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The Act of Supremacy was an Act of the Parliament of England under the reign of the
king Henry VIII (1!1"1#$%& It proclaimed the king Supreme Head of the 'hurch in England(
after the Pope e)communicated him in 1#** o+er his di+orce from 'atherine Aragon (1,#"
1#*-%& Since then( the Pope had no right to command the .ing of England& The nation was a
so+ereign realm( su/0ect to no other state or authority& 1either the Pope nor the Holy 2oman
Emperor had the power to in+ol+e in the England3s laws& The monarch was now gi+en the right
to appoint his own arch/ishop and /ishops and persecuted heresy& It was also considered a
crime to refuse to acknowledge Henry as head of the 'hurch or to oppose to the succession line&
According to the Act( the Parliament intention was not granting the .ing the title( /ut it was stated
as a recogni4ed fact instead&
It supported the right to teach doctrine and reform the 'hurch( /ut not the right to preach( ordain
or administer the sacraments and rites of the 'hurch& It was known as potestas ordinis and was
held /y the clergy& The .ing argued that he was defending the ancient rights of the secular
power( which the Papacy had taken o+er in the course of the centuries& The title was dropped /y
5ary I (1##*% and altered to that Supreme 6o+ernor /y Eli4a/eth I (1##!%( /oth Henry VIII3s
daughters( which it remains to this days&
7uring se+eral years( Henry VIII had tried without any +alid result to get a di+orce from his
consort( 'atherine of Aragon& The reason was +ery simple /ut essential one8 the lack of a male
heir to succeed him on the throne& 9esides( the so+ereign had another hidden interest in the
matter: he had fallen in lo+e with one of 'atherine Aragon3s ladies in waiting( whose name was
Anne 9oleyn (1#;1<;$"1#*-%&
7espite all the efforts to concei+e a child( almost of all 'atherine3s pregnancies ended in
miscarriages( still/orn /a/ies and a one li+ing son( /orn in 1#11( who only sur+i+ed #= days& >n
the other hand( the ?ueen ga+e /irth to a healthy /a/y girl in 1#1- named 5ary( who was the
only offspring to reach adulthood& Although( it wasn@t enough to fulfill the king 3s most precious
desire& A girl meant nothing to him: he needed desperately an heir to continue the Tudor
7ynasty& 9y 1#=-( when 'atherine reached the age of forty( it was clear that Henry would not
ha+e a son& >n the other hand( one of his mistresses( 9essie 9lount( /ore him a /astard son in
1#1!( Henry Ait4roy& Henry created the /oy Earl of 1ottingham( 7uke of 2ichmond and
Somerset( and granted his son se+eral important posts including Bord High Admiral of England(
when 2ichmond was only si) years old( in 1#=#& 9ut( he was a illegitimate son( it could /e useful
as diplomatic tool( though there was no way to put him on the throne&
'atherine was married first to prince Arthur( Henry VIII 3s elder /rother& The union cele/rated in
1#;1 only had lasted a few months& Cnfortunately( the Prince of Dales suddenly died& The cause
is unknown /ut could ha+e /een consumption or perhaps the most common disease in that time8
The ESweating SicknessF( which was compara/le to the E9lack 7eathF& Henry VII and his consort(
Eli4a/eth of Gork( were de+astated&
The young EInfantaF of Spain( then a poor widow( had remained in England( almost li+ing in
po+erty( waiting for an agreement a/out the dowry /etween her father( Aerdinand of Aragon( and
her mean father"in"law Henry VII& She alleged that the marriage had ne+er /een consummated(
in short( she was still a +irgin& Henry VIIHs second son( Prince Henry( duke of Gork( was
proclaimed the new heir to the throne( and when his father died( he announced his /etrothal with
'atherine& Ainally( they were married on 11 Iune 1#;!& Their splendid coronation took place a
few days later( on = Iune&
Dhy had 6od not permitted his sons to li+eJ He was wandering if this union was really legal
according to 6od3s will& 6od pro/a/ly was punishing him for marring his /rother 3s widow& The
source of this statement he had found in the 9i/le( specifically in Be+iticus =;( =18 "If a man
marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity. He has violated his brother, and the guilty
couple will remain childless. He couldn3t li+e in that difficult situation anymore( his guilt
conscious was killing him& So( Henry VIII declared that he was li+ing in sin& E+en though he was
.ing of England( he would /e under a curse until he was rid of 'atherine of Aragon& Aor the good
of the nation he was o/liged to seek an annulment at once&
Ironically( a few years /efore( Henry wrote a treatise denouncing 5artin Buther3s 2eformist
ideals( called The Assertion of the even acraments. It is /elie+ed that Thomas 5ore was
in+ol+ed in the composition of the piece& It was dedicated to Pope Beo K( who decided to confer
the distinguished title of E!efender of the "aith on .ing Henry in >cto/er 1#=1& >/+iously( it was
not a coincidence that in 1#1, the monarch started to write that response to 5artin Buther3s
attack& If we re+iew the facts carefully( we reali4e that in the same year 'atherine of Aragon
/ecame pregnant with what seems to ha+e /een her last conception&
Take e+erything into account: Henry3s support to the Cni+ersal 'atholic 'hurch had an import
aim& The king surely +iewed his winning of the Papal title as another piece of e+idence to answer
to the ?uestion of why 6od had not permitted his infant sons to li+e& He was trying to pro+e
himself that was not his fault a/out the lack of male heirs and /eyond dou/t not a punishment for
his sins& Therefore( he was attempting to achie+e a fa+ored position with 6od in order to merit a
di+ine /lessing in the form of the /irth of a sur+i+ing son&
In these desperately circumstances was when Henry noticed the presence of Bady Anne 9oleyn
at court& 9ut( who was this stunning woman capa/le to steal the king3s heartJ Henry seems to
ha+e /een attracted to her from 1#=# or 1#=-: in one of his letters he says that was Estruck with
the dart of lo+eF for Anne for o+er a year& 9y 1#=$( she finally accepted to marry him&
The ne)t step was to ask the Pope an annulment& The cardinal Dolsey entered into negotiations
with 'lement VII to reach his so+ereign3s aim( /ut it was a +ain attempt& The Pope refused to
gi+e the di+orce& The emperor 'harles V was the most powerful force in Europe and 'atherine
Aragon3s nephew: howe+er( one of the special reasons which had induced the Pope to deny it
was the recent ESack of 2omeF( occurred in 1#=$( which would mean that the pontiff was in
'harles hands&
Anne 9oleyn was in certain way the initiator of the Protestant religion in England& She was not
only the charming and +i+acious mistress who Henry VIII was totally /esotted with( /ut also a
strong supporter of the 2eform& She persuaded Henry to read a lot of for/idden /ooks which her
supporters had /rought her from Arance& >ne of them was The #bedience of a $hristian %an /y
Dilliam Tyndale( pu/lished in 1#=,& It would /e +ery interesting to present some passages of this
great work that influenced England religion conte)t in the first part of the si)teen century8
The &ing is in the room of 'od in this world. He that resists the (ing, resists 'od) he that *udges
'od. He is the minister of 'od to defend thee+ ,et-s (ings, if they had rather be $hristians in
deed that so to be called, give themselves altogether to the well.being of their realms after the
e/ample of 0esus $hrist, remembering that the people are 'od-s, and not theirs) ye) are $hrist-s
inheritance, bought with His blood.
The most despised person in his realm 1if he is a $hristian2 is e3ual with him in the (ingdom of
'od and of $hrist. ,et the (ing put off all pride, and become a brother to the poorest of his
'onse?uently( .ings must speak directly to 6od& They had not to o/ey anyone else& According
to Tyndale( the Pope had usurped the authority of 'hrist and 6od3s Dord&
>n Ianuary =#( 1#**( Henry VIII married Anne 9oleyn while he was still married to 'atherine of
Aragon& Thomas 'rammer( his newly appointed arch/ishop of 'anter/ury( pronounced on =*
5ay 1#** that Henry 3s marriage with 'atherine was +oid& The Pope e)communicated him& In
1#*( Henry announced the Act of Supremacy& Henceforth( he was considered a modern +ersion
of the .ing 7a+id or Salomon who must take care of his su/0ects&
9y 11 Septem/er 1#**( Anne 9oleyn had gi+en /irth to a girl( the future Eli4a/eth I(
ne+ertheless( she was not the e)pected male heir& The king was +ery disappointed& In 1#*-( she
was arrested( tried and found guilty of treason (including adultery with many men% and e)ecuted&
Surely( she was an innocent woman( +ictim of a tyrant king& >n *; 5ay( ele+en days after Anne
3s e)ecution( Henry married Iane Seymour& She would finally make the king a happy man& In
1#*$( Edward( the future Edward VI( was /orn&
It would /e interesting to e)amine some part of the Act of Supremacy Aor instance( we present
this passage8
LMN (ings of this realm, shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress,
redress, record, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offenses,
contempts and enormities, whatsoever they be LMN
To 0ustify this statement( we can show as e)ample the dissolution of the monasteries and sei4ure
of 'hurch properties /y the state& In 1#*# Henry VIII ordered 'romwell the closing down of
2oman 'atholic A//eys( monasteries and co+ents across England& They found in the
monasteries some irregularities( frauds and false relics( which was the case of the holy /lood of
Hailes( which was actually duck3s /lood&
Another hidden point was to fund money to support military campaigns against Arance and
Scotland& E+idently( the king spent so much of the church fortune to support war& In >cto/er
1#*-( there was an important re/ellion against the dissolution of monasteries led /y 2o/ert
Aske& It was called EThe Pilgrimage of 6raceF&
Therefore( .ing Henry was an a/solute monarch who pretended to 0ustify his actions /ased on
his false guilt conscious& Dhen he alleged that his marriage with 'atherine Aragon was not +alid
at all( it was only to satisfy his infatuation to Anne 9oleyn& In fact( he was tired of his first wife&
Howe+er( he needed desperately a male to succeed him on the throne& The lack of a son made
him a misera/le man& He would do e+erything to get his goal& In short( to /reak with 2ome was
one the conse?uences&
Bray, Gerald Lewis: Documents of the English Reformation, Library of Ecclesiastical History, Cambridge,
Denny, oanna: !nne Boleyn: A new life of Englands tragic Queen, "ortrait Boo#s, London, $%%&.
Hart, 'elly: The Mistresses of Henry VIII, ()e History "ress, Glo*cesters)ire, $%%9.
+,es, Eric: Anne Boleyn, Basil Blac#well, -.ford, 19//.
0arnic#e, 1et)a 2.: The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn family !olitics at court of Henry VIII" Canto,
Cambrige 3ni,ersity "ress, 1994.