poet laureat John Skelton. Henry was not only very athletic, enjoying jousting, tilting and other sports, but he also had a keen mind. He spoke at least three languages and some of his music compositions are still performed today. Although Henry was the second son of King Henry VII, with the death of his older brother, Arthur, in April 1502 Henry became heir to the throne of England and Prince of Wales. Fourteen months later, in June 1503, at the age of 12, Henry was also betrothed to Catherine of Aragon — his brother’s widow and the daughter of Ferdinand II and Isabella I of Spain1. When Henry VII died in April 1509, Henry VIII became King of England2, setting England on a new course of history, albeit a tumultuous course.

War and Wolsey:

The first two decades of King Henry VIII’s reign was dominated by war and rumors of war. From the beginning, Henry instigated what could be considered a renewal of the Hundred Years’ War. Eager to prove his military prowess, Henry led a large English army, in 1513, into northern France, capturing the towns of Therouanne and Tournai, in the famous Battle of the Spurs.3 It was also during this time that Thomas Wolsey began to rise in power as the cardinal archbishop of York and lord chancellor of England.4 Wolsey would prove to have a significant influence on the king.

Despite Wolsey’s desire for international prestige, he worked to dissuade Henry from his military maneuvers. It was Wolsey’s efforts that had King Henry VIII returning to France in 1520, but not as a force of invasion, instead to embrace the King of France, in the last ritual display of medieval chivalry — the Field of Cloth of Gold. Of course Henry’s love for war could not rest long, and he joined forces with Emperor Charles V against France, from 1522 to 1527, despite Wolsey’s efforts.5 It was also Wolsey who served as the catalyst for Henry’s writing of his “Assertio septem sacramentorym (in 1521) a defense against Luther of traditional Catholic teaching on the sacraments, which won for him, from Pope Leo X, the title of Defender of the Faith — a title the English crown still boasts.” 6 Six years later, however, Henry’s familial life would be the thread that would unravel the strongly knit bond between the Defender of the Faith and the Roman Church.

King Henry VIII, The English Church and its Break with Rome:

King Henry VIII’s early reign showed Henry to be a loyal member of the Roman Church. However, his familial life would lead to the eventual severance of The Church of England from the papacy. Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, had been pregnant numerous time, by the mid-1520s. However, only one daughter, Mary, survived. With Catherine past her childbearing years and a failure for her to produce a male heir to the throne, Henry was rightly concerned about the political stability of his kingdom. By 1526, Henry’s fancy had turned to Anne Bolelyn; however, Bolelyn refused to simply be Henry’s mistress. She wanted a permanent relationship with the king.7

One year later, Henry was determined to divorce Catherine, basing his claim on the fact that a marriage to his brother’s widow was contrary to the law of God, as outlined in Leviticus 20:XX 21. He insisted that the papacy should have never given him dispensation to marry Catherine. Henry turned to Wolsey for assistance in securing a divorce.8 Three years of negotiations and a papal tribunal ensued, but the English court set up to hear the case could not come to a decision. The case was moved to Rome, against Henry’s wishes. The negotiations and case continued until 1533, with Henry turning his personal battle into a full-scale public war, making the issue about the sovereignty of a secular state vs. The authority of the church.9 Despite the national issue, Henry had to move cautiously for his reform of the Church of England.

Several factors forced King Henry VIII to move carefully forward in his split from the Catholic Church. First, there was still loyalty to Rome within the English church. Rebellion was also a common threat, in general, for Tudor England, and Henry did not wish to give any rebels lurk in the wings ammunition such as a rebellion in the name of the holy church. Lastly, there was a threat that Scotland, the king of France, the Catholic emperor, and other Tudor opponents could band together, to overthrow Henry.10 However, Henry could not wait on the church forever.

In defiance of the Roman Church, King Henry VIII married Anne Bolelyn in 1533. That year, she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, who was declared to be heir to the throne, with Catherine’s daughter, Mary, now being considered illegitimate.11 Parliament had already begun to chip away at the papal power structure in England, and passed the Act of Appeals, formerly severing the legal ties between the Catholic Church and English church. Henry was declared supreme head of the Church of England in 1534 “and require all Englishman of consequence to take an oath disowning Rome.” 12 This would allow Henry to marry his other wives, including: Jane Seymour — who would give birth to Edward VI, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.13

As Henry dismantled the monasteries in his country much religious treasures were destroyed and lost forever. In addition, the wealth he seized in the process wasn’t used for education or the betterment of his people, but instead to fund further war.14 There were other accomplishments, however, that Henry achieved during his reign.

Other Achievements:

King Henry VIII, although infamous for his marital escapades and bloodthirsty nature, brought to England an ‘imperial’ monarchy. He commissioned grand building projects, including the palaces of Whitehall and Nonsuch in Surrey. He brought political unity to the country, with Wales finally incorporated into the political life of England and a renovated rule of Italy. Henry was also the ‘father of the English Navy’.15


With the death of King Henry VIII in 154716, England saw the death of a great and sometimes frightening ruler. His warring nature was slightly curtailed by Thomas Wolsey, but even Wolsey could not stop the private battle regarding Henry’s desire to divorce and the papacy’s refusal to allow it, which would eventually lead to the severance of ties with the Catholic Church and the formation of the national Church of England. Henry brought more to England than simply an ecumenical revolution, he also built on a grand scale and brought unity to a previously fractious society. Although not as sensational, these achievements were also significant to the history of England.


1 Lemberg, S. “Henry VIII, King of England,” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, (2009) (database online); available from Grolier Online.

2″Henry VIII (England),” Encyclopedia Americana, (2009) (database online); available from Grolier Online.

3 Lemberg.

4 “Henry VIII (England).”

5 Lemberg.

6 “Henry VIII (England).”

7 Ibid.

8 Lemberg.

9 “Henry VIII (England).”

10 Ibid.

11 Lemberg.

12 “Henry VIII (England).”

13 “Henry VIII,” Encyclopedia Britannica, (2009) (database online); Encyclopedia Britannica.

14 “Henry VIII (England).”

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

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