Within Europe there was a mixed reaction to the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.


While Henry VIII waited for an outcome to come from the Pope (Clement VII), there is evidence that Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, took the view that the Pope should come out in support of Catherine of Aragon and made his views clear to the Papacy. Two arguments have been forward for this.


First, as Holy Roman Emperor he was the temporal defender of the faith and he may well have seen the whole divorce issue as having the potential to severely damage the standing of Catholicism in Europe if the Pope supported Henry and that this might lead to more European states moving towards Protestantism once they saw the disunity in the Catholic world.


Second, Catherine of Aragon was the aunt of Charles, so there was a family involvement. However, there is no real evidence that indicates that this personal relationship had a great deal to do with the issue as Charles rarely kept in contact with Catherine and made no effort to see her when he was in England.


In 1529, Charles had defeated a coalition of European states that had joined together to defeat the Emperor in an attempt to reduce his power. To all intents, Charles was militarily supreme in Western Europe at this time and the Papacy had every reason to listen to his views especially as his armies were the only ones that had any real chance of defeating the Ottoman Empire if it tried to extend its influence in the Western Mediterranean.


Despite this ascendancy in Europe Pope Clement VII was no pushover. Clement could be a ditherer but there were times when he was decisive and in 1529 he decided that neither Charles nor Henry VIII would bully him into a decision. Those who heard Clement talk about the divorce issue claim that he made it clear that he was adamantly against it. This would, of course, fit in with his upbringing. When a Pope had annulled a marriage there had usually been good reasons for doing so. But many in the Vatican did not believe that Henry had a good reason and that he simply wanted to ‘dump’ Catherine for Anne Boleyn. No one in Rome accepted the view that he had married his late brother’s wife in contravention of what was stated in the Bible (Leviticus). No one in Rome accepted that God condemned the marriage.


It is interesting to note that on several occasions Clement was heard saying that he hoped that the English would sort the problem out for themselves and that a Papal input would not be needed. He would not have realised that the solution of Thomas Cromwell was to place Henry at the head of all legal aspects of the day-to-day running of the Church in England, thus excluding the Pope from having any input in this. However, it can be argued that this was an English solution to the problem but not as Clement would have envisaged!


Clement died in 1534 but the Act in Restraint of Appeals was already in place. Just before he died, Clement came out in favour and support of Catherine.