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King Henry VIII

Henry VIII is mainly remembered for the break with Rome. The reasons for this were not essentially religious, but economic, political and personal. The king needed money: he had established a magnificient court on the Renaissance model which cost enormous sums, and was well aware that the church owned large estates, and the monasteries container real treasures in gold and silver metalwork, jewellery and libraries. In addition, people had to pay taxes to the Church, thus reducing the Crown’s own incombe. Moreover, the power of the Church in England was great, and was not subject to the authority of the king. Finally, he wanted the Pope to annul his marriage in order to be able to marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope, who needed the support of Charles V against the Lutherans in Germany, denied the request and Henry with the support of the Parliament, proclaimed himself the Head of the church of England (Act of Supremacy, 1534). Several acts of Parliament were passed to define the legislative aspects of this important step; one of them, the Treasure Act, charged with high treason those who denied the king’s supremacy, and it was in name of this act that Henry sent his chancellor Thomas More to his death in 1535.

The monasteries were dissolved; the king annexed their estates and soon began to sell their lands and valuable items to the nobles. The dissolution of the monasteries led to real vandalism, because many fine building were demolished, jewels and precious objects were melted down, and libraries were sacked. The king suppressed shrines which attracted pilgrims, like that of Thomas Becket at Canterbury.
The king married six times; his first wife, Catherine of Argon, gave him a daughter, Mary; Anne Boelyn gave birth to Elizabeth, and it was only the third of his wives who gave him a male heir, Edward, who succeded him but died after a few years. Then Mary became queen; she tried to restore Catholicism and harshly persecuted Protestants (nearly three hundred of them were burnt at the stake), thus creating a deep-rooted, fierced hatred of Roman Catholicism amongst the English.

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