"In relation to other factors, how far was Henry's desire for divorce the main cause of the Reformation in England in the 1530's?"

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“In relation to other factors, how far was Henry’s desire for divorce the main cause of the Reformation in England in the 1530’s?”

During the 16th Century, we see the beginnings of what turned out to be perhaps the greatest shift in religious doctrine from Catholicism to Protestantism England has ever experienced; The Reformation. Henry VIII’s break from Rome in the 1530’s certainly helped cause this. Nevertheless great historical debate has raged for many years over the reasoning behind severing the link with the Papacy. The most popular argument is that it was Henry’s strong desire for divorce from Catherine of Aragon -- in an attempt to re-marry to ensure the succession with a male heir -- that bought about the break, where as others dispute this, campaigning for the case that it was mass social discontent with the existing church that was the cause. Some have even taken the stance that the exclusive reason for the break was based on Henry VIII’s greed; his further want for greater power, control and wealth, while others suggesting that he was taken advantage of by ambitious members of the Church and the Inner Circle.

        Soon after his accession in 1509 Henry married Catherine of Aragon, nevertheless this was not a straightforward marriage, it required Papal dispensation based on the fact that Catherine had previously been married to Henry’s brother Arthur, who had died shortly after their marriage. Canon Law clearly stated that that the marriage of a widow to the brother of the husband who had passed away was illegal. It was this, which would later have implications when the divorce became an issue. The marriage with Catherine was seen as being fairly secure and most of the population liked and respected her as a Queen, however, she had not granted Henry the thing he craved for most, a son and heir to his throne. By 1525 it had reached such a point where many believed Catherine was past childbearing age and consequently Henry needed a divorce so he could find a younger wife, who would be able to satisfy his desire for a son.

        Nonetheless, Henry’s attempts to persuade Catherine to agree to an annulment were without success. She refused to cooperate and basically did all that she could to hinder any divorce going ahead, even under intense pressure from Henry and after a number generous monetary offers. Henry then chose to turn to the Pope for assistance; claiming that the marriage was not the “wish of God” as he had not been granted a son, and was in fact illegitimate because he had married his brothers’ wife. Holding the title “Defender of the Faith” Henry believed the Pope would grant the divorce quite rapidly; nevertheless this was not the case. Firstly an annulment of the marriage would mean the subsequent admittance of an error of the previous Pope who had granted the original Papal dispensation allowing Henry to marry Catherine. Clement VII -- the current Pope - was not willing to diminish the role or authority of the Pope by acknowledging that it had been wrong. Secondly the Pope was under virtual prisoner of Charles V of France who was Catherine’s nephew, who was quick to influence the Pope in the situation forbidding him to grant any kind of annulment. The situation began to irritate Henry, foreign policy was dictating a break from Spain, but the marriage to Catherine made it almost impossible.

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        By 1531 Henry was desperate for a solution and turned to his closest advisors, The Inner Ring of the Court. Thomas Cromwell had recently joined this group and was quick to show his ingenuity as well as his political might. He suggested to the King that should the Pope continue to refuse to annul the marriage, Henry should break the ties with Rome and run the English Church himself. Giving him the power to grant the divorce himself, without much of an opposition. He had taken the idea from the German Princes who had become supreme leaders of the churches ...

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