17th May 1527. The King’s Problem.

By late 1520 Henry VIII wanted to have his marriage annulled, a couple of sons had died leaving the future of the Tudors in doubt.

Henry was convinced that the lack of a male heir resulted from being,’blighted in the eyes of God’, as he had married Catherine of Aragon, his dead brother’s widow, and determined to be rid of her saying his marriage had never been valid. (1)

The problem was an annulment required special dispensation from Pope Julius II so it was Today in 1527 that Archbishop Warham began a secret inquiry, at Greenwich, as a first step in the annulment proceedings.

As archbishop his role, was to say the least delicate, and not since the days of Becket had an archbishop’s dual loyalty to his spiritual and temporal lord been so sorely tested. It was he who suggested the addition of the words ‘so far as the law of Christ allows’, to Henry’s title Supreme Head of the Church.

Clement VII, now Pope, was also reluctant to annul the wedding, probably influenced by the fact that the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, was Catherine’s nephew.

Many advised Henry to ignore Rome, but a meeting of clergy and lawyers in 1530 advised parliament against such a move also the influential Bishop John Fisher was the Pope’s champion.

However Warham at the end stood his ground and in 1532 he gave notice that he intended to move the repeal of all statutes passed against the Roman Church since the beginning of the Parliament: Henry responded by issuing a writ of Praemunire, but luckily Warham died on August 23rd 1532, before he had to commit himself to out-and-out opposition to the king.(2)

Henry decided to take the bull by the horns and underwent a marriage ceremony in late 1532 with Anne Boleyn, made easier now Warham had died, when Henry persuaded the Pope to appoint Thomas Cranmer a friend of the Boleyn’s  as successor.

Despite the Pope’s insistence on an oath of allegiance in return, Cranmer duly granted an annulment whereupon the King and Cranmer were promptly excommunicated.

In 1534 the Act of Supremacy was enacted to be followed by the King’s acquisition of land and finances of the Catholic Church, assisted by the 1536 Court of Augmentation, along with the lesser General Surveyors, First Fruits and Tenths, Wards and Liveries, which in 1547 were amalgamated in The Court of General Surveyors. (3)

Painting by William Hamilton (1787) of the Cardinals at Grafton Regis.

In Grafton Regis, Northants, village hall, murals show Henry in his local manor house listening as Cardinal Campeggio conveys bad news in September 1529, of Pope Clement’s refusal to allow Henry an annulment.

This visit had been a last ditch attempt of Cardinal Wolsey to persuade the Pope: the downfall and disgrace of the English Cardinal was now inevitable.

Henry’s problem turned out to be an even bigger one for the Papacy, for whilst the King won another wife, Rome lost the wealth of centuries. 

(1) As there were no children it didn’t contravene Old Testament law.

(2) The Laws of Praemunire of the 14thc was a first attempt to restrict the referral of various matters to Papal jurisdiction.

(3) In 1554 all were subsumed under the Court of the Exchequer.






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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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