Henry VIII'skey reason for the reformation.

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Henry VIII's key reason for the reformation The break from Rome was the ending of Papal rule in England. Up until 1534 the Head of the Church in Catholic Europe (including England) was the Pope in Rome. However for several reasons which I shall discuss in this study, Henry VIII of England in 1534 decided to replace the Pope as Head of the Church in England and appointed himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England and consequently ruling England as a Catholic country without the Pope. The points needed to be looked at in this study are the state of the pre-reformation church, power and money, and the divorce from Catherine of Aragon. State of the pre-reformation church It has been argued that the pre-reformation church was a corrupt and failing institution and therefore Henry had to totally overthrow the running of the church and appoint himself as the Supreme Head in order to reform church practice. Traditionally many historians have argued that the people of the early 16th century agreed with Henry in his decision because the church in England was a deeply unpopular institution. Anti-clericalism according to this line of argument was widespread. As G R Elton puts it, "People in England thought little of Priests". The clergy were widely despised. At the top, Archbishops and Bishops were disliked for their wealth and ostentation with Wolsey being an obvious example. He was never seen without fine clothes and expensive jewellery and had several homes - Hampden Court being his prominent residence. This was in sharp contrast to the example set by Jesus in the New Testament. They were further more seen as being guilty of pluralism and therefore non-residence as they were constantly moving between their dioceses. A Bishop was also obliged to attend Parliament, as he owed the service of counsel to the king, but not many attended regularly which would obviously anger a temperamental Henry.


Secular lawyers, jealous of the large amounts of business that went to the church courts, would deliberately blacken their name. Simon Fish was one man who criticised church courts. His reliability must be questioned however. He was a common lawyer and had much to gain from attacking the church, as it would mean more work for him if the church courts were to be closed. There is little doubt that Henry did not like the church courts as they limited the power of his royal courts. However, deciding to sever links with the Pope would have been, to say the least, drastic. Other ways to limit church court powers such as whittling away the Right of Sanctuary and Benefit of Clergy would have been sufficient. The alternative view to the Reformation This is the view of those who feel the break from Rome was not caused by the state of the pre-reformation church or the divorce but by Henry's own desire to be more powerful and wealthy. Political reasons must have been foremost in Henry's mind when the call for Reformation was made. Henry needed to secure the dynasty. He felt that Catherine would bear no more children and therefore he needed to divorce her and marry Anne Boleyn who was pregnant. As the Pope would not grant this, Henry had to 'divorce' the Pope in order to obtain it. It can be argued that Henry's desire, encouraged probably by Cromwell and Crammer to take over the church as an institution and use it to extend his power both at home and abroad, played a pivotal role in the Reformation. Henry wished to curtail the Pope's influence in England. The Pope was, for example, the sole arbiter of the beliefs of the new Church of England. After the Reformation, Henry became sole arbiter and immediately concerned that the Catholic Church in England had developed into a 'state within a state' due to its tax privileges, won courts.


After the break from Rome, Henry ran the church and therefore he was in a position to set an example for all churchmen. However, to suggest this would be anything more than a background factor would be wrong. The influence of Protestant ideas in the lead up to the Reformation may also have been a contributory factor. There were some Lutherans in England in the 1520's (with Cromwell being prominent) but they probably numbered hundreds rather than thousands, and therefore no real pressure on Henry to break from Rome and turn England Protestant. However, these were merely additional factors to the divorce issue. It became obvious to Henry that Catherine, because of her age (born 1485) would probably have no more children. Henry, and indeed almost everybody else, was convinced that a male heir was needed to secure the dynasty. Henry had also fallen in love with a young courtier - Anne Boleyn. In addition, Henry had convinced himself that his marriage was wrong in the eyes of God. Furthermore God's punishment was the lack of a male heir. I consider that the break from Rome can be defined by two quotes, the first from Christopher Haigh, "The Henrician Reformation when it came was not the product of long standing discontent with the church ...... it was a crisis which blew up out of nothing". And from Christopher Harper-Bill, "we must return to Henry VIII's matrimonial problems and financial needs as the ultimate cause of the Reformation in England". The quotes in the previous paragraph show that the reasons for the Reformation were a combination of disquiet of the wealth of the Papal church, and the need to continue with the royal dynasty. In my opinion it is therefore difficult to attribute the Reformation to just one key factor. However, my final conclusion is that it was Henry's deep (if belated conviction) that his marriage was invalid and therefore should be annulled, that ultimately led to the Reformation. Without this, disquiet with the church and its wealth would not on its own, in my opinion have led to a break from Rome.

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