Why Did Henry VIII Break With Rome?
Henry VIII was one of the most influential kings in the history of the English monarchy. As, generally, the most recognised monarch of the Tudor period, Henry started off as a wealthy young lad who enjoyed sports such as jousting, however after enduring a leg injury which hampered his movement, he was pampered with food, riches, entertainment and wealth which he slowly became accustomed to. With such a rich lifestyle and a life filled with content, what made Henry suddenly decide to conquer the church? There were many factors in his life which troubled him – troubles which could only be resolved by abolishing his relationship with Rome and the Pope; Henry wanted a solution to them without upsetting the public, who, at the time, were under the influence of religion –
1. Henry was bankrupt. He was out of money and had spent more than his allowance. If the monasteries belonged to him, he could use its money for his own causes.
2. He wanted more power – as king, he felt he should be able to control his people more than the church could. By taking over the church, he could also take its followers along with him.
3. Above all, Henry wanted a son. He needed to father a male heir to the throne who could rule over his country after he died (since women couldn’t rule over England at his time), one of the many achievements he longed for during his lifetime. However, to do so, he was obliged to divorce his current wife (Catherine of Aragon, who gave Henry his first and only daughter Elizabeth, and was thought to be too old to give birth). The church would not allow this due to strict religious beliefs. The fact that Henry wanted a son was a significant reason as to why he took such drastic measures. Personally, I view this as the most important factor in his decision to break with Rome, because in English History, inheritance was an extremely significant part of the English Monarchy. His wife Catherine of Aragon, whom he was married to for about twenty-four years, produced nothing but a single daughter, Elizabeth (soon to be the future Elizabeth I of England). A faithful couple for long, Henry soon became annoyed by the fact that Catherine was six years older than himself and was unlikely to produce any more healthy children after numerous miscarriages and deaths. This made him discontent and frustrated as it was not likely his marriage would produce a healthy son. Longing for a divorce, he sought the permission of the church. The pope deemed this request unfaithful for several religious reasons, therefore the divorce was not carried out. Henry was extremely discontent – he needed a service which could let him divorce without too much hassle so he could marry his fertile mistress, Anne Boleyn, hoping for a son from their relationship. Alongside all the personal family troubles, Henry was also beginning to feel threatened by his own kingdom since most people were religious and followed the ruling of the church. Henry did not express extreme dislike or loathing for the members of the church, however he felt that he was behind on the actions of his people because the church seemed to possess more power over the people than himself.
This made him anxious about the further actions of the public, and consequently, he feared rebellions and public uproar in the future. There were disputes over who was more powerful – the king or the Church. Finally, he made the decision that he himself should control the Church in his own country, as the king was the ruler and ultimately the most important person – the Church should stand by this. Whilst Henry squandered his money and developed further health problems due to his obesity and rich diet on veal, the Church was regularly gaining more followers. This was one of the factors that lead to his final decision. Another urgent matter on Henry’s mind was the financial side. After living an overly luxurious, extravagant lifestyle, Henry was bankrupt and needed income desperately to fund his living expenses. Other than his personal life, Henry had paid to fight many expensive wars overseas and within Europe. A large financial boost was crucial to allow his campaigns to resume successfully and clear his constant fretting over money. To solve these problems, the king devised a trustworthy plan to take over the monasteries and appointed himself as head of Church without too much public uproar. From 1536-39, himself and his ministers constantly visited monasteries around the country looking for weak spots and evidence which could be used to support his argument against the service of the Church. These reports contained accounts from witnesses all over the country, outlining the details of any reported “misconduct” found in monasteries (although a lot of these accounts may have been false or entirely inaccurate). This finally deemed the Church and monasteries of having ‘committed great sin and abominable daily living.’ Surprisingly, this simple strategy convinced the vast majority of public citizens to turn against the Church.
Then by announcing that the Pope no longer had any authority in England, the monks and priests were obliged to follow the orders of Henry rather than the Pope. This cleared all Henry’s worries of not having enough control over his people and the religious members. Later, he passed a law announcing that the Church still had to hold Catholic services – this silenced the protestant leaders. Further actions were taken to perfect his position; after closing down all the monasteries, he abolished the buildings and took their gold, silver ornaments and all their land for himself. An action which restored his wealth and allowed him to take hold of an enormous amount of money. He also persecuted any opposition and would execute those who would not accept his ruling. He even cut off the head of his close friend, Thomas More, who did not appreciate his successes. Last but not least, Henry gave himself a divorce and married his mistress, Anne Boleyn, hoping for a son. (Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter in 1516 – soon to be the future Mary I. Henry later beheaded her in 1536 probably for this reason, and married Jane Seymour a few months later.) Therefore it is clear to see that there were many reasons why Henry broke with Rome. Henry was bankrupt and therefore losing his power and finding it hard to gain control of his people. His personal and financial problems were causing him a headache – the only way around it was to break with Rome. However most importantly, Henry strong desire for a male heir meant that nothing, not even the Pope, was going to stand in his way. By Tia Tian 8BAR – Ms Worral