Henry VIII and the Reformation



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Henry VII and the Restoration

Henry was born on 28 June 1491 in the palace of Greenwich, near London. He was the second son of the king Hery VII, the first sovereign of the Tudor dynasty. In 1509 when his father died he ascended the throne, when he was only seventeen. In the same year he married his brother’s widow, a Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, with a special permission.
He was quite unlike his father. He was cruel, wasteful with money and interested only in pleasing himself. The first period of his reign was concerned with foreign affairs, wars and diplomacy during which he wanted to be an important influence in European politics. He reinforced the authority of the State and, understanding the importance of sea-power to England, built a strong Royal Navy for the first time in British history.
But the leading event in Henry VIII reign was the breach with Rome and the establishment of the Anglican Church. As a young king, Henry defended the Church against the new ideas of Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Gineva. Indeed, he had written a book criticizing Luther’s teaching and the Pope gave him the title of Fidei Defensor, Defender of the Faith. The letters “FD” are still to be found on every British coin. However, it was the king himself who began the English Reformation, even if it was also the religious manifestation of an insular nationalism which had long been emerging in the country.
Henry had been married with Catherine for 20 years but she was older than him and had given him no sons. He tried to persuade the Pope Clement VII to allow him to divorce Catherine. As the Pope would not give his consent, Henry privately married his new love, Anne Boleyn, and some months later Thomas Cromwell, who had been made Archbishop of Canterbury, annulled Henry’s marriage to Catherine. The Pope prepared a Bull of Excommunication against the king. Henry proceeded on his way and by the Act of Supremacy made himself Supreme Head of the Church of England.
He closed monasteries and other religious houses, seized church property, and imprisoned or killed all those who opposed him. One of the most famous oppositor was Thomas More, a scholar and writer and former Lord Chancellor, who was committed to the Tower of London, accused of treason and beheaded in 1535.
The following year Anne Boleyn was excuted and the king married another four times. He died in 1547, at 55 years old. The crown passed to Elizabeth I the only daughter had with Anne Boleyn