Lecture 6: Henry VIII--The Reformation and his Love Life
I. Introductory Comments—last time we examined the ways in which Henry VII secured power and established the Tudor Dynasty. His reign lasted from 1485-1509, and while there were several rebellions he had to contend with, he managed to stave off his rivals and secure his throne. He reinstituted decrepit legal systems and worked to protect the interests of the "common citizen." At his death, his second son, Henry, assumed the throne and presided over a realm that was wealthier than his father obtained—the king's money would only increase in Henry VIII's reign because of the ways in which he obtained land from various sources and pocketed the wealth. Today we are going to begin our discussion of England of Henry VIII by examining his personal life. This is the area that gets attention and it is important that we cover it, because in some cases it was central not only to his domestic rule (the notion of succession) but also to his foreign policy (with Rome and Spain among others).
II. The England Henry inherited (1491-1547; 1509-1547)
A. Medieval Institutions—I mentioned last time that England was growing out of the medieval institutions governing it at the time of Henry VII's succession to the throne. But this does not mean that they were abandoned. The kings did not give up ancient feudal obligations or ideas about the ways in which landed wealth was dispensed through the vehicle of the Monarch.
B. Parliamentary Authority—Parliament was one institution that had matured over the century. I talked about its development a week or so ago, and mentioned that during this period, the two Houses (Commons and Lords) attracted more influence. Since the time of the Magna Carta, Parliament constructed itself as an institution that enabled king's to govern with their consent. They provided kings not only consent, but counsel—that is, they served as the King's advisors over all sorts of political and economic issues. During the Tudor period, they almost always met over political issues.
C. Roman Catholic Estates—Since England, like all of Western Europe, was a Roman Catholic Country, much of the arable land in the country belonged to the Church outright. That meant that funds obtained from that land went not to the State, but to the Pope.
III. The Protestant Reformation on the continent and at home
A. Heresy and the rise of the print culture—heresy against the RCC was nothing new in the sixteenth century. Heretical movements had been around as long as the institutionalization of Christianity as the official Church of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. And heresy was duly punished. (heresy: a religious or doctrinal belief contrary to those of an established body or authority). In the late middle ages and during the Renaissance, heresies proliferated. This led to the Inquisition and concern over preserving the sanctity of RCC. Until the advent and spread of the print culture—which is based on the rise of the printing press throughout Europe in the late 15th century, heresy was fairly easily stifled. Yes, uprising could occur, and heretical movement flourish, but they were fairly self-contained. This changes in the fifteenth century. Until the sixteenth century, Europe was a Roman Catholic continent. Their central religious leader was the Pope who exercised tremendous political control in the lives of all Europeans. However, the Papacy underwent numerous political upheavals itself during the middle ages, and as a result, it lost some of its power to control the European population, especially the heads of state, who were technically subordinate to the authority of the Pope. Monarchies were promoting a new nationalism and were no longer looking to the Pope and his archbishops for guidance. Moreover, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries witnessed the return to a historical frame of mind. Ancient texts were rediscovered, political writings were read, literacy improved, and great scientific and artistic minds (Galileo, da Vinci) worked to increase the spread of knowledge throughout Europe. The classics underwent a "rebirth"—a renaissance. This is where we get the roots of the Protestant Reformation, which is central to understanding our story for today.
B. Martin Luther, the "Father" of the Reformation. It is often said that ML is really the father of the Reformation. But, as I've alluded to, he wasn't the first person to go against the dictates of the Church. He just wasn't burned at the stake for his ideas. He was a "middling" man, the son of a "mine leaser." He originally proposed to study law, changed his mind and went into religion. Most of his life is centered around Wittenberg. 1513, he reached a religious epiphany. He realized (he was a Catholic Monk). His epiphany was that God's mercy was important but was accomplished through faith. The idea emerged of being born again, or "saved." And you are saved through faith. The term is JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH. In order to good works, you have to have faith, not vice versa. Major criticisms of the RCC. Developed a new faith: priesthood of all believers, priests became pastors/ministers, monasticism was abolished. This begins in 1517 with the 95 Theses. In 1519, he was forced into open disagreement with the Church, and by 1521 he was excommunicated. Once he realized his position was in trouble, Luther wrote an "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation" arguing against the RCC. The support of the princes was crucial to his success. He made economic arguments—people were sick of paying dues to Rome, their money was leaving their turf to go somewhere else to pay for St. Peters' Basilica in Rome, which was authorized by Pope Leo X (1513-1521). Despite its original religious goal, Lutheranism became a political movement as well.
C. John Calvin & the Calvinist Tradition (Huguenots, Presbyterians, Puritans)—(1509-1564) in Geneva Switzerland. He wrote the "Institutes of Christian Religion" in 1535. He believed that all men were sinners by nature and that humans had a PREDESTINED existence. What that means is that some are going to be saved and others are not and there's nothing you can do to change that. If nothing matters, how is society kept in check? Upright conduct is a good, but not necessarily 100% accurate sign that you are "chosen." You never quite know whether you're lucky or not. You can't just sit tight that your fate has been sealed—he believed in ACTIVE faith.
IV. Henry VIII--Practical Protestant, not practically protestant
A. His "great matter"--maintaining the Tudor line. Henry and his advisors (first Cardinal Wolsey1 and then Thomas Cromwell) were very edgy about preserving the newly fused blood line. He was clearly a leader, but, he was concerned, we are told, with preserving succession. That is, he wanted a MALE heir. Why should it matter? In the context of the time, a female monarch was considered to be too weak to preserve the fragile peace brought on with Henry VII's new Dynasty. A female monarch would leave the door wide open for a renewal of the civil wars. This assumption was grounded in nothing more concrete than the gendered politics of the period. Women's perceived roles as constructed in Tudor society, were too frail and too private to maintain social stability.
B. the problem with Catherine, and lack of knowledge re: biology. This gets to the problem that began the Reformation in England. Henry married the Spanish Catherine of Aragon in 1509. She had previously been married to his Brother Arthur in 1501, but Arthur died in 1502. Henry VII had kept her in England to maintain the alliance with Spain. By the early 1520s, it seemed clear that there would be no male heir with Catherine. The marriage resulted in Mary (1516) after five other children. This wasn't good enough for Henry because he needed a male heir in his mind. As he wanted a LEGITIMATE male heir, he looked beyond Catherine and began to look for a new wife.
C. Fraternizing on the side, legitimizing activities—Henry has been described in numerous accounts as a man of insatiable appetite in whatever he did. Thus, his bulky persona, his excessive hunting expeditions, his desire for women. His lust for women fueled the Protestant Reformation in England. But that's not really true. More recently, Henry has been described as rather "conservative" in his fraternization with other women—hey, he had only one illegitimate child, the Duke of Richmond (who died in 1536)—so he wasn't so bad, is the general tenor of these newer reflections.
What we do know is that Henry VIII took a shining to Anne Boleyn, one of the mistresses of Court. She staved off his advances for awhile, especially with the king promising a forthcoming annulment. Catherine also refused to give up her claim to the throne. She believed that she legitimately married Henry, that the Papal Dispensation authorizing her to marry him after she had married his brother was valid and that Mary was a legitimate heir. While she was well liked by the English population, he arguments fell on deaf ear politically. She was not going to win the battle here. Henry was an inherently practical man, and worked along the sides to obtain an annulment, and barring that a divorce. While Wolsey was in power, this was difficult to do. Wolsey's first priority was to the Pope—as Church doctrine and law asserted.2 Henry couldn't have that because it meant that his most influential advisor would be working against his wishes. As head of state, he should be on top and answerable to no one.
D. Appeals to Parliament
1. can Henry do this alone? Does he have enough "kingly authority"?
2. The "national" precedent with Luther—What we see with the example of Luther is the way in which Politics and Religion held hands during this period. While Luther's quest began as a religious reform and became increasingly political, Henry's quest was a political—practical—matter that took on religious significance. Henry himself never liked "true" Protestants and believed that they were overzealous, and the Church of England's foundations reflected the fairly conservative view of the POLITICAL shift of religious power. It is clear that Henry worked to get ecclesiastical leaders on his side. That's all I'm going to say about that. But with regards to approving his separation from Catherine, Henry had to literally work the constituency. He appealed to the Citizens of London—a very select group who obtained their freedom through business. He had Parliament working on an Act of Appeals which essentially made the King the head of the church, or as it has been described: "'the body politic' of the temporal and spiritual people in England was entirely subject to the King, that the English Church was competent to determine its own ordinances, that appeals to Rome caused damage, danger and delay, and the all spiritual cases should henceforth be decided within the King's jurisdiction and nowhere else. This does not mean that Henry decided this and made them agree. This is why Parliament is so important. Henry relied on them—they happened to agree with Henry that the power of the Clerics in England was far too great. This was as early as 1529.
3. Catholicism as foreign power (intro comments, more next time)—One of the ways in which Henry succeeded was by declaring the Church a foreign power.
V. Concluding Comments
Today I covered the Reformation and the way it ground Henry's love interests in religious matters—another way of saying this is that politics and religion went hand in hand during the early part of the sixteenth century. When we reconvene, we'll talk in more detail about the role of the Church and the cases made against the clerics, both of which result in the dissolution of the monasteries.
Henry's Wives, dates of marriage and death
Wife 1--Catherine of Aragon, 1509 - 1533 [divorce] (died a natural death 1536 in England)
Wife 2--Anne Boleyn, 1533-1536 (executed for adulterous behavior)
Wife 3--Jane Seymour, 1536-1537 (died 2 weeks after birth of son, Edward; buried with Henry)
Wife 4--Anne of Cleves, 1540 (divorced after 6 months, lived in the countryside as the "King's Sister")
Wife 5-- Katherine Howard, 1540-1542 (executed for adulterous behavior)
Wife 6--Katherine Parr, 1543 (Henry dies in 1547, she dies 1548)