The Reformation and Wars of Religion--2

The English Reformation

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Katherine of Aragon married Henry VII's eldest son, Prince Arthur, in 1501.
The marriage was a diplomatic triumph for Henry in his achievement of a Spanish alliance.
Katherine, as you recall, was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, sister of Juana la Loca.

England had its version of the Reformation, though it was neither Lutheran nor Calvinist; it was Anglican or English. When Henry VIII* ascended the English throne in 1509, the Reformation had not yet begun; when it did, he declared firmly for Catholicism, earning the title Defender of the Faith from Pope Leo X. Earlier, in 1509 he secured a papal dispensation from Julius II to marry his brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon Their marriage was happy, and both rejoiced in 1516 with the birth of their daughter Mary Tudor.

image source--Henry VIII by Holbein < >
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*Palmer, 88-91
For a capsule summary of Katherine's life, visit
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which, alas, does not mention the role of Parliament in Henry's break with Rome

Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon hoped that the birth of Princess Mary (1516) whom they adored, would be quickly followed by more children, particularly a son to inherit the throne. Henry VIII was only the second of the Tudor monarchs; he worried that his young dynasty would not survive a female monarch, even under his beloved daughter, Mary Tudor. Court doctors informed Henry in 1518 that Katherine could have no more children; she was, furthermore six years older than Henry, whose eye began to wander. The portrait to your right is of Princess Mary at the age of 28 in 1544.

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In 1527, a young woman of the court, Anne Boleyn, caught that wandering eye and held it. Anne Boleyn bewitched the King with her charm, vivacity, and wit. She refused to become his mistress insisting, though he already had one, that she would only be his wife, i.e. queen. In a succession and religious crisis that lasted the rest of his reign, Henry grappled with the thorny issues of his wife and daughter v. the woman who enchanted but would not have him. Unable to secure a divorce or annulment of his marriage, nor to convince Katherine to set aside their marriage and their daughter, Henry convoked Parliament, setting in motion the English Reformation. With Parliamentary support, Henry began a long and tortuous separation of England from the Roman Catholic Church, the annulment of his marriage to Katherine, a second marriage to Anne, the dispossession of Mary Tudor from her claim to the throne.

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In 2008, Showtime produced The Tudors, focusing on the young Henry.
See trailer < >
David Starkey presents his version of Anne Boleyn from his Monarchy series
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In 1533, the Reformation Parliament annulled the marriage between Katherine of Aragon and King Henry VIII leaving him free to marry the bewitching Anne Boleyn. Within the year, in September, 1533, Anne gave birth to their daughter, Elizabeth, pictured to your right as a young girl. The birth of Elizabeth, complicated the religious/succession crisis. In 1534, Henry and Parliament passed the Acts of Supremacy and Treason according to which Henry not the Pope was head of the Church in England; it was treason to recognize the Pope and not Henry as its head. The Acts divided, indeed they polarized the English.

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English Catholics believe: English Anglicans (Protestants) believe:
First marriage (Katherine) = legal (acc. to Catholic law) First marriage = illegal/incestuous (acc. to Eng. law)
Second marriage = illegal--bigamy (Katherine still alive) Second marriage = legal (acc. to Eng. law)
Mary = true heir of a legal marriage Mary = illegitimate child of an incestuous relationship
Elizabeth = illegtimate child of a bigamous relationship Elizabeth = true heir of a valid marriage
Catholic law > English law English law > Catholic law


The religious, succession, marital saga of Henry VIII moved into high gear. Anne's failure to conceive led Henry to wonder if the hand of God might be punishing him for his annulment and re-marriage, i.e. his treatment of Katherine. In 1536, a beautiful, shy, young woman of the court caught his eye. Jane Seymour, sister of the ambitious Seymour brothers, Ned and Tom, did nothing to encourage Henry's flirtatious advances, but the brothers took every opportunity to bring the two together. Jane Seymour lacked the vivacity, energy, and wit of Anne, but she was young and virtuous. In 1536, events outstripped even Henry's machinations: Katherine, alone and in domestic exile, died; Anne conceived and convinced Henry that the child was a boy. Torn between a desire to mourn Katherine and a need to reward Anne, Henry chose the latter course and ordered a tournament in celebration of the Queen's pregnancy. Donning Anne's colours, Henry entered the lists as her "faire knight." In the joust, he was thrown from his horse, wounded, and fell into a coma. Anne panicked, had a miscarriage, and gave pre-mature birth to a stillborn son. That signaled the end of Anne.

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Anne's many enemies accused her of a multitude of crimes--witchcraft, adultery, incest, and treason. The "jackals" moved in for the kill. The Seymour brothers marshalled their forces against Anne, who was convicted on all charges. On May 19, 1536, Anne went to her death with dignity and grace. Edward Hall, an eyewitness, recorded her brief remarks: "Good Christian people. I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord.... I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.... Lord Jésu receive my soul" (Eakin ).


Within hours, Henry announced his betrothal to Jane and married her with indecent haste. Jane did her duty and gave Henry the son and heir he so desperately wanted--Edward, the Prince of Wales. All England breathed a sigh of relief: Edward, as a boy, took precedence over his two elder half-sisters; his legitimacy was unquestioned as both the preceding wives were dead. Mary Tudor's and Elizabeth Tudor's claims were superceded by the birth of a boy. Jane was not only the mother of Henry's son and heir, she helped him to reconcile with his estranged daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Indeed, Mary stood as godmother to the little prince. It comes as no surprise that Henry was heartbroken when his adored Jane died of childbed fever shortly after Edward's birth.

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Henry's VIII's fourth wife did not significantly affect England's religious-succession problems. Anne of Cleves (left and right) was the sister of a Protestant Prince from the Holy Roman Empire, and it seems that Henry's proposal to her stemmed from his desire--once he had a son--to involve England more directly in the religious wars on the continent. Anne's sister, Sybella, was married to Duke-Elector Frederick of Saxony. Henry and Anne never consummated their marriage and agreed to a friendly divorce, though Anne was understandably humiliated. During this period of Protestant Ascendancy, Henry and Parliament enacted legislation that would make it difficult for a Catholic restoration. Henry and Parliament "dissolved the monasteries," that is, like Frederick of Saxony, they "secularized" (i.e. seized) monastic and convent lands, dispossessing the monks and nuns. The former monastic lands thus became available for gift or sale to Henry's supporters, prominent among them Ned and Tom Seymour. Other leading Protestant nobles were the Dudleys and Greys. The Seymours, Dudleys, and Greys were determined to preserve Reformation in England and to prevent the Counter-Reformation and/or the Jesuits from engineering a Catholic restoration. Their enemy was Mary Tudor.

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In 1541, Henry's aging but still roving eye was captured by the bewitching young (19 to his 49) Katherine Howard (image right.) By this time, Henry had lost his youthful good looks; unable to play tennis any more, he grew fat and gouty. He had sores on his "legges" that did not heal. He was certainly nothing that a pretty young thing like Katherine Howard would be attracted to. Like Jane Seymour, however, Katherine was a political and religious pawn in the hands of her ambitious Howard-Norfolk relatives; they hoped that she would marry Henry, produce a healthy male heir, and the Howard-Norfolks (secret Catholics) would replace the Seymours in the corridors of power. Henry married his "rose without thorns." Katherine was bored and lonely at a court dominated by men old enough to be her father; indeed Katherine's step-daughter, Mary Tudor, was older than the new Queen. Katherine convinced Henry to bring all of the royal children--Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor, and Edward Tudor--to court; Henry's grandneice, young Jane Grey, also came as Prince Edward's playmate or possible bride. As governess of the household of the royal offspring, Henry and Katherine selected the comely widow, Katherine Parr.

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Henry adored his young bride. However, she, like her unfortunate cousin Anne Boleyn, had powerful enemies. The Seymour clique of all things feared a healthy Howard baby boy who would displace the frail Prince of Wales. Others, too, resented the Howards and focused their animus on the frivolous young queen, who was more at home with the royal children than with Henry's old geezer cronies. They brought charges of adultery and treason against her, prevented her from pleading her case before the disillusioned and heartbroken king. She, like Anne Boleyn, went to the scaffold. First hand accounts describe her as beautiful, but Henry had almost all likenesses destroyed; certainly the portrait (left) does not capture her beauty or her charm. In 1543, Henry, by this time fat and fifty+ married for the last time; yes, you guessed it, the thrice married and childless widow, Katherine Parr (image left.)

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Henry's last wife, Katharine Parr

Henry's marriage to a thirty-six year old widow who had outlived three husbands and had no children or pregnancies by any of them provides evidence that Henry had given up on having another son. In 1543, the old and now ailing king called Parliament into session and set his affairs in order with the Act of Succession. It provided for the following, trying to take into account all possible scenarios:


1. First in line = Edward Tudor, the Prince of Wales and the "heirs of his body." If Edward died childless--
2. Second in line = Mary Tudor and the "heirs of her body." If Mary died childless--
3. Third in line = Elizabeth Tudor and the "heirs of her body." If Elizabeth died childless--
4. Fourth in line = the Grey girls: granddaughters of Henry's younger sister, Mary Tudor.
5. The Stuart "line," descendants of Henry's older sister Margaret Tudor, were barred from the sucession; this prohibition was directed at Mary Stuart, the young Queen 'o Scots, granddaughter of said Margaret Tudor.

[ The Last Tudors: Edward, Mary, Elizabeth ]


Eakin, Lara. "Anne Boleyn's Speech at Her Execution." Tudor History. 1995-2003. Online available
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Sumner, Robert Shannon. "The Age of Religious Wars and the Emergence of Absolutism."
World History. (for Armada background) Online Available
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