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Without a male heir, Henry VIII feared for the stability of the Tudor Dynasty after his death, especially since he was only the second Tudor king. He asked Pope Clement VII for an annulment, or cancellation, of his marriage, claiming that it should never have been allowed. Katherine had been married to Henry’s brother before he died, and Henry argued that his marriage to her was improper. The pope, pressured by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who was also Katherine’s nephew) and unwilling to offend Spain’s Catholics, refused to grant the annulment.
In 1533, Anne Boleyn, the mistress of Henry VIII, became pregnant. Henry VIII divorced Katherine—knowing the pope would object—so he could marry Boleyn, who gave birth to Elizabeth, another female. Pope Clement VII declared Henry and Anne Boleyn’s marriage illegal.
In a show of power as much as it was a religious reform, Henry VIII responded by denouncing the authority of the pope. In November 1534, the English Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, making the king of England the head of the Church of England. England was no longer a Catholic country.
Only three years after they were married, Henry had Anne Boleyn executed for adultery. He later married Jane Seymour, who gave birth to Edward, the son and heir Henry had long sought. Seymour died shortly afterward due to complications from the birth. Henry married three more times (six in total) but had no more children.
Results of the Break with Rome While the Church of England was no longer officially part of the Roman Catholic Church, many people in England remained loyal Catholics. To enforce his power, Henry VIII created more religious reforms. One of these was the Treason Act, which made refusing to recognize the Church of England as the state religion an act of treason. Violating this act was punishable by death. Refusal to recognize Henry as head of the church cost the famous humanist thinker and author (and Henry’s lord chancellor) Sir Thomas More his life in July 1535.
While Henry broke away from the control of the pope, he continued to support most of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1539, the government reaffirmed core Catholic doctrines:
Source: Getty Images
Henry VIII of England was known for his strong will and self-confidence. He was perhaps even better known for beheading two of his six wives.
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