Separating from the Catholic Church

The monarch rules the Church in England

When Henry realised that the Pope would not grant him a divorce, he took matters into his own hands. He declared that the Pope's rule did not extend over England and that he himself, and not the Pope, was Supreme Head of the Church in England.

Henry appointed Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cranmer used his authority to declare the marriage of Henry and Katharine annulled. Henry then married Anne Boleyn.

The new law is enforced

Henry ordered that everybody should swear an oath of loyalty to him confirming that:

  • Henry was Head of the Church in England
  • The children of Anne were his rightful successors.

There were severe penalties for refusing. Many loyal Catholics, most notably Henry's former Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, were executed.

More on the power of the monarchy: Although Claudius is more a powerful politician than a divine king, the complete power of a monarch is reflected in Hamlet, where Hamlet is aware that his reactions against Claudius are severely limited: ‘But break, my heart, for I must hold my tongue'. (See Religious/philosophical context: Divine right of kings.)

A third attempt to secure an heir

Anne Boleyn failed to produce the heir that Henry wanted, and within three years of her marriage to Henry she had been beheaded on a charge of treason.

More on the charges against Anne: It was alleged that she had been unfaithful to the king. The charges were almost certainly untrue.

Edward VI by Hans Holbein the YoungerHenry had decided that it was time to try another lady-in-waiting as his wife.

In 1536, eleven days after Anne's execution, Henry married Jane Seymour. In October 1537, she produced the longed-for male heir — Prince Edward. Jane would presumably have remained as Henry's well-loved Queen, but she died shortly after Edward's birth.

Further marriages

Henry married three more times:

  • Anne of Cleves, whom he quickly divorced
  • Catherine Howard, who was executed for extra-marital affairs
  • Katharine Parr, who outlived him.

Henry died in 1547, and the ten-year-old Prince Edward came to the throne as Edward VI.

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