The Marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon – Questioning the Church in England

The Marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

In 1525 the alliance between Henry VIII’s England and Charles V’s Holy Roman Empire had deteriorated. Charles refused Henry’s daughter’s hand in marriage (because there was no dowry due to Henry exhausting the Treasury) and Henry wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, who was the aunt of Charles. Catherine and Henry’s first child, a daughter, would not be allowed to take the throne in the event of Henry’s death. Henry wanted a son to succeed him instead of the daughter, Mary. Despite this, the following pregnancies of Catherine and Henry resulted in still birth or miscarriage, leaving Mary to be the successor of the throne. This would be drastically against the so-called “Great Chain of Being”, which placed men ahead of women. Henry believed that Mary would be too weak to be king (ironically, he himself arguably was), and in 1525 Henry gave Henry Fitzroy, his illegitimate son, the title of Duke of Richmond. He was looking for a male successor.

Catherine was the widow of his brother, paving the way for their own marriage. Because of this, Henry was worried about his stand with the Church, as the scripture of the Torah prohibited sleeping and marriage of one’s brother’s wife. Anne Boleyn did not help the situation, as Henry was married to his brother’s widow and had an illegitimate son, and had feelings for other women. Henry originally had an affair with the older sister of Anne, but in 1526 Henry wanted to see Anne Boleyn instead. Henry did not want to impregnate what he considered his future wife. Anne had her own aspirations to be his wife and, therefore, the Queen of England. To do this, Henry would need a divorce or otherwise eliminate Catherine.

Henry ordered his chief adviser, Cardinal Wolsey, to begin the proceedings that would allow Henry to divorce Catherine. Instead of considering the proceedings a “divorce”, they instead used the term “annulment”, as divorce was prohibited by the Catholic Church in Italy, though they often made exceptions for high profile marriages. Henry’s sister had been married to Charles V until 1514. In 1527 Cardinal Wolsey was told to determine that the marriage between Catherine and Henry was invalid so that the annulment of the marriage would be justified. Catherine found out about the plans, which were to be a secret, and sent word to both the pope and Charles V, who opposed the divorce. More importantly, the armies of Charles had sacked Rome and taken prisoner the pope.

In 1528 the French, who Henry switched to side with against the Holy Roman Empire, began against Charles. Charles set out to make sure that the divorce between his aunt and the King of England did not take place. Cardinal Compeggio was named to block this divorce on behalf of Charles. Catherine appeared at the court to plead her case, which included denying sleeping with her first husband so that her marriage with Henry was not invalid. The court broke and would not meet again, leaving Henry and Catherine married. Wolsey, unable to successfully argue the case of divorce, lost favor with Henry VIII. Henry believed the Cardinal betrayed his loyalty to the crown, and was charged with treason. Wolsey died before standing trial in 1530. This treason and death of Wolsey divided the English court and the nobles between those who supported the Queen, those who supported Anne Boleyn and wanted to see divorce, and the ones in between. As for Henry, he called together the members of Parliament in order to talk about the state of the Catholic Church in England. Truly interesting story we found here about English history fragments.