Written by Mallory Davis, King University, Religions of the World
My name is Mallory Davis. I was born and raised in Monahans, Texas a small town in the Permian Basin. I graduated from Monahans High School in 2019 where I participated in Acapella Choir, Lady Lobo Juniorettes, cheerleading, track, and a four-year varsity swimmer. I was a regional swim qualifier all four years and served as team captain my junior and senior year as well as being named Outstanding Female Swimmer those two years. My hobbies include scuba-diving, boating and fishing, and rebuilding old cars with my dad. I have led praise and worship at my hometown church and been actively involved in community service. At the end of my senior year of high school, I signed on as a dual athlete at King University to swim and cheer. I am currently a sophomore at King.
Could the Split with the Catholic Church be Prevented?
Henry VIII has always been a controversial character in English history. The man was notorious for divorcing his wives or having them beheaded attempting to secure a male heir leading to the old adage, “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced beheaded survived.” Life for a wife of Henry VIII was not very easy, but what if his first wife Catherine of Aragon could have given him a surviving male heir? Would he have still split from the Catholic Church, or would he have continued to stay with his wife of 24 years? Logistically, several things suggest that the break from the Catholic Church did not have to occur. Henry held a devout devotion to the Church in his early reign and was extremely devoted to Catherine of Aragon during her early childbearing years. Worried about securing the Tudor legacy, Henry only turned to divorce as a last resort after Catherine was unable to produce a living male son.
Henry’s Religious Upbringing
Henry VII had been religious from a very young age as was expected of him because he was only second in line to the throne. It was custom for the first son to become a high-ranking church official. Henry was given the best education possible and participated in things such as sports, music, and art. He would also partake in mass five times a day unless he was hunting; then he would only take part in mass three times a day. When his brother died at age 15, the death left Henry as the sole male heir changing the course of Henry’s vigorous religious training forever. Henry had to leave behind the idea of becoming a church official, but although he would be leaving it behind, he never forgot what he was taught by the Church and many things that he did after being crowned King of England at 17 reflected his staunch religious upbringing.
Henry’s Life with his First Wife, Catherine
Catherine of Aragon, in my opinion, was Henry’s only true love. He fell in love with her when she was stuck in England when Henry VII, Henry’s father, was trying to figure out what to do with her after his brother Arthur, Catherine’s late husband passed away. Henry VII solved this problem by marrying her to his second son who would succeed him as king. He was married to Catherine for 24 years, longer than any of Henry’s other five wives. It was not until Catherine was in her 40s, and it had become apparent that she would not bare Henry a living male heir that he began to look for ways to solve his dilemma. His lust for a son who would take over for him after he died made him begin to look for other ways to get a male heir.
Henry Tries to Legitimize His “Bastard” Son
After it became apparent that Catherine would not be able to give Henry the heir he wanted, he came up with a few ideas to remedy the situation. One of these ideas was legitimizing his healthy “bastard” son with Elizabeth Blount, a maid of honor to Queen Catherine. She became one of Henry’s many mistresses, and she had borne him a healthy son, Henry FitzRoy, in 1519. Henry VIII decided that if he could not have a healthy boy with Catherine, he would make his healthy bastard son with Blount a prince by legitimizing him. Henry publicly acknowledged this son and bestowed many honors on him, including giving him the double Dukedom of Richmond and Somerset. It has been suggested that FitzRoy was bestowed with such lavish titles and positions
Defender of the Faith
Throughout these early years in Henry’s effort to begat an heir, he maintained a strong relationship with the Catholic Church. He even wrote a book called Assertio Septem Sacramentorum in which he defended the Catholic Church from religious leader Martin Luther who had written Ninety-five Theses, arguing against the perversion many felt was rampant in the Catholic Church. As a reward, Pope Leo X gave Henry the title “Defender of the Faith” in 1521. It was not until 13 years later that Henry VIII would be forced to completely break from the Catholic Church after disagreeing with the pope over several things, most importantly, the refusal to grant an annulment from Catherine, who was by that time, obviously beyond child-bearing years. The annulment would essentially declare a marriage null and void, essentially saying that the marriage had never occurred in the first place. Henry had petitioned for this annulment based on Catherine’s brief marriage to his brother and the Biblical book of Leviticus’s teaching against marrying a brother’s spouse.
The Pope’s Refusal to Annul
Pope Clement VII delayed and denied Henry’s request for annulment for many years, citing several reasons for the denial.
- The main reason was that the pope and the Catholic Church had already granted a dispensation for his marriage to Catherine, essentially saying that the Levitical passage did not apply to Henry. He could not annul a marriage that had been approved by the Church in the first place.
- Secondly, the Church feared that an annulment such as this would be viewed as a divorce which was not recognized. It was against basic beliefs. As Henry was the “Defender of the Faith” and the king, the pope especially would not allow this divorce. It was believed if the king was allowed a divorce, then common people would believe it was okay to divorce their wives as well.
- Finally, Catherine of Aragon was the Holy Roman Emperor’s niece. Charles V had conquered Rome and was holding Pope Clement VII as hostage. He refused to allow the pope to grant Henry’s request for annulment as he would not allow his own family to break from Catholic law and be disgraced by a divorce. Catherine herself was a very devout Catholic and had petitioned her uncle to fight for her cause.
Henry Divorces Catherine and the Church
For Henry, divorce from Catherine had been a last resort, but now it was the only option he had left. As the Church would not grant the annulment or a divorce, he had to take matters into his own hands. Henry’s mind was made up. He would turn his back on his own faith. Instead of prolonging the situation any longer, Henry declared himself the Head of the Church of England, breaking from the Catholic Church. He made Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury who then quickly granted Henry his desire divorce from Catherine. During these years of waiting for an answer from the pope, Henry had fallen in love with the young Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine’s ladies in waiting. In less than a year after his divorce from Catherine, Henry married an already pregnant Anne who had promised to bear him the son he so desired. In 1533, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Later, she gave birth to two stillborn boys, and Henry would have her beheaded on false allegations of treason to continue his quest for a son. However, by this time, the breach with the Catholic Church had become irreparable, and Protestantism was quickly spreading through England and other parts of Europe.
Henry’s obsession with having a male heir finally led to his break with the Catholic Church. He maintained a strong relationship with the Church right until the end, indicating that if Catherine had ever been able to produce a living male son, he would not have pursued the route he finally took. Henry had first tried to legitimize his bastard son Henry FitzRoy and sought annulment from his first marriage before resorting to divorce and breaking with the Church. Only after the annulment was denied by the pope did he become desperate enough to completely part ways with the Church. This parting had grave repercussions on the future of religion in England. The Catholic monasteries were dissolved, and priests were relieved from their duties. Attending mass became illegal. Citizens were forced to take an oath to Henry VIII as the Head of the Church of England, and many who refused to do so were executed. Ultimately, the most consequential effect of Catherine of Aragon’s inability to produce a living male son for Henry was the establishment of Protestantism in England under the new Church of England.
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