Dissecting a Divorce: King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

A pivotal period in the history of the early modern world was King Henry VIII’s schism with the Roman Catholic Church and the English Reformation it sparked. These events led to England’s formation as a Protestant nation, isolated from the influence of Rome. It is believed that King Henry VIII’s request to Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was largely based on his desire to marry a suitable woman of child-bearing age capable of producing a male heir. Although the union of Henry and Catherine had produced a daughter, Mary, the king required a son in order to ensure succession of the Tudor dynasty. King Henry feared a foreign monarch or prince’s marriage to his daughter would result in a foreign power effectively controlling his realm. Catherine’s child-bearing days were nearing an end and many experts declared that she would not survive an additional birth. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Downfall of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1533-1536.
Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1533-1536.

Anne Boleyn is remembered as Henry VIII’s second wife after his infamous annulment from his first, Katherine of Aragon. In addition, she is known for her shocking and grisly execution. Some believe that the main factor for this was her failure to produce a male heir. Yet evidence suggests that Henry was not intent on eliminating her even after her miscarriage in 1536. A few years prior to this, Henry famously rejected papal authority and split from the Catholic Church in Rome. This was a result of the pope’s refusal to annul Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. By 1527, Katherine was too old to bear a child, and Henry had become enamored with Anne, who was one of Katherine’s ladies-in-waiting. Historians describe Anne as being confident, sophisticated, and charming.[1] Henry was clearly attracted to her, as he sent her numerous love letters throughout 1527 and 1528, despite his dislike of writing. However, Henry did not immediately see Anne as a prospective wife and instead wanted her as his mistress.[2] Yet Anne aspired to become queen, and rejected Henry’s advances until he proposed marriage. Thus, as Peter Marshall writes, “her determination not to become a royal mistress and to hold out for the prize of being queen was an important element in pushing forward the divorce campaign”.[3] Anne remained emboldened during time as queen consort. She had a crucial role in the Henrician Reformation, and was to prove a powerful patron of English reformers.[4] Her involvement in one particular reform, the dissolution of monasteries, would contribute to her downfall. Anne Boleyn was executed because she participated too much in state matters. In Tudor society, this was not the role of a queen consort. Anne wanted to be more than a wife to Henry; she wanted to be his advisor. For Henry and his chancellors, this was too much. Continue reading