There were many factors that influenced the Protestant Reformation in England, such as the political climate of Roman Catholic Church corruption and the increasing discontent among both nobles and laymen. But the most important factor was King Henry VIII’s pervasive self-serving attitude which profoundly impacted, and ultimately caused the Reformation of England. Anne Boleyn’s influence that held sway over the king was an extremely important factor as well, but the majority of his actions can be directly linked to his selfish nature, rather than his love and devotion to either his kingdom or to his “true love.” His superiority complex mixed with all other factors going on catalyzed the events that led ultimately to reformation in 1534, and changed the face of England forever.
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One of the reasons why Henry VIII’s Protestant Reformation was politically successful was because there had been previous attempts at a Protestant reformation in England. England had been uncomfortable with Rome for several centuries, and the Wycliffe rebellion in the 14th century prepared foundations for Protestantism in England. [i] John Wycliffe was the first person to translate the Bible into the vernacular language; unfortunately, he was branded a heretic for his work and was killed.[ii] The need for reform was evident among many churches in England prior to 1529. [iii] Absenteeism and discontent were rife, with clergymen often not completing their clerical duties, and corruption of the church courts and their interference in lay affairs.[iv] These shortcomings of the English Catholic Church all contributed to the anti-clerical sentiments made apparent by some of the more noble families, such as the Boleyn family, and the braver laymen.[v]
Henry VIII’s temperament and perspective often changed from one end of the spectrum to the other. The major examples of this vacillation were his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and his break with the Catholic Church. The death of King Arthur after only four months into marriage with his new Spanish bride, Catherine of Aragon, left younger brother Henry the only surviving male heir to the English throne by the Tudor family.[vi] Henry fell in love with Arthur’s widow, and refused all other prospects of marriage, declaring that his love for Catherine of Aragon was like no other.[vii] Henry showed his self-seeking attitude by refusing all other offers of marriage. He may have truly been in love with her, but as the king, the right thing to do for his country would have been to marry for strong alliances. An Anglo-French alliance would have been more beneficial to the Crown and to England. In order to marry Catherine, Henry required special Papal dispensation to legitimize the marriage.[viii] This was given happily by the Pope, and within a few years, Henry and Catherine had a daughter, the future queen Mary.[ix] But when no male heirs were produced afterwards, Henry began to “doubt both of the marriage and the spiritual validity of the marriage.”[x] After he met and fell in love with Anne Boleyn, Henry determined, upon “careful study of the Scripture”, that his marriage to Catherine was void, as it was a sin to marry his brother’s wife, and Henry then wanted an annulment.[xi] Henry’s selfish nature was the source of this new-found Biblical understanding. He was weary of Catherine’s unwavering piety, and wanted a wife who was lively and spirited. Anne Boleyn was the perfect candidate. Unfortunately for Henry, the Pope had been taken captive by Charles V, Catherine’s nephew. [xii] Charles V would have never let the Pope grant the annulment, because that would have meant disinheriting Mary, who could then become a possible French princess on the English throne.[xiii] It would have also required yet another special Papal dispensation, which would have decreed that the Pope had been in error the first time, something the Pope was not willing to admit, as this would have caused him to lose face among the Catholic faithful.[xiv] And so after theologians argued that the Pope lacked freedom to make a decision on the matter, the annulment was not granted; Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn in 1533.[xv] However, this too was also a political move, because “the succession was the main point is proved by the fact that Henry’s efforts were all directed to securing a wife and not a mistress.”[xvi]
With absolute power in mind, Henry got rid of Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, and replaced him with Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, who were both sympathetic to the new ideas of Martin Luther.[xvii] They gave the king the advice that if he wanted an annulment, he should split off from the Catholic Church, and declare himself the head of the English Church.[xviii] Henry’s subsequent actions directly contradicted those that had been made only six years prior, in 1521, when he stoutly defended the Catholic faith against Martin Luther’s Protestantism.[xix] He had reaffirmed the seven sacraments to the people, and was given the prestigious title of Defender of the Faith by the Pope.[xx]
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Henry VIII was not a stupid monarch; he may have been selfish, self-serving, headstrong, and querulous, with a personality akin to that of Machiavelli’s The Prince, but he knew how to get what he wanted. [xxi] It was in 1527 that Henry decided that Anne would become his queen, and that Catherine should be cast aside, as well as her outdated Catholic beliefs.[xxii] Many noblemen at the court approved of Henry’s change in heart about whom he loved. Cardinal Wolsey, former Lord Chancellor of England, whom Henry VIII later arrested for treason, had long advocated an Anglo-French alliance, because he disliked Spanish Catherine.[xxiii] In 1533, England officially broke with the Catholic Church, and after the laws passed, this put the entire clergy and all its monies under Henry’s power.[xxiv] Henry’s ideas were almost completely secular, and were very shallowly religious. The clergy had large sums of money that greatly increased the King’s treasury, and as the new Head of the Church, Henry considered himself accountable only to God.[xxv] Unfortunately for the laymen, in England there were few to none of the large metropolises that other countries in Europe possessed, possibly with the single exception of London.[xxvi] There was a glaring omission of universities, a factor which had helped hinder the spread of Martin Luther’s Protestant reformation in Germany.[xxvii] This was perhaps an extremely wise move on behalf of the Catholic Church, as the lack of education of the lay people aided in keeping them under the thumb of the Church law and traditions. Vernacular Bibles, or Bibles translated into the people’s native language, were associated with sedition, because of the attempted 14th century reforms.[xxviii] But Anne Boleyn, possibly one of the most famous women in English history, sought to correct this astronomical oversight of education, through her faith and beliefs.
Anne Boleyn was one of the biggest personal influences in Henry VIII’s life. Henry himself said that she bewitched him, with her unpredictability, jealousy, and her flirtatious streak. In 1532, Henry VIII created Anne the title of Marquess of Pembroke, in her own right.[xxix] This gave her access to wealth and land, something Henry had never done for a woman, much less a mistress, a title that Anne longed to shed. Henry, not known for his letter writing, wrote a total of seventeen love letters to Anne during their courting before their marriage.[xxxi] Henry at that point was still married to Catherine of Aragon; it is evident to the blind observer that he was deeply in love with Anne, and would do many things for her to keep her in a constant state of happiness. He even sacrificed his sex life to appease her. She would not tolerate anyone in his bed but her, and she refused him over and over again, saying that she was chaste, and was saving herself for marriage.[xxxii] The idea of marriage to the King was a tempting one, and Anne used this idea to further her plan, to be “Queen or nothing.”[xxxiii]
Anne Boleyn’s religious tolerance and her deep faith in God aided in bringing about the reformation. Of the many things she was rumoured to have been, a witch was not one of them. Her belief system was Christian, and she had a fervent faith..[xxxiv] Unlike the rumours that were spread about her, such as her being a witch, she was deeply religious, and would have never dabbled in sorcery. However, she questioned the Catholic Church’s policy of praying for the dead, and the selling of indulgences.[xxxv] Anne fully supported the vernacular translation of the Bible; she loved her French and English Bibles.[xxxvi] Conversely she was against the closure and liquidation of monasteries, one of the effects of the 1531 act “Submission of Clergy” in which Henry was granted power and influence over clergymen and their holdings.[xxxvii] Anne actually purchased a monastery to prevent its closure, and used it to help fund the education of lower class citizens, and aided them in university by creating scholarships with the monies of the monastery.[xxxviii] While Anne’s family might have been “outright Protestants,” as said by Eustace Chapuys, she had a more evangelical faith to her than simply following the popular form of Christianity.[xxxix] Anne was also not as “rigid and inflexible as Catherine of Aragon”, simply because while she was pious, she did not pray the Rosary, and most definitely did not pray for the dead.[xl] Her sympathies lay naturally with the progressive thought now challenging the Catholic orthodoxy, because although it went hand in hand with her personal beliefs, if she did not support the new Church of England, the consequences would have been disastrous.[xli] Her marriage to Henry VIII would have been declared invalid, she would have been nothing more than the fallen mistress of King Henry VIII, and her children would have been declared illegitimate; bastards by the church decree.[xlii] Fortunately for Anne, and also for her future daughter Elizabeth, she had great influence upon Henry, which helped bring about the English reformation. Without the reformation of 1534, Queen Elizabeth І could not have ruled as successfully, because her power would have been diminished by a husband, and by pressure to produce a male heir.
The changes in the church came swiftly and loudly trumpeting. In 1529, the “Reformation Parliament” steadily granted powers over the church clergy to the King.[xliii] In 1531, Parliament passed the “Submission of Clergy,” which put the clergymen entirely under the King’s rulings.[xliv] Finally, in 1534, the “Act of Supremacy” declared Henry VIII as the Head of the Church of England.[xlv] Henry could finally marry Anne, for he “could not separate his desire for a son…from his personal desire for Anne.”[xlvi] The church remained Catholic in essence; the only difference in the beginning was that Henry could now do as he pleased.[xlvii]
In the end, Henry was declared Head of the Church of England, and Anglicanism was made the state religion. He was a self-serving man who only furthered his own interests. This created discontentment among the people, and made the political climate both native and abroad very hostile. But the most important factors were King Henry VIII’s oft-changing temperament, his pervasive self-serving attitude, and, most significantly, Anne Boleyn’s influence that held sway over the king. This powerful combination catalyzed the events that led ultimately to reformation in 1534, and changed the face of England forever.
[i] Hooker, Richard. “Reformation: Protestant England.” Washington State University – Pullman, Washington. 6 June 1999. 04 Mar. 2009 <http://wsu.edu/~dee/REFORM/ENGLAND.HTM>.
[ii] Hooker (Page One)
[iii] Eakins, Lara E. “How Protestant Was England by 1547?” Tudor History. 17 Nov. 2002 23 Mar. 2009 http://geocities.com/boleynfamily2/essays/howprotestant.html
[iv] Eakins (Page One)
[v] Eakins (Page One)
[vi] Hooker (Page Two)
[vii] Hooker (Page Two)
[viii] Hooker (Page Two)
[ix] Hooker (Page Two)
[x] Hooker (Page Two)
[xi] Hooker (Page Two)
[xii] Hooker (Page Two)
[xiii] Jokinen (Page Two)
[xiv] Hooker (Page Two)
[xv] Toscani, Melissa, and Brian A. Pavlac. “Anne Boleyn.” King’s College – Wilkes-Barre, PA – 1-888-KINGS-PA. 29 Mar. 2007. MMV Prof. Pavlac’s Women’s History Site. 04 Mar. 2009 <http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/anneboleyn.html>.
[xvi] Jokinen (Page Two)
[xvii] Hooker (Page Three)
[xviii] Hooker (Page Three)
[xix] Hanson, Marilee. “Anne Boleyn: Biography, Portraits, Primary Sources.” EnglishHistory.net. 11 Apr. 2004. 04 Mar. 2009 <http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/boleyn.html#Biography>.
[xx] Hanson (Page Three)
[xxi] Jokinen (Page Three)
Hooker (Page Three)
[xxii] Toscani, Pavlac (Page Three)
[xxiii] Eakins, Lara E. “Anne Boleyn.” TudorHistory.org. 1995-2009 Lara E. Eakins. 04 Mar. 2009 <http://www.tudorhistory.org/boleyn/>.
[xxiv] Hanson (Page Three)
[xxv] Jokinen (Page Three)
[xxvi] Eakins, Lara E. “How Protestant Was England by 1547?” Tudor History. 17 Nov. 2002 23 Mar. 2009 http://geocities.com/boleynfamily2/essays/howprotestant.html
[xxvii] Eakins (Page Three)
[xxviii] Eakins (Page Four)
[xxix] Eakins, Lara E. “Anne Boleyn.” TudorHistory.org. 1995-2009 Lara E. Eakins. 04 Mar. 2009 <http://www.tudorhistory.org/boleyn/>.
[xxxi] Eakins (Page Four)
[xxxii] Eakins (Page Four)
[xxxiii] Eakins (Page Four)
[xxxiv] Eakins, Lara E. “Anne Boleyn and Religious Reform.” Tudor History. 1995-2009. 24 Mar. 2009 <http://www.geocities.com/boleynfamily/anne/reform.html>.
[xxxv] Eakins (Page Four)
[xxxvi] Eakins (Page Four)
[xxxvii] Hooker, Eakins (Page Five)
[xxxviii] Eakins (Page Five)
[xxxix] Eakins (Page Five)
[xl] Hanson(Page Five)
[xli] Hanson (Page Five)
[xlii] Hanson (Page Five)
[xliii] Hooker, (Page Five)
[xliv] Hooker (Page Five)
[xlv] Toscani, Pavlac (Page Five)
[xlvi] Hanson (Page Five)
[xlvii] Hanson (Page Six)