The grounds for divorce

Henry's desire for escapeAnne Boleyn

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. Since he had asked for a papal dispensation to marry Katharine, it was difficult to ask for another to divorce her.

Religious evidence

Henry began to develop religious scruples. Citing the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament of the Bible (see Leviticus), he claimed that he should never have married his brother's widow, and that it was a sin for which he was being punished by the lack of a male heir.

Leviticus 20:21, with which Henry became increasingly obsessed, says:

‘If a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother's nakedness: they shall be childless.'
More on incest: We see in Hamlet that this seems to be the view both Hamlet and his father's ghost take of Gertrude's re-marriage; they find it depraved and disgusting.
  • The Ghost describes how Claudius
‘won to his shameful lust / The will of my most seeming-virtuous queen,'
  • Hamlet's vision of Claudius and Gertrude's relationship (Act III scene iv) is that they live:
‘In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty.'

Diplomatic problems

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

More on the role of cardinals: 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.

Although there had been a movement throughout Europe for some considerable time to reform the Roman Catholic Church (see Religious/philosophical context: The Reformation) Henry himself had been a loyal follower of Catholicism and had written a book defending it, for which the Pope awarded him the tile ‘Fidei Defensor' — Defender of the Faith.

Ironically, in view of later events, the initials F.D. are still to be found alongside the head of British monarchs on coins to this day.

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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