AL Qazzaly Mohamed: 04/12/2017
Henry VIII is notorious for having married six different women; however, what is more remarkable, is the legacy he bequeathed to not only his heir but also the whole of England centuries later in terms of religion. The Great Reformation was a movement whereby the Church of England would theologically separate from the Pope in Rome due to the fact King Henry wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon. In Catholicism, divorces are not permitted, so the King had to find an alternative method of obtaining this divorce in order to marry Anne Boleyn. It’s ironic that in 1521 the King was described as “the defender of the faith” by the Pope only to then betray this statement by joining a different faction of Christianity.
Henry decided to take full advantage of the Lutheran movement which was sweeping Europe at the time: he acknowledged the advantages of adopting what we now know as Protestantism. This was clearly illustrated when Henry implemented the Act of Succession in 1534 which stated that he was the leader of the Church of England instead of the Pope. At this point Henry not only achieved the divorce he so desperately wanted, he was also able to exploit these new laws by obtaining even more power and money. This was particularly evident by the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 as a substantial amount of money was gained from ownership of land. However, it has constantly been debated whether the Great Reformation was actually religious or whether Henry simply used religion as a means of completing his objectives. The fact that he requested for prayers to be sent to him when he died, which is a Catholic practice and also very anti-Protestant, suggests that the King was still truly Catholic in terms of his belief in spite of all the physical changes he made to the structure of society. What’s even more confusing is that Henry chose a Protestant regency council for his son Prince Edward, indicating that he wanted this movement to continue even after his death.
Although, King Edward VI’s reign ended prematurely because of illness, major religious changes occurred within that period. Compared to Henry VIII’s era, the implementation of Protestant policies were much more assertive, particularly when the Duke of Northumberland John Dudley rose to power. As the Second Book of Common Prayer (made in 1552) was applied, there was a significant increase in Protestant sermons being read out and although many people disagreed with these views, it was surprisingly, largely uncontested as the contemporaries simply adopted these new policies.
It’s clear that Protestantism has stood the test of time and the current Church of England is a symbol of this outcome. Although Henry’s motives were somewhat ambiguous, the impact of his policies on the generations that followed are indisputable, showing how even a mere desire for a divorce can lead to the alteration of the religion of a whole country.