- Henry VIII, king of England
- ( 14 91 - 15 4 7 )founder of the independent Church of EnglandThe instigator of the Protestant Reformation in England, King Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491, the son of Henry VII. He ascended the throne in 1509 and immediately married Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), the widow of his deceased elder brother.Henry owed much of his early success as a ruler to his counselor Thomas Wolsey (c. 1474-1530), who helped maintain Henry's cordial alliance with the papacy. Henry helped Wolsey become archbishop of York and a cardinal in 1515. He also found time to write a book, the Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, attacking Martin Luther and defending the church against his demands for change. Among other topics, Henry insisted on the supremacy of the papacy, for which Leo X granted him the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith).At this time, Henry was trying to divorce Catherine, who had failed to produce a male heir. Turned back by the pope, Henry asked Wolsey to justify the divorce. Wolsey's failure led to his fall and the rise of Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell. In 1529, Cranmer suggested that Henry appeal the question of his marriage to the university scholars of Europe, who concluded that the marriage was null and void. Eventually, the pope gave in. Wolsey was accused of treason and died in 1530 awaiting trial.Apparently with Cromwell's advice, Henry decided to drop his allegiance to the papacy and have himself declared the supreme head of the church in his domain. In 1531, he forced the clergy to present him with a gift of £100,000 and a statement recognizing his supremacy. The following year a convocation of the clergy renounced papal authority and acknowledged Henry's leadership over the church. The annual offering to Rome was now deposited into the king's coffers.In 1533, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn (c. 1501-36) and then pushed through the selection of Cranmer as archbishop of Canterbury. When Pope Clement (r. 1523-34) threatened Henry with excommunication, Parliament made the agreements between Henry and the church part of English law. Parliament also passed the Act of Succession, declaring Catherine's daughter, Mary, illegitimate, and naming Anne Boleyn's daughter, Elizabeth, heir apparent. Nonaccep-tance of the Act of Succession was later declared a capital crime. Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was the most famous person to lose his life for that crime.Henry next ordered a survey of all monasteries on the grounds that they were beds of corruption. He took ownership of most of them and sold them off to raise money.In 1536, Catherine died and Anne Boleyn was beheaded for treason. Henry married Jane Seymour (c. 1509-37), who bore him Edward. In the meantime, both Cranmer and Cromwell had developed sympathies with the Reformation and tried to move Henry in that direction. Following the death of Jane Seymour, Henry agreed to Cromwell's advice and married Anne of Cleaves (1515-57), sister-in-law to the Protestant Frederick of Saxony's wife. However, he soon annulled the marriage; the unhappy experience solidified Henry's anti-Protestant views. He remained Catholic in all matters except his allegiance to the pope. In 1539, he published the Six Articles, opposing Cramner's recently published Ten Articles, a work quite sympathetic to Lutheranism. He then had Thomas Cromwell beheaded and married a Roman Catholic, Catherine Howard (1521-42).Henry died on January 28, 1547. He was succeeded by his son, Edward VI, who was himself succeeded by both of his two sisters, Mary I and Elizabeth I.Further reading:■ Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)■ Christopher Haigh, English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)■ J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (Berkeley: University of California, 1968)■ Lacey Baldwin Smith, Henry VIII, The Mask of Royalty (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971)■ Neville Williams, Henry VIII and His Court (New York: Macmillan, 1971).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.