At the young age of 18, King Henry VIII became the richest man in the world and the sole ruler of England. He was rashly decisive and known for his fervent temper, but he was also known as a religious man.
While married to Catherine of Aragon, Henry heard mass five times a day – unless, of course, he was hunting. Henry was also fascinated by theological disputes.
In 1521, when Lutheranism took seed in English universities, Henry penned Defense of the Seven Sacraments, condemning Luther. The pope, grateful for his efforts, awarded Henry the title “Defender of the Faith.”
But Henry’s ties to the Catholic faith would muddy as time went on. By 1526, his marriage to Catherine was in shambles, as the two failed to produce a much-needed male heir.
It was around this time that Henry had met and fallen in love with Anne Boleyn, 19 years old at the time.
England had survived a bloody civil war, but Henry desperately needed a male heir to secure his succession.
Getting an annulment would have been quick and simple had Catherine agreed to it, but she was unwilling to let go of her husband and marriage. Catherine sought the help of her nephew, Emperor Charles V. After routing the pope’s troops, Pope Clement had no other choice but to refuse Henry’s annulment request.
After Anne became pregnant, Henry married her in secret and forged his own path ahead – away from Rome.
In 1534, Henry declared himself the supreme head of the Church of England, breaking away from the Papacy, and passed a law that forced all to recognize the children of his new marriage.The move ushered in the English Reformation.
During his reign as supreme head of the church, Henry dissolved monasteries, and redistributed their property to the nobles of England in exchange for their loyalty. Monks who resisted Henry were executed, and their treasures transferred to his coffers.
Still, Henry’s church reforms were conservative at best, He appeared to want a Catholic church, but one that remained loyal to him and England.
Henry’s decision to break from Rome was purely over the control of his country. While he did institute some Protestant measures while he was in power and supported his archbishop, Henry was always in support of Rome on issues of practice and doctrine.
Despite this, Henry’s actions would change his country forever. During the reign of Edward VI, Henry’s son, England transformed to a Protestant country. England reverted to Catholicism under Mary’s ruling from 1553-1558, but would return to its permanent Protestant path after her death.