To what extent was Henry's decision to break with Rome influenced by Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell?

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George Noble                     12JK                     History Coursework

To what extent was Henry’s decision to break with Rome influenced by Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell?

The break with Rome was one part of the reformation in England carried out by Henry VIII and his ministers. By removing the Pope’s influence from his court, Henry became more at liberty to pass laws and other reforms, as well as gaining his much sought divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. The break with Rome was a gradual process that began in 1529 with the ‘Reformation Parliament.’ Henry and his advisors passed various legislation and legal processes which damaged the Church financially and politically. The charge of the breach of Praemunire was a criminal charge against the clergy which was revoked after a large bribe (1530 – 1531); meanwhile, the Act in Restraint of Annates prevented Rome from its traditional practice of taking a proportion of the clergy’s pay (1532). The Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533) was a step forward for Henry – while the other legislation was primarily aimed at weakening the Church financially, this act reduced Rome’s political power by preventing people appealing to Rome against a decision made by the powers in England. In historical context Henry’s intentions were clear – that he would secure a divorce in an English court and prevent any appeal to the uncooperative Pope. However, it also signified a milestone in a wider context, as it was the beginning of the removal of the Pope’s powers in England. 1534 brought the Act of First Fruits and Tenths, which forced the clergy to pay the king a large amount of their income, 10% of their annual income and part of the initial windfall that a member of the clergy gets for joining a monastery. After these acts had been passed Henry and his advisors began their attack on the opposition to the break with Rome with attacks on the Carthusians and the Observant Franciscans and the execution of Sir Thomas More. This policy culminated in the 1536 act extinguishing the authority of the Bishop of Rome, leaving Henry in complete sovereignty of his nation and undisputed head of the Church of England. This essay will first look at the roles of Cromwell and Cranmer, then Henry and finally the other individuals who may have influenced Henry’s decision to break with Rome, specifically Anne Boleyn and Thomas Wolsey.

Both Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell were influential with regards to Henry’s decision to break with Rome. Rex states that “from the start, Henry preferred the radical alternative,” and both men were clearly radicals, in that they suggested a solution that would permanently change the face of the Church in England. This is evidenced by their actions – “Cranmer... decried the Pope as Antichrist,” while Cromwell was responsible for the trial, conviction and execution of Sir Thomas More and John Fisher. Cromwell was Henry’s chief minister, Wolsey’s successor and as such a highly competent and influential politician. Before his post as Henry’s chief minister he was Wolsey’s chief legal advisor, and he played a role in Wolsey’s earlier dissolutions as well as being in a position of high influence when the idea was first conceived. Wolsey himself played a role in his dissolutions which will be explored later in this essay. Like Cromwell, Cranmer was a member of a group of radical proponents of the break with Rome as a means to achieve divorce from Catherine of Aragon. This is shown by his overt distaste for the organisation and doctrine of the Catholic Church (including such actions as calling the Pope “Antichrist”) and his loyalty to Henry’s cause, which, in turn, is demonstrated by his willingness to annul the king’s marriage. Cranmer ascended to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, the most important position in the land with regards to the Church. Finally, Henry’s own role cannot be ignored as he was ultimately the decider, able to block policies he didn’t agree with and put new policies into practice without the input of his advisors. While his key advisors were influential in Henry’s decision to break with Rome, the decision ultimately fell to Henry himself.

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Thomas Cromwell was Wolsey’s successor as Henry’s chief minister. He was part of a faction of men who supported Anne Boleyn and his chief aim was to achieve a divorce to satisfy both the king and Anne. However, as Wolsey’s successor Cromwell would have realised the massive financial gains that could be had by tapping the Church’s income and diverting even a small proportion of it to his personal coffers. Much in the same way the early dissolutions funded Wolsey’s extravagance, Cromwell stood to gain financially from the reformation, the break with Rome, and specifically the dissolution of the ...

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