THE ACCESSION OF HENRY VIII
It was King Henry VIII who completed what his father had begun. His accession was welcomed by humanist scholars as the beginning of a new Golden Age. In fact, the young king had all the gifts of body and mind that were then thought necessary for a prince: he was a soldier, a poet, a musician, and a good horseman. His allegiance to the Catholic cause against Martin Luther was so strong that he was proclaimed ‘defensor fidei’ by the Pope.
Thing rapidly changed, however, when Pope Clement VII refused to grant Henry a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to give him a male heir, in order to marry Anne Boleyn, a young and wealthy noblewoman
THE REFORMATION AND THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
The king of England then broke with Rome. With the act of Supremacy (1534) the Church of England was declared to be independent and its bishops were subject to the authority of the king, who was formally proclaimed Head of the Church. Beginning with the Reformation, the old and still powerful aristocracy of feudal origin and Catholic sympathies was gradually replaced by a new Protestant aristocracy linked to the Tudors by the purchase of the lands confiscated from the monasteries. Also the mercantile and commercial middle classes tended to favour Protestantism.
HENRY VIII’S VICTIMS
Henry VIII’s policy met with several opponents at home. The most famous was sir Thomas More, the great humanist and the author of Utopia, who was once the king’s chief minister but of the king in ecclesiastical matters and remained faithful to the Church of Rome. For this More was beheaded in 1535. Other illustrious victims of Henry, especially in the last years of his reign, were the young poet and diplomatic the Earl of Surrey, and two of king’s six wives: Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, who were both accused of being unfaithful and were sentenced to death.
RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION UNDER EDWARD VI AND MARY I
The solution reached in Henry’s reign was far from being final or even satisfactory to the majority of Englishmen, as the events of the two short and turbulent following reigns showed. Radical Protestantism was strong under Edward VI (1547-53), the young and sickly son of Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour. This led to a Catholic reaction under Mary I Tudor (1553-58), who was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and the wife of King Philip II of Spain. These two reigns thus witnessed first the persecution of Catholics, then of Protestants: many were put to death. The catholic queen, for her intolerance in religious matters, became popularly known as ‘Bloody Mary’.