Thomas Cromwell and the Divorce

Thomas Cromwell and the Divorce

Little relating to the divorce was actually achieved between 1530 and 1531. The loss of Cardinal Wolsey was a major blow to Henry VIII as Wolsey had a creative mind and was very hard working and the years straddled the time before Thomas Cromwell came to the fore. What did occur between these years was an attempt by Henry to bribe various renowned European theologians to come out in favour of supporting his divorce. Ten did but when it became known that this support was the result of a cash incentive, its impact was minimal. The three men who acted as Henry’s senior advisors – the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Suffolk and the Earl of Wiltshire (Anne Boleyn’s father) – could not begin to match Wolsey’s ability and the whole divorce process floundered. To an extent the issue had become a farce as some theologians who had been asked to adjudicate on the matter made it clear that not only had there been an attempt by Henry to bribe them, but also Catherine of Aragon attempted a counter-bribe, allegedly! Rumours also circulated in London that the Vatican was about to announce in favour of Catherine. Therefore, Henry’s agents in Rome were told to do as much as they could to slow down the whole process – exactly the opposite of what they had been ordered to do and also, ironically, what Wolsey was accused of doing in the lead up to his fall from grace.

 

The breakthrough to the divorce issue came when Thomas Cromwell became Henry’s chief minister. In 1531 Cromwell believed that the Pope would not rule in Henry’s favour and that the only way ahead was to remove the Pope from the equation. Cromwell was able to describe his ideas clearly to Henry in a manner that the king could understand. However, it took time to persuade the king so there was no sudden change in direction. In fact, what Cromwell was suggesting was so monumental that it is understandable why Henry was cautious in his approach. Cromwell also suggested that to give the idea a form of democratic legitimacy, it should go through Parliament so that it could not be seen as a move that was foisted onto the people by just a few people, but had been discussed by the representatives of the people and voted on accordingly.

 

What Cromwell suggested was highly innovative. For the first two decades of Henry’s reign, Parliament had done little more than vote on local issues and vote through extraordinary taxes at times of national need. Now MP’s would be fully involved and it was these men, many of whom were from the merchant and landed classes, who represented the king at a local level. In March 1533, Parliament passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals. This act stated that the final authority in all legal matters, whether they were civil or clerical, resided in the monarch and that it was illegal to appeal to an authority outside of the kingdom on any such matters.

 

In 1532, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, died. Thomas Cranmer replaced him. The death of Warham was lucky for Henry as he could put one of his ‘own men’ forward as a replacement. Unlike Warham, Cranmer was in favour of the divorce. He had also played a part in roaming Western Europe finding theology academics who he could bribe so that they would support the king. He was also a member of the Boleyn faction so there can be little doubt that Anne supported his appointment. However, his appointment needed the approval of the Pope. As Cranmer was only an ordained priest and held no major positions of responsibility within the Church, the Pope would have been within his right to reject the nomination. However, Cranmer’s nomination was accepted.

 

All was now in place to push through the divorce. The Act in Restraint of Appeals had been passed and Henry could now guarantee that any body headed by Cranmer created to discuss the divorce would support the king. However, another more pressing issue forced Henry and Cromwell’s hands. It is accepted that Anne succumbed to Henry’s advances sometime late in 1532 as she was convinced that the divorce was a mere formality. By January 1533, Anne knew that she was pregnant. If the baby was not to be born out of wedlock, the divorce had to be pushed through by the autumn.

 

Cranmer arranged for the divorce case to be heard in May. After three days discussions, a decision was announced. It stated that the Papal dispensation that had blessed the marriage between Henry and Catherine had been invalid all along and that through no fault of their own Henry and Catherine had been illegally married in 1509. Cranmer had secretly married Henry and Anne on January 25th but this was covered by the decision as it claimed Henry was a single man who had every right to marry Anne. Catherine refused to attend the meeting so was unable to put forward her case. However, Henry and Anne had got what they wanted but the whole process was to have a monumental impact on the whole of England as it was the springboard for the English Reformation which had two parts to it – a political aspect and a process that culminated in the dissolution of the monasteries.   






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