Having broken the back of the Church in England and Wales, Henry VIII turned on the Pope and Papal power. To some this would have been a natural move as it had been Clement VII who had refused to sanction an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It could be argued that Clement’s refusal to give in to Henry sparked off a series of events that ended with the Pope’s power being removed from the land later in the century.


It is difficult to know whether Henry ever planned the break from Rome. It is generally accepted that Henry believed that mere pressure on the Pope would be sufficient for him to get his annulment. When this was not forthcoming it is possible that a series of events took place that were not planned but developed as a result and that they took on a momentum of their own. However, there are some who believe that the whole turn of events was orchestrated by Thomas Cromwell who knew what the desired end result was and formulated a plan to fulfil this.


Those who supported Henry in his campaign did point out to the king that until the early Middle Ages, a king had been sovereign ruler in his kingdom. It was only in the Middle Ages that the Pope acquired a status that trespassed on the rights of kings to solely rule their own state. Henry’s advisors argued that it was perfectly legal and acceptable for a king in the C16th to want to return to the time when he was the sole sovereign ruler of his lands.


There is no certainty that Henry wanted the events that occurred to develop in the way that they did. Henry was reasonably well known for his inability to sustain any interest in most things and his vacillation. Much of the work done with regards to Henry’s clash with Rome was carried out by advisors and government officials. Though the final say always rested with Henry, the advice that he received was formulated by others. This advice became more and more anti-church as the Pope continued with his reluctance to grant Henry his annulment. When it became obvious that the Pope was not going to be persuaded to do as Henry wished, the next step was for the king to remove the Pope’s authority within his kingdom. Henry used Parliament to give an air of legitimacy to all that was done but the end result was as he wanted – a divorce from Catherine and marriage to Anne Boleyn.


Geoffrey Elton believed that the main driving force behind the break from Rome was Thomas Cromwell. He believed in a sovereign nation state and that the monarch should have no rival within his/her state. This was not the case with regards to the Pope’s influence in England and Wales. To what extent Cromwell engineered events to suit the outcome is not known. Whether he had a plan that he carried out or he used the opportunities that came his way is not known but the end result was the split between England and Rome.


Cromwell’s wish for an all-powerful monarch was supported by Thomas Cranmer – the man appointed by Henry to be Archbishop of Canterbury after Wareham.


The displacement of the Pope’s authority within England and Wales and replacing it with the king’s power greatly appealed to Henry’s ego. He now had the power of a king and the power of a Pope. He gathered together a small group of intellectuals to give the whole concept of joint kingly/papal authority some academic basis. The result of this research was the ‘Collectanea satis Copiosa’. This collection of documents justified all that Henry and his advisors had done and was used for a number of years to come to justify what had occurred – despite the fact that some of the ‘evidence’ was forged but put forward as evidence from the Middle Ages!


One of the more famous pieces of evidence was a document written by a second century pope (unnamed) to an unnamed king of England:


“For you are vicar of God in your kingdom……the omnipotent God grant you so to rule the king of Britain that you may rule with him eternally, whose vicar you are in the said realm.”


This was a clear piece of evidence that the Pope had no power in England and Wales – even if the ‘evidence’ almost certainly a forgery.


Cromwell helped to support the belief that bygone Popes had stolen monarchical powers and that the powers that they had prior to the Reformation were held fraudulently. However, for all the time Cromwell worked with Henry before the break with Rome, he was never fully confident that Henry would go through with it. The main thing in Cromwell’s favour was Henry’s desire for the ‘great matter’ (his divorce) to be settled and it was only when it was plain that the Pope would not support this, that Cromwell felt confident that the break would occur.


The Act in Restraint of Annates in 1532 was the start of the process that removed Papal authority in England and Wales. Annates were the main source of income in Rome from England and this act all but banned them. It was initially suspended in terms of its introduction as this was one of the measures Henry wanted to use to put pressure on the Papacy to give him his annulment. Only when it became plain that this was not going to happen was it introduced into law.


Later in 1532, Cromwell moved to the next stage. He wanted all the legal power of the Church removed and absorbed by the government. This resulted in a huge loss of power on the one hand for the Church, and a massive gain in authority and power by the Crown. Previous to this, the Church acted as the final court of appeal in most matters governed by canon law, which gave it the scope to cover a great deal of ground. This now transferred to the king and his advisors/government. It included all decisions over marriage. By ending the right and ability of the church to involve itself in this, the ruling effectively ended the legal authority of the Pope in England. In March 1533 the Act in Restraints of Appeals (usually referred to as the Act of Appeals) passed through both houses of Parliament and received the royal assent.


This act had a major impact. It denied every English and Welsh citizen the right to appeal to an authority outside of the country with regards to legal matters. The Archbishop of Canterbury took over the powers of the Pope. One of the first things dealt with by Cranmer was Henry’s divorce as by now Anne Boleyn was known to be pregnant. Cranmer concluded that the Pope’s dispensation for Henry to marry Catherine of Aragon had been invalid. There is evidence that Henry had hoped for some sort of settlement with the Papacy even after this by the Pope giving his blessing to his marriage to Anne, but no rapprochement came.


In 1534 Pope Clement VII announced that Catherine was still the rightful queen of England. Such a statement played into Cromwell’s hands as he knew it would infuriate Henry and push further ahead changes to the church.


The Reformation Parliament pushed through a number of acts between 1534 and 1536. All direct payments to the Pope were halted; the Archbishop of Canterbury was handed the power to grant a wide variety of dispensations that had previously been held only by the Papacy. The Crown was given the right to appoint all senior churchman and the definition of beliefs – both again had been held by the Papacy. In 1536 an act called the ‘Act Extinguishing the Authority of the Bishop in Rome’ tied all previous acts together but added one other law – anyone who defended the former powers of the Pope would have their property confiscated. By 1538 no one was expected to refer to the Pope as being the head of the church on pain of being suspected of treason. There can be little doubt that Thomas Cromwell guided all this through but it had to be with the support of Henry as he was the one person who especially benefited from these reforms.

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