Henry VIII Marriages Re-Sculpted England The hour of eight o'clock tolled one May morning in England as a woman knelt with her neck on a block. "Chop" went Anne Boleyn's head! She was one of six wives of Henry VIII, King of England. The marriage of Anne Boleyn was the second failed attempt of Henry VIII to produce a male heir. Not having a son left Henry VIII with marital problems which forced him to cut all ties with the Roman Catholic Church.
This problem affected a reformation that would encompass much of his life and the lives off all his heirs. Before Anne Boleyn, Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon. Their divorce began the English Reformation. The first wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Aragon, played a crucial role in starting the Reformation in England.
She was the catalyst that drove Henry to separate from the Roman Catholic Church. Catherine came from Spain and was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish rulers who financed Christopher Columbus's voyage to America. "In 1509 he married Catherine of Aragon, who was Ferdinand and Isabella's daughter, as well as his brother's widow." Henry, a devout Catholic earned the title "defender of the faith" from the Pope in 1521 for his strong views against Martin Luther, the German Protestant. Henry remained a defender of the faith his entire life but changed the leader of it in England.
He kept his Catholic view very strongly until a more pressing issue arouse, a male heir, something his current wife could not provide. The lack of a male heir caused Henry to seek a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. "Catherine of Aragon, had given birth five times, but only an extremely frail girl, Mary Tudor, survived." Mary Tudor, who later made drastic Counter Reformation changes in England, was a girl which meant she could not continue the dynasty of her father. This displeased Henry and forced him to seek a divorce, something only the Pope could grant during the 16 th century. To obtain his divorce Henry asked permission of Pope Clement VII for an annulment of the marriage.
Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and nephew of Catherine, occupied Rome with his vast army. To make sure Catherine was not disgraced he forbade the Pope to allow the annulment. By preventing the Pope to annul Henry's marriage, Charles forced Henry to split from the Roman Catholic Church and indirectly created the Church of England. In this new church Henry VIII became "the supreme head of the Church of England" under the Act of Supremacy. The new act gave Henry the same amount of power in England as the Pope and allowed him to divorce Catherine. With this new power Henry VIII became the first monarch to hold supreme power over his country.
Such power could and did change England drastically over the next decades. Henry VIII used his new power to shape and purge in England as he saw fit. "In 1533, Henry secretly married the pregnant Anne Boleyn." She gave birth to a girl who would one day become Elizabeth I, but once again she was not a male. In 1536 Anne became the first queen to be publicly executed. During this time, Henry also had "several dozen people burned at the stake for heresy." Henry even had Sir Thomas More, the author of Utopia, put to death. "Refusal to swear the Oath of supremacy in 1534, by which he would have recognized Henry as the supreme Head of Church in England, made More guilty of treason." By executing More, who was once a close advisor to the king, Henry demonstrated that he was the supreme ruler and everyone must declare allegiance to him.
However, the new church Henry created fundamentally stayed the same as the Roman Catholic Church. The only difference was at Henry ruled over it as the Pope had done and did not have to report to Rome for any consent. Henry did not change the church but his next marriage would affect it profoundly. Jane Seymour, his third wife, gave Henry what he had sought over and fought so hard to get, a male heir. Edward VI was born in 1538. Unfortunately, Jane Seymour died during childbirth which left Henry without a wife again.
By providing him a son, this third marriage can be remembered as the most successful. Over the next nine years until his death, Henry would have three more wives. None bore any children. Before Henry died he had over 600 monasteries destroyed. "Two-Thirds of the monasteries were sold within ten years, the largest transfer of land in England since the Norman Conquest in 1066." This massive land transfer gave England a great deal of money which was used to strengthen the army and marked the end of the first chapter of the English Reformation. Henry died in 1547 leaving the thrown to Edward VI, the male heir who was the reason the English Reformation started.
The short nine year reign of Edward VI dawned the new age of the English Reformation. During the age of Edward, the Reformation began a shift toward the continental European Protestant movement. Protestantism began to take shape in the Church of England. "Edward furthered the Reformation by welcoming prominent religious refugees from the continent." Edward's most important contribution to the reformation was allowing Protestantism to take hold in England.
In 1553, at the age of 16, Edward died and his sister Mary became queen. Mary, the first child of Henry, was Catholic and began reversing the doings of her brother and father. She received the name "Bloody Mary" because she had so many Protestants put to death "Close to 300 Protestants perished at the stake." She married Phillip II of Spain, ruler of a catholic country and a mortal enemy of England, which caused fear that Spain would conqueror England. Mary's attempts at reverting England were brutal, yet ineffective because Protestantism had already taken hold due to her brother's allowance of Protestant figures and ideas into the country. The last daughter of Henry, Elizabeth I, proved to be the cleverest in dealing with the English Reformation.
Elizabeth I ruled for 46 years over England and redefined the nation giving the Reformation new momentum. Queen Elizabeth had an advantage over her siblings by observing how both reigns had ruled. By maintaining a center ground position on the new Protestantism and the old Catholic methods, Elizabeth compromised on both by allowing tolerance. "She was determined to find a means to resolve religious conflict within England, for she recognized that unless the conflict was resolved it may one day threaten her reign." To allow tolerance she left the theological sacraments of the church very vague so one could pick and chose which sections they wanted. This allowed many more people to relate to the Church of England, which was called the Anglican Church around this time.
The Pope, whose power was re-instated by Queen Mary, excommunicated Elizabeth due to her tolerance in the church. This eventually caused Phillip II of Spain, in 1588, to send his Spanish Armada of boats to capture London under the motive of freeing England from the Protestant queen. The Armada failed and England became a dominant naval power from this defeat. Indirectly the Reformation caused this war which made England a very strong nation. Without the Reformation, Spain may have had no reason to attack England. Elizabeth is primarily remembered for channeling the power of the Reformation in a direction that enabled her to rule England.
The English Reformation encompassed almost all of the 16 th century. Over the span of four monarchs, it progressed from a struggle with the Pope's control to a major influence in English society. His quest for a son, forced Henry VIII to remarry numerous times and cut off ties from the Roman Catholic Church, beginning the Church of England. The marriages of Henry VIII produced three children that sculpted the Reformation in many different ways. Edward IV and Mary I shifted the Reformation in two polar directions. Elizabeth I brought opposing factions back together and used this power to redefine England.
This evolution continued as England developed into a world power during the 17 th century with a strong navy. The marriages of Henry VIII and the lives of his children truly were keystones to the English Reformation.