Henry Tudor VIII, King of England, Ireland, Pretender to the French throne, eventual King and uniter of England with Wales, Defender of the Faith, would-be Holy Roman Emperor, was born 28 June 1491. He took his father’s throne on 21 April, 1509, and died 28 January 1547, more-or-less peacefully, and still King of England. In his prime he was a handsome, fit, vigorous sporting man with a healthy wit. Contrary to popular opinion, he was not much of a rake or a lady’s man–unless they were fertile, not too ugly, skilled in childbirth and produced male offspring. The image we most conjure up of him is that of a deteriorated, disturbed, obese, probably syphilitic wreck obsessed almost entirely with providing his throne with a healthy and clear heir. In truth, Henry VIII was probably not syphilitic, and by most standards fairly chaste—with perhaps a couple of exceptions. He mostly had sex only with women he already had in the marriage queue with the intent of bearing him a son.
His plans for an heir were first thwarted in 1502, through his marriage to his older brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, youngest child of Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. You may coincidentally note that a few years earlier in 1492, when Henry was a year old , these two had sent one Christopher Columbus off to discover an island way the heck down off the Coast of South America. For this random landing, Columbus would get credit as the “discoverer” of “America” for the next five or six centuries. We know now of course, that the Norse, and probably Clan Gunn, Norse descendants from Scotland with some undisclosed Swedish shipmates, along possibly with St. Brendan of Ireland, had repeatedly “discovered” North America over a thousand years previously, and actually hung out at Plymouth Rock and other places where God would lead the “Pilgrims” and seekers of religious freedom at the actual start of “America” as we know it. This probably includes portaging up the St. Lawrence into Duluth and roaming down into the prairies of what is now Minnesota, where my own Lutheran ancestors would end up, also looking for religious and political freedom. I don’t know what that means, but when you start linking historical events together in the context of “God’s Divine Providence,” you can make anything fit into God’s master plan.
Henry became the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England, and his father, Henry VII, figured he needed to reaffirm that his Spanish alliance was cinched up in a tight bundle so he could poke away at France in case a chance to take that throne came up in the mix. Henry VII proposed that his new Heir, Henry VIII should step into the void and take young Catherine as his bride.
In the book of Leviticus, however, is the damning passage: “If a brother is to marry the wife of a brother they will remain childless.” This required a Papal dispensation to remove any doubt as to the validity of the union. To aid this scheme, Catherine claimed her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated–which is almost plausible since she was nearly a child and Arthur was in ill health and barely into puberty. (However, I know what I would have been doing at age 15 had I been given a “wife” and told to produce an heir…)
Catherine’s mother, Queen Isabella I, browbeat Pope Julius II into writing a Papal bull. A little more than a year after her husband’s death, Catherine was then betrothed to Henry VIII–who was just taking on secondary sexual characteristics and probably hadn’t had his voice change yet.
By 1505, Henry VII had gotten bored with the intrigues of a Spanish alliance, and Henry VIII had gotten bored with the notion of marrying Catherine for whatever reason. (Probably do to subsequent wistful options.) He claimed the union had been put together without his consent. Stalling and political maneuvering dragged on until his father died in 1509. One stumbling block to the wedding had to do with Henry VII being a frugal old coot, and he was holding back his huge portion of the wedding dowry. Isabella and company then held back on theirs.
On Henry VII’s death, Henry VIII took his old man’s money, his kingdom, took his Spanish dowry on top of it, and followed the political path of least resistance. He married his betrothed Catherine on 11 June, 1509, at the ripe old age of 17. They were crowned King and Queen of England at Westminster Abbey later that month in a huge, multi-national, fairy-tale wedding. This was the first of a lifetime of huge party blowouts Henry VIII was to throw to enhance his image at home and abroad.
Had this arrangement worked out for Henry VIII the English would have almost certainly remained Roman Catholic, and the Scots and Irish would have, for one, been so much the better for it. American history would have been entirely re-written and events in North America, notably the formation of the United States, would have probably gone in radically different directions.
Even without his evolving marriage issues, there were a great number of political and ostensibly religious arguments Henry VIII had with the Roman Pope at the time. He did however go through three Popes on friendly terms before Henry’s fixation on trying to fix his marital problems bottomed out into his eventual heresy and revolution. For one thing, England only got one Cardinal out of 50 to represent itself in Rome. Far lesser countries, Italy, France, Spain, had coach loads of Cardinals. The English Cardinal had no prospect at all of ever becoming Pope. England was doomed eternally to be ruled in many aspects of law and life right out of OF the Vatican. Henry VIII at one point very quietly put out his name as a candidate for the office of Holy Roman Emperor, ostensibly the political leader of the Roman Catholic world. This office was mostly political but required a blessing from the Pope, his cardinals, and all his councilors at the Vatican. This ambition, again, was ultimately without hope. From the standpoint of the Church, the Holy Roman Empire, and the leaders of its European ruling nations, Henry VIII was only the minor king of an isolated, barbaric Island. He only rated one cardinal, and was all but cut off from European society.
There was also the matter of England’s Papal representative, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey himself. Henry VIII’s mode of operation was to exploit the genius of others to his own benefit. From his earliest days as king, Henry VIII allowed Wolsey the post of Lord Chancellor, and he ran most of Henry’s government policy until 1529 when he was arrested, tried under some random, conveniently trumped-up charge, and died mysteriously in custody in 1530. (Probably because Henry didn’t feel at that point he could just behead a cardinal without going to hell.) This remained Henry VIII’s general manner of administration throughout his reign.
Henry was educated, insightful, discerning, and in most ways very wise—just managerially lazy. He had up to this point only tended to stay fixed on any given matter of state for brief periods. He preferred to monitor the work of others in this regard, and if they got in his way or created significant problems for him, there was always some way to get rid of them permanently. Unlike his father, Henry VIII was not frugal at all. He was instead a spendthrift who genuinely appreciated fine art, music, craftsmanship, architecture, and all the things a good civilization can bring a very wealthy man. He entertained all of Europe and created gardens and palaces. He hosted sporting contests and spectacles to overwhelm his high-ranking visitors from abroad. Well into his first marriage he remained a conventional, pious family man and a popular king.
In 1516 Pope Julius II declared a League (union to defeat) between the Holy Roman Empire and France. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_the_League_of_Cambrai Julius II wanted the French out of Italy. The French of course, were all Roman Catholics, and the French cardinals some of the most devoted to the Pope. Politically speaking however, the French controlled most of Italy and the Vatican itself. This had grown stifling and unacceptable to the Holy See.
Henry VIII joined in the fun, but unfortunately had to back out of the fight prematurely. This was not due to a dissatisfaction with the notion of liberating the Pope, or lack of military success. It was because the cost of the adventure and the way Cardinal Wolsey had ruthlessly extorted and bled taxes and coerced “loans” from nobles and peasantry alike had soon led to a revolt at home that Henry had to deal with. The League involvement cost Henry VIII a fortune, gained him nothing but a bit of sport, and made hellacious political strife in his kingdom.
As the years went by, Henry came to see that Cardinal Wolsey manipulated English foreign and domestic policy to benefit Wolsey and Rome first and foremost. England’s foreign policy went back and forth between France, Europe, and all around the various sides of the Holy Roman Empire’s quarrels almost at the cardinal’s will, based mostly upon the concerns of the Vatican. By the time King Henry VIII was personally annoyed with him, Wolsey had centralized the English national government and extended the authority of national courts into all local regions of the kingdom. These were courts which Wolsey then essentially dictated according to his personal desires as well. He ran the original Star Chamber. He compelled the rich, the nobles to make loans to the central government to pay for his Pope’s foreign adventure wars, and became the hated enemy of the wealthy of all classes because of his overtly ostentatious living. Wolsey was running foreign and domestic policy and the English legal system at his own pleasure, under direct supervision of Rome.
Eventually, Wolsey’s tax and other compulsory funding sources were all tapped out, and he had to tell the king the treasury was empty. Wolsey’s presentation went something like this: “Gee Sire, I’ve done my best to manage the budget, but you’ve spent years and years in outrageous, unbridled spending, and we’re going to have to do something serious about raising taxes and other income… “
The king’s reaction went something like this: “Hey, why didn’t you mention this before? And what about all those lands and properties and loot you’ve got there? Seems to me you’re richer than I am at this point! And what do you mean my noble peers and the wealthy merchant classes all hate me because they’ve been bled dry and can’t be asked to pay any more in taxes for fear of another revolt and an attempt to dethrone me? What do you mean your fiscal extravagance and stifling taxation has killed my economy and we are now in a major financial depression? I seem to be really shafted here and you seem to be at fault Your Eminence. Hmmm…what do you think I should do about this problem Cardinal?”
By this time Catherine of Aragon had given Henry VIII a male heir. But the child died soon after birth. She had also given birth to a living heir, Mary Tudor I, AKA “Bloody Mary,” who would be so-tagged when she finally gained the throne and brutally undid all the things Henry VIII had eventually done to break away from the Roman Church. (Reversal and retaliation was one of the main problems with Henry VIII’s self-justifying theories regarding a king’s right to rule by God’s manifest will. But let’s not get too far ahead of the story.)
So, coming into 1529, Henry wasn’t happy with merely a female heir. Only a male heir could secure the Tudor dynasty. No Queen had ever ruled England without her reign ending in war, revolt, split political factions and family disaster. Henry began to insist upon another marriage and ordered Wolsey to free him from Catherine, claiming apparently sincerely, that he was cursed by the prophesy in Leviticus.
Now, not only had Wolsey blown the treasury, but England’s lone-duck cardinal found himself unable to cajole, beg, reason or otherwise extort an annulment out of the Vatican. What had been dispensed with had dispensed with–Leviticus or not. Pope’s don’t back up and have a “re-think.” This time Wolsey had no help from Henry’s powerful in-laws in Spain. The situation drove home just how ineffectual Henry’s crummy little cardinal was and how little influence his throne really had with Rome and Europe.
Henry VIII for the most part was a pious man with a sincere respect for the Church, but only in a schizophrenic sort of way. He also knew damned well that the Pope was little more than just another Italian prince and most of his decisions were just as political has Henry’s own. Henry still felt bound by canon law however, and always put some color of “legality” on every move he made, however warped or asinine it clearly looked to anyone else.
By Wolsey’s end-time, Henry VIII had gone through Pope Julius II and on to Pope Leo X, both good allies. Leo X ironically granted him the title “Defender of the Faith,” for a treatise he authored condemning Martin Luther. After Leo X, Rome blinked and lost a short-lived Pope Adrian I, also a good friend to Henry VIII. As his problems with Catherine of Aragon came to head, Henry was by then dealing with Pope Clement VII. Though Henry VIII was out of it by then, the Papal League against France had gone all askew on the Vatican in the meantime and il Papa was up to his cassock in troubles. Unfortunately for both Henry VIII and Pope Clement VII, the key player in this particular Euro-war drama was the very same Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, formerly of Martin Luther’s little burg, still eagerly making trouble for poor brother Martin and his silly Reformation movement. On the latter the Pope, Charles V and Henry VIII might all agree, but Charles V also happened to be the nephew of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s suddenly unwanted wife. Charles V also happened to be holding the Pope hostage. Literally.
Henry got into the Papal League early on, but only momentarily diddled around in France to strategically tie up French troops there while the Vatican could be liberated. Charles V on the other hand, dropped all his holdings and business in Germany, Netherlands, and elsewhere, relocated to his Spanish holdings and prepared to take Italy from the French directly. So, the Pope owed Henry VIII almost nothing, but The Holy Roman Emperor and the Queen of Spain combined were openly taking the side of Henry’s unwanted wife and daughter. In fact, by the time Henry VIII was earnestly pissed off at Cardinal Wolsey for not winning over the Pope, it was clear to the Holy See, that what he was seeing was Charles V routing out the French occupation all the way into the Pope’s front porch with no apparent intention to stop, or leave afterward.
It also didn’t help Clement II that he hadn’t been very supportive of Charles V’s election as Emperor. Clement II got to thinking perhaps it was going to be payback time for the Pope in St. Peter’s Square sometime soon if the Emperor had a mind to go that far. He diplomatically waffled back to make inquiry’s of the French, asking a truce essentially, and asking if they would help in protecting the Vatican at least from Emperor Charles VII.
Timing is everything. You’d think an infallible head of the Church would see it coming, but just as Clement II’s wavering allegiance had been noted by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor defeated his last stand of enemy ranks and there was nothing but open, undefended travel between himself and the Vatican.
The assault on Rome took place on 6 May, 1527, ostensibly due to a demand Charles V had made for a personal audience with the Pope. Clement II either refused or did not reply and instead, holed up with the Swiss Guard and the armies of his various cardinals. (Yes, cardinals had personal armies as did the Pope.) The story goes that Charles V’s weary troops decided to storm the imposing, heavily defended Vatican walls and secure an audience for their Emperor with or without Papal consent. They were led by a fine officer and gentleman, one Duke Charles. The Duke as usual, wore his customary bright white uniform to mark himself in the battle for his men. It also made him an easy target. He was rather quickly shot and killed. Philbert of Chalon took command of the Imperial troops. He was not much of an officer, nor was he a gentleman, but he was about all that was left of a ragged and battle-torn Imperial officer corps.
Charles V’s troops had arrived at the Vatican gates after much fighting on the Pope’s behalf, only to be snubbed by the Pope and actually find he’d been making deals with the very French they’d been called in to drive out. The Imperial troops were thus pretty irritated by the time they made it inside the Holy City. Almost the entire Swiss guard was slaughtered on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. A thousand other defenders of the Holy See who’d survived the invasion initially, were soon brutally executed in the square. Pope Clement VII had escaped to safety however. History does not record whether or not he was thinking very much about Cardinal Wolsey’s great legal arguments, or concerning himself at all with Henry VIII’s “Great Matter.”
On May 8, Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, a personal enemy of Clement VII, trotted into Vatican City, thinking he’d join in the victory and get some revenge directed at the cardinals and the Pope himself. The Vatican’s armies had recently been sent to perform the sacking of his own lands and properties do to some politically inspired Papal orders. When Colonna got inside however, Colonna was so sickened by the ongoing pillage, rape and plunder that he hid out in his palace with his contingent of a peasant army, protected himself and guests, hosting Roman citizens as they fled the carnage and horror outside his walls.
After three days of mayhem, Philibert ordered his troops to cease sacking activities of any and all sorts. Very few of the soldiery even listened to him. Troops loyal to the Pope arrived from various supporters in Italy, but apparently weren’t very enthusiastic about their Papal defense, because they had no luck overcoming the entirely drunken and disorganized Imperial invaders of the Vatican. Instead, they brokered a deal on 6 June, in which Clement VII surrendered and agreed to pay a very large ransom in exchange for his life. He was forced to concede several important lands and properties to the Holy Roman Empire, meaning Charles V.
This bungling of Clement VII killed the Roman Renaissance, seriously weakened the Papacy’s worldwide image of omnipotence, and untied Charles V‘s hands to stifle the Reformation in Germany—particularly via bringing political, financial, and threatened military force against the German princes allied with Luther. It was a bit embarrassing religiously for the Holy Roman Emperor to have taken the Pope prisoner and held him hostage, but politically it worked out swell for Charles V.
About the sack of Rome, Martin Luther remarked:
“Christ reigns in such a way that the Emperor who persecutes Luther for the Pope is forced to destroy the Pope for Luther” (LW 49:169).
And so it came to be, In the context of all this Holy Roman lunacy and all of England’s domestic problems, that the former autocratic friend and confidant to King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, was arrested and suffered a mysterious death in custody. This not only made Wolsey’s domestic critics happy and deflected blame from the king, but it was a warning to the Pope and to the Roman clergy of England regarding the likely outcome of disagreeing with the king’s desires particularly in “The King’s Great Matter.”
With Wolsey gone, Henry VIII took complete control of everything that went on in his court and kingdom. He chose mostly however, to ignore most of the political squabbles or daily civil matters of ruling his government, and instead pressured and begged one Christian authority after the other for some acceptable way out of his marriage.
One of the solutions to Henry VIII’s problem–speaking of Mormons–was suggested by numerous sources: Divorce may be prohibited Biblically, but there is no such prohibition in the Bible against taking another wife in addition to the one he was having offspring problems with. In fact, his advisors suggested that another wife was the usual Biblical solution to this very issue of getting issue. Furthermore, to make any claim of God’s condemnation of this custom would be to damn all the ancient prophets as adulterers, fornicators or whoremongers. The Old Testament treated this solution as a matter of course and there was nothing in the New Testament that contradicted it. In fact the New Testament genealogy of Christ Himself made Jesus of Nazareth merely a bastard pretender without a valid principle of plural marriage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygamy_in_Christianity#Reformation_period
Martin Luther in his examination of the issue wrote:
“I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.”
That was just a bit radical for the king’s thinking. It would create diplomatic difficulties with other nations who observed the Roman custom of taking only one fiscally, or politically arranged wife, and then having sex for love or just sex’s sake alone with anyone or anything you wanted in addition to it. (The Roman custom left clear heirs and made stronger unions between royal houses so fewer assassinations would be encouraged.)
For all the brutality to his nemeses, and his historically exaggerated fits of temper, Henry VIII was indeed an enlightened, Roman Catholic man. Beyond his self-delusional end-runs around canon law, he was upright and sensitive to the mood of commoners and nobles alike. He understood the nature of how an economy works, and led a fundamental Tudor revolution in English government structure. Thomas Cromwell is often credited as being the actual driving force behind this movement, but Henry, as I say, was very comfortable with turning the reins of his kingdom over to highly competent, highly principled and reasoned delegates–until of course he found they were failing him or heading him in a direction he didn’t want to go.
(Thomas Cromwell is not to be confused with a later Oliver Cromwell, Thomas’ nominal relative by way of a sister. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Cromwell Oliver was an evil, Calvinist, regicidal bastard and genocidal mass murderer, who violently re-did the viciously brutal un-doing of her father’s reformed Church that Bloody Mary had just thuggishly un-doodled.)
Thomas Cromwell may have been one of the authors of the “king rules by divine right” theory, but he had also conceived of a British commonwealth that included common participation through Parliament. He did not propose that the king surrendered any authority to houses either of commoners or peers in a house of nobles or lords. He explained the arrangement as using this consent of the common man and the noble man as a way to consolidate the king’s power by popular consent.
Thomas Cromwell drifted into Henry VIII’s chief ministership in 1532. It was a symbiotic gravitation toward reform both of government and religion—both of which went to the heart of the king’s “Great Matter.” After a time of functioning like a noble with the very authority of the king himself minus any titles at all, Henry VIII formally appointed him Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Rolls, Secretary and Lord Privy Seal, and then on to Lord Great Chamberlain over the king’s household. Though I’m ahead of the story a bit here, he was also granted very high supervisory roles in the Church in England, that were well above his common caste and layman status.
One of the first things Thomas Cromwell helped get out of the harried Pope Clement II, is approval to appoint a sympathetic cleric to the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest Church authority in England–for that moment anyway. Thomas Cranmer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cranmer it was believed had assured Henry and Cromwell that he would have no trouble entertaining any arguments they might make for the annulment of his marriage or divorce of his wife. Cranmer had been in fact previously requested an assignment from the crown to take a religious canvass of Church scholars all over Europe seeking insight on the king’s “Great Matter.” Oddly enough, this led Cranmer to traipsing about with the realm of Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who, while kidnapping the Pope, was also hunting down Lutherans and the very Reformers Cranmer and team were trying to interview.
Thomas More at that moment was Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain. They were all still Roman Catholics mind you, but he too was keen to make this universal Christian scholastic canvas, to take some heat off his own backside. More you may know was a very famous Roman Catholic martyr, who was tortured to death later by Henry VIII because he would not openly acknowledge Henry’s universal authority over the Church in England. While the traditional story is best known via Hollywood’s finest Roman Catholic directors, Thomas More merely suffered the same agonizing death he’d enthusiastically inflicted upon a great many others when he was in a position to make the religious charges against his rivals. More’s deadly removal opened up the post of Lord Chancellor so that the king’s new pal, Thomas Cromwell could take it.
While in Europe’s religious academic centers, Thomas Cranmer discovered in person this thing called “Reformers,” including whole civilizations built on the ideas of Martin Luther. Cranmer found their theories very promising and had many lengthy conversations with them centered upon scripture and Church tradition. While in this process of fraternizing with heretics, Thomas Cromwell and King Henry were selling Cranmer to Clement II. The Pope had no idea what Cranmer’s travels or studies were about. Therefore, being imprisoned and besieged with his own problems, seeing no obvious objections, Clement VII threw Henry VIII a bone and approved of Cranmer’s elevation to Archbishop.
In and out of the Church, Cromwell made many enemies of the rich and noble for rising too quickly above them in the king’s court. Though Cranmer was on his side, the rest of the Church in particular had serious cause to dislike him. What was really going on under the Roman Church’s nose between Cromwell, Cranmer, and their new friend the king, was the English Reformation.
In the parliamentary sessions of 1532, Cromwell had his first go as Chief Minister. He pushed through measures that cut off the main sources of Papal revenue, transferred all Church income to the king, and gave the Church’s legislative powers back to the crown as well. In short, all lands, titles, property and authority was removed from the Church and transferred to the king. The following year he passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals which cut off English legal appeal to Rome—which incidentally meant the English Church could grant an annulment for example, just coincidentally, on its own authority, and nobody could whine to the Vatican about its validity:
Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles, it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one Supreme Head and King having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial Crown of the same, unto whom a body politic compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience.
Cromwell used the label “Empire” for England in an innovative manner. Henry VIII was not like a “Holy Roman Emperor.” That was an elected office. Or, an emperor could also claim that title by ruling more than one kingdom. Cromwell’s Act declared England to be an Empire on its own, free from “the authority of any foreign potentates.” England thus declared itself an independent sovereign nation-state no longer under the jurisdiction of the Pope.
Edward Foxe, Cranwell’s close friend had actually coordinated their “Great Matter” research expedition, and their team published Collectanea Satis Copiosa , The Determinations, which gave historical and theological support for the argument that the king exercised supreme jurisdiction within his realm. This didn’t directly make an argument on the annulment issue of course, but it removed Clement II from the debate along with any future Pope, and satisfied themselves at least that they weren’t going to go to hell by telling the Pope to butt out of English life, law, and religion.
Cromwell and Cranmer crafted a very smooth but revolutionary system of events. Archbishop Warham the sitting Archbishop of Canterbury, died in August, 1532. Cranmer was appointed his successor. Cranmer had a few alleged problems like a wife and a few other things, but Clement II was literally the prisoner of Charles V at the time, he had no idea what was coming, and it seemed like it would shut England up for a while. Clement VII signed all the appropriate wavers. On 25 January, 1533, before Cranmer had been consecrated to his post, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his next victim–er–wife, were married by Cranmer in a quiet ceremony. On 15 April 1533, Cranmer received his consecration and officially took his post as Archbishop of Canterbury. On 23 May, parliament, having already forbidden any appeals to Rome on pain of death, declared Henry to be supreme authority in both Church and State. Cranmer pronounced Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon invalid and she was sent packing. On 28 May, Cranmer declared Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn valid. On 1June Anne was crowned. On 7 September Anne gave birth to a daughter. (Queen Elizabeth I in the future.) On 11 July 1533, Clement II issued a Bull of excommunication against Henry VIII, King of England, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. This was ignored.
While Cromwell had led the argument to make Henry VIII the head of the English Church. (This was effected by the Act of Supremacy of 1534.) Henry VIII almost immediately delegated the Church powers he thus gained, to Cromwell, making him the new “Vice Regent in Spirituals.” Cromwell then presided over the Dissolution of the Monasteries which began in the winter if 1536. His title morphed into a higher position, Vicar General. This gave him power as the highest judge in all ecclesiastical matters and created himself as a single unifying institution over the then two divisions or provinces of the English Church (Canterbury and York.) For Cranmer’s part, he did not seem to resent this encroachment and looked upon Cromwell as a junior partner and quite the Church scholar. Plus, Cromwell did most of the hard work and Cranmer could keep his head down and out of the politics.
Cromwell created a professional caste of bureaucrats and made the tax system more efficient. He was the architect of the unification of English and Welsh laws, and strengthened the English government of Ireland. He became a patron of English intellectual humanists (not godless secular humanists, but godly clerical humanists) that Cromwell rallied in his promotion of the English Reformation through print, using the printing press as a new communication and teaching tool in a major way for the first time in England.
Thomas Cromwell probably crossed the line with his antagonists both in court and amongst the commoners, when he was created Baron Cromwell on 9 July, 1536, became 300th Knight of the Garter in 1537, and Earl of Essex on 17 April 1540. The peasants thought of him as one of their own…lording it over them. And the lords thought of him as a peasant…lording it over them. Roman Catholics, who had many secret loyalists in court and around the kingdom still, wanted him dead, as did all the Monks and Holy Orders he broke up and seized. The peasants these Church institutions had been feeding and healing and caring for all those centuries, now deprived of any support at all, really really hated him. A popular revolt in fact, ensued after the dissolution of the Monasteries. Very large peasant and middle-class armies were raised and even nobles seemed sympathetic. After much violence, Henry VIII coaxed some 300 representatives of the various unhappy factions into coming down for a meeting of truce and settlement. True to his nature, as they stood in the the meeting, he had them all arrested and killed in grisly ways as a warning to others with similar plans to impede the resolution of his “Great Matter.” There were no further “popular” insurrections under Henry VIII.
I might as well mention that Henry the Eighth had six wives (as if anyone would not know this) and all of these fated marriages followed a fairly common trail way off the happy path to marital bliss, into a hellish home life ending in misery and death. (But then who’s marriage doesn’t eh guys?) He made truce with some, banished some after annulment, those he couldn’t annul, he just killed. When his second try at marriage failed for instance, and Anne Boleyn turned into a shrew he didn’t much like any more, this only accentuated the fact that she couldn’t produce a proper son either. Cromwell, with very little coaxing, supported Henry VIII in disposing of Anne Boleyn and replacing her with Jane Seymour. He engineered charges of treason and had Boleyn’s head chopped off. Seymour died giving birth to the future Edward VI and she was never crowned.
Though he’d gotten his heir, Henry was bored as a single man and so was counseled by Cromwell to marry Anne of Cleves, a princess from the Duchy of Cleves, which is an area in Lutheran Germany. This was arranged sight-unseen upon the word of trusted proponents such as Cromwell. In this coupling, Cromwell hoped to put the English Reformation ball back in play, since he’d just met with a fiasco concerning the publication of the Six Articles.
The Six Articles effort was intended as a new statement of faith cooked up between he and Archbishop Cranmer and some German scholarly supporters they’d invited to England for a convention lasting seven months. In this they painstakingly drafted up six basic beliefs to be proposed for the Anglican Church, centering around Luther’s Confession of Augsburg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augsburg_Confession They were met with staunch resistance from English clerics who wanted to part with Rome alright, but desired to join with the Greek Church, or Eastern Orthodox as it is now called, rather than the upstart Lutherans. Henry VIII was himself still leery of Lutheran ideas, particularly the whole democratic nature of “voting” on things , like the commoners choosing their own beliefs and clergy. Cranmer and Cromwell’s Six Articles went to parliament, and the combined English religious and secular parliamentarians entirely re-wrote the Six Articles into six articles exactly like their Roman Catholic equivalents, under the same title, Six Articles. This was approved unanimously. Henry VIII later wrote The King’s Book defending most of Roman Catholic dogma, including transubstantiation and the Six Articles.
Cranmer did however, eventually start authoring a specific set of uniquely English Church beliefs that were eventually very well received, including his Book of Common Prayer, his 10 Articles, and his 42 Articles, under Edward VII, which tried to be a complete expression of the official faith of the Church of England, and others. Thomas Cranmer was tortured into a retraction of his Reformationist beliefs under the revenge-driven Roman Catholic Mary I, but when released he gradually went back to speaking his true conscience and was executed for it.
When Mary I died at the age of 42 in an angst-filled depression of hysterical pregnancies and other psychotic breaks, her half-sister, the staunchly anti-Catholic Elizabeth I took the throne and published the 39 Articles (of faith) most Mormons think are so relevant to themselves. They aren’t. These primarily distinguish the relationship between the English Church and the Roman Church—having been written after a lot of turmoil and bloodshed to finally settle the whole English/Roman feud. Elizabeth’s 39 Articles most clearly illustrate how the Church of England has chosen to pursue a path of least resistance between its Roman Catholic roots and the Protestant and Reformationist soil in which it first grew.
But again, back in Henry’s time almost no changes were made from Roman Catholic canon or dogma and even his contrived divorces and annulments, his formation of an independent Church State, were all painted in the tones of One Catholic and Universal Church. Even Protestant Reformers, particularly those openly questioning his marital habits, were persecuted under his rule, including the famous John Wycliffe. Henry VIII never even embraced Luther’s whole thesis that the Pope, or certainly the greater Church structure of professional clergy, was invalid. He just side-stepped the issue.
Any hope of actual “Protestant” or “Reformation” activities in Henry VIII’s reign came to a sudden halt when Thomas Cromwell’s Anne of Cleves recommendation became an embarrassing debacle. King Henry finally, frustratedly, mentioned to Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage, did not care to, and asked if Cromwell could get him out of it legally somehow. His reasons seemed centered upon her crude, repulsive, Germanness. Historical evidence and testimony don’t confirm that she was particularly unattractive however. In any case, Henry apparently felt awkwardly if not perilously stuck in the marriage even if a legal means could be concocted to escape it. It represented an invaluable union with the wealthy and powerful German Protestant Princes, nobles, and merchant classes, who Henry VIII could not afford to insult. They kept Charles V and the Holy Roman Empire at bay. Now that England was a heretical kingdom this was a big consideration. Luckily, knowing which way the wind blew between herself and the king, Cleves confessed that the marriage had never been consummated and Henry gave her money and Anne Boleyn’s old manor house to live quietly out her days away from court.
Cromwell’s opponents, notably the Duke of Norfolk took this moment of Henry’s angst to poison the king’s mind against Cromwell. It’s not entirely certain why Henry went along with Cromwell’s opponents in the court, but on 10 June 1540, Thomas Cromwell was dragged out of a council meeting and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained under a sort of protection by Henry VIII, until his marriage to Anne of Cleves could be wrangled into an annulment without another European war breaking out. This came at great cost politically, financially, and lowered the world prestige of England and King Henry VIII.
Cromwell was executed on Tower Hill 28 July, 1540, essentially as Henry VIII went happily on his way to marry Catherine Howard. Cromwell’s head was boiled and placed on a spike on London Bridge, facing away from the city.
About eight months later, Henry VIII had become wracked with grief and accused his ministers of making false accusations against Cromwell. He bemoaned Cromwell’s execution till the day he died. Edward Hall, a chronicler in the day, recorded this about Cromwell’s downfall:
Many lamented but more rejoiced, and specially such as either had been religious men, or favored religious persons; for they banqueted and triumphed together that night, many wishing that that day had been seven year before; and some fearing lest he should escape, although he were imprisoned, could not be merry. Others who knew nothing but truth by him both lamented him and heartily prayed for him. But this is true that of certain of the clergy he was detestably hated, & specially of such as had borne swynge, and by his means was put from it; for in dead he was a man that in all his doings seemed not to favour any kind of Popery, nor could not abide the snoffyng pride of some prelates, which undoubtedly, whatsoever else was the cause of his death, did shorten his life and procured the end that he was brought unto.
Catherine Howard, who Henry VIII called his, “rose without a thorn,” was executed a couple of years later allegedly for adultery, which, in her position of Queen of England, was treason.
I suppose this chapter of Christianity’s development should have been about Thomas Cromwell. Or Thomas Cranmer. But Henry VIII wore the crown, and history gives him all the glory. He did, after all, create the first protestant Nation-State, even if it was little more than Roman Catholicism with an English brand on it’s flank, and an English king wearing the Pope’s hat.