Throughout many years, King Henry VIII was loyal to Roman Catholicism, and his publication of Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (“Defence of the Seven Sacraments”) in 1521 earned him the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X.
Catherine of Aragon failed to give the king a male heir, and Henry decided to rid himself of her and marry young Anne Boleyn. For about six years, Henry was fighting tooth and nail to get an annulment of his marriage to Catherine, sending his delegations to the pope and then hoping that Cardinal Campeggio, a papal legate who arrived in London in 1528 and held many sessions with Cardinal Wolsey and Henry, would declare his first marriage invalid.
Henry still failed to get his freedom which he wanted so desperately, and the King’s Great Matter resulted in the break with Rome and the launch of religious reforms in England. It was quite obvious from the beginning that the king wouldn’t be granted an annulment because the pope didn’t want to damage the Church’s moral authority and because the interests of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V were concerned in this very delicate matter.
Catherine was the emperor’s aunt, and Charles wouldn’t have supported Henry because it would have meant his aunt’s disgrace. The pope couldn’t take the risk of enraging the emperor, and he also remembered the Sack of Rome in May 1527, when the unpaid Imperial troops went on rampage, raping, sacking, killing, and looting. The armies even dared massacre almost the entire Swiss Guard on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica! On that day, Clement VII was lucky to escape to safety, but it didn’t mean that he had forgotten about the bloodshed in Rome. Clement didn’t need another quarrel with the emperor.
On the 5th of January 1531, there was a new interesting moment in the battle between Pope Clement VII and King Henry VIII. The pope sent the king a not-very-pleasant letter, in which he strictly prohibited him from remarrying and threatened him with excommunication if Henry didn’t follow his holy advice.
The pope wrote to the disobedient and wayward King of England:
“At the request of the Queen, forbids Henry to remarry until the decision of the case, and declares that if he does all issue will be illegitimate. Forbids any one in England, of ecclesiastical or secular dignity, universities, parliaments, courts of law, &c., to make any decision in an affair the judgment of which is reserved for the Holy See. The whole under pain of excommunication. As Henry would not receive a former citation, this is to be affixed to the church gates of Bruges, Tournay, and other towns in the Low Countries, which will be sufficient promulgation. Rome, 5 Jan. 1531.”
We know the outcome: Henry didn’t follow the pope’s instructions and responded by proclaiming himself Head of Church of England. Henry married Anne Boleyn in secret on 25th January 1533, or, according to other version, on 14th November 1532, immediately after his and Anne’s return from Calais.
On 23rd May 1533, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer annulled Henry’s marriage to Catherine:
“My lord of Canterbury gave sentence this day at 11 o’clock1 in the great cause of matrimony; has declared it to be against the law of God, and has divorced the King from the noble lady Katharine. He has used himself in this matter very honorably, and all who have been sent hither on the King’s behalf have acted diligently and towardly. Sentence shall be given for the King’s second contract of matrimony before the Feast of Pentecost. The process is partly devised. 23 May.”
Some time ago, I also wrote the post about Henry’s excommunication by the pope. The links to this post on my website and on tumblr are here: on my website. You may read this post if you are interested.