Tudor monarchy to 1530

The Aragon alliance

In 1485, Henry VII came to the throne of England, the first of the Tudor dynasty of Arthur Prince of Walesmonarchs. His elder son, Arthur, was born in 1486 and betrothed as a child to Katherine of Aragon, daughter of the King of Spain. They were married in 1501 when she was 16 and he was 15. However, Arthur died in 1502.

Negotiations then took place to enable Henry VII's second son, Prince Henry, to marry Katherine instead, the alliance between Spain and England being seen as politically desirable.

Annulling the marriage

The dispensation was granted because the marriage to Arthur had not, according to Katherine's sworn declaration, been consummated – that is, the couple had not had sexual intercourse – and so it could not be annulled.

In Measure for Measure the importance of physical consummation as the factor which completes a marriage agreement is a vital issue for Mariana. Shakespeare uses the same point in All's Well That Ends Well. In Romeo and Juliet the lovers' physical consummation of marriage on their wedding night makes even more shocking to Juliet her nurse's assertion that Juliet can pretend she is not married.

Henry VIII becomes king

Henry VIIIIn 1509, Henry VII died and Prince Henry came to the throne as Henry VIII. Shortly afterwards, he married his brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon. They had seven children, but only one survived – a daughter, Mary.

Henry felt that she could not possibly follow him in the line of succession to the throne:

  • There had not been a queen as ruler of England for 400 years

  • At that time the accession of a woman had led to civil war.

Henry's desire for escape

At about the time Henry was despairing of Katharine producing a male heir, he was strongly attracted to one of her ladies-in waiting, Anne Boleyn.

In 1527, Henry asked Cardinal Wolsey to ensure that Pope Clement VII granted him a divorce.

More on Cardinal Wolsey: After the Pope, the highest-ranking Catholic priests are Cardinals, and in England under Henry VIII, one of his most important statesmen was a cardinal – Cardinal Wolsey.

However, even had the Pope wished to do so, he was not a free agent:

  • The current King of Spain, also known as the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, had invaded Italy and was in control of Rome

  • Charles was the nephew of Katharine of Aragon and not prepared to have her insulted.

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