Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith”

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Despite his transformation from a pious and motivated young king to a tyrant, Henry VIII, who was bestowed the title “Defender of the Faith” by Pope Leo X on October 17, 1521, still holds relevance to this title. Originally recognized for his devotion and loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church, Henry’s agenda shifted over time as he no longer sought guidance from the Catholic faith due to obstacles posed by the pope.

The title ‘Defender of the Faith’, known as Fidei Defensor in Latin, is a privileged designation bestowed upon the ruler of England. Given by Pope Leo X in the era of King Henry VIII, this title has been passed down to every subsequent English monarch since its inception. Initially, the purpose of the title was to signify England’s allegiance to the pope. It brought great acclaim and distinction to the English ruler, who was seen as a representation of the English nation. The significance of Henry’s titles extended beyond mere prestige, as it positioned England in a position of political power due to its close association with the pope.

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Henry was granted his title because of his strong religious beliefs in the Catholic Church. The pope recognized him as a devout individual after he wrote ‘Defense of the Seven Sacraments’ in response to Martin Luther’s defiance against the Catholic Church. During this period, Martin Luther was asserting his separation from the Catholic Church. Since Henry was a second son, it was expected that he would pursue a career within the church, which demonstrates an important trait of his personality. Tragically, Henry’s older brother Arthur, who was meant to become King, passed away, resulting in Henry becoming next in line for succession.

Henry, who was born and raised to serve the church, the heir, can be understood as a very intelligent man. A firsthand account from Pipsqueaks in 1515 confirms this, stating that Henry was well educated, intelligent, and enjoyed writing. He was described as a most accomplished Prince and King. When Henry wrote the book “Defense of the Seven Sacraments,” he publicly stood for the Catholic Church, which led to him being awarded the title “Defender of the Faith.”

Evidence indicates that Henry was initially a devout and deserving man, deserving of the bestowed title. Nonetheless, as he aged, his priorities and choices shifted in response to his evolving needs. The marriage between King Henry VIII and Catharine of Argon not only stemmed from love but also functioned as a political alliance, uniting the Kingdoms of Spain and England. Despite his fondness for Catharine, Henry’s primary expectation for her as queen was to give birth to a male successor. Regrettably, after ten years of patient anticipation, this desire remained unmet.

As his patience waned, he began seeking a solution to his problem – the need for a new queen. However, there was an obstacle: only the Pope had the authority to annul a marriage. Since the Church strongly believed in the sanctity of marriage, Henry opted to employ Catholic doctrine to persuade the Pope that his marriage was invalid from the beginning. To bolster his argument, Henry cited scripture from Leviticus Chapter 20, verse 16 which reads: “If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impure; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.” (1999: King James version: Leviticus Chapter 20, verse 16)

Despite Henry’s efforts to persuade the Pope using scripture, his arguments failed to convince the Pope to allow him a divorce due to the Catholic Church’s opposition to divorce. This rejection significantly affected their relationship and posed challenges for Henry’s ambitions. However, Martin Luther presented an alternative within Christianity that opposed the materialistic practices of Catholicism. Embracing Protestantism would free Henry from papal authority and enable him to pursue his own objectives, ultimately leading to the decline of Catholicism in England.

No longer was Henry defending the faith of the Roman Catholic Church; instead, he introduced the new reformed Church of England. As a result, Henry lost his title as “Defender of the Faith”. However, can his actions be justified? Henry acted out of necessity but still maintained his faith in his own individual manner. Could Henry have completely removed religion from England and had complete control? Instead of completely discarding the Roman Catholic Church under the influence of the pope, Henry chose to maintain his Christianity and defend what he believed to be the true religion.

Henry VIII implemented significant political and social changes during his reign, initially driven by ambition. However, circumstances gradually led him away from his original goals and transformed him into a tyrant. Among the many decisions he made, the reformation stands out as the most momentous. This reform ended Roman Catholic control in England and changed religious customs for everyone. Henry’s political ambition was the driving force behind his reformation of the English faith, as he needed a new wife to ensure a male heir.

The Pope was someone whom the Pope would never allow, so he dismissed the Pope to achieve his own objectives. Despite dismissing the Pope, it was the Pope who granted him the title “Defender of the Faith,” indicating that Henry could have eradicated religion completely from England if he wished. One could argue that eliminating religion entirely in England would have been easier, as it would have left no higher authority than Henry. Nevertheless, instead of pursuing this path, he opted to preserve England as a religious state. This implies that although he committed clever offenses, he did not view them as morally incorrect.

During the reformation, Henry VIII took away the Pope’s power and enhanced his own control within his Kingdom. The Church of England, which is essentially a version of Catholicism created by Henry, closely resembles the Catholic Church. Throughout his rule, significant political and social changes occurred. In his early years, he was regarded as religiously devoted and loyal to both the Catholic Church and the Pope, leading to him being titled as “Defender of the faith.”

As Henry aged, his needs changed. His inability to father a son with his first wife necessitated a divorce. However, the pope disapproved of divorce, prompting Henry’s separation from the Catholic Church. Despite this departure costing him the original purpose behind his title “defender of the faith,” he remained steadfast in his belief. Rather than forsaking religion, he clung onto his faith and remained deserving of his title. The reprehensible deeds committed by Henry may pale in significance as he championed the faith of his nation.

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Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith”. (2018, Feb 10). Retrieved from


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