Monday, 17 November 2014

Henry VIII (2)

With the promotion of Thomas Cromwell to the inner council at the end of 1531, the parliamentary session of 1532 saw fresh moves  against the Church.
"Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01" by Hans Holbein the Younger -
The Frick Collection.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - 

The Reformation Parliament 1532

The Act in Conditional Restraint of Annates: In March 1532 the Lords debated the Bill of Annates, marking the first serious attack on the papal power in England.  Hitherto the pope had received the ‘Annates’ that is, revenues of a diocese for one year after the appointment of a new bishop, abbot, or prior. By the terms of the act he would in future only receive five per cent and if, as a result, he refused to consecrate a bishop, then the consecration would take place without papal consent. 

Parliament’s reaction showed that it was not completely submissive to the King. The Lords opposed the bill fiercely, and the King conceded the addition of a clause that suspended the effect of the act until confirmed by royal letters patent (hence ‘conditional’). Even so, the bill met strenuous resistance, which called for Henry’s repeated attendance in the Lords. 

In the final division on 19 March, the spiritual peers voted solidly against it. Even in the Commons, the government faced problems. This shows, not that members were desperate for the pope to continue to receive Annates, but that there was real concern about a full-frontal attack on the spiritual prerogatives of Rome. Parliament felt the king was using it for his own purposes.

The Supplication of the Commons Against the Ordinaries: In March Cromwell moved to exploit anticlerical sentiments in the Commons  On 18 March, Thomas Audley, the Speaker, presented the Supplication to the King - an attack on the whole power of the Church. 

In April Convocation, the body of lower clergy that met at the same time as Parliament, responded with a document defending their practices. Henry handed the reply to Audley with a hint that the Commons would not like it; he described it as ‘very slender’ and ‘very sophistical’.  On 10 May Henry confronted Convocation with the demand that it should pass no new legislation unless he licensed it to do so. There followed five days of hectic manoeuvring.  When Convocation initially refused, Henry summoned a delegation from Parliament, telling them menacingly that ‘they [the clergy] be but half our subjects’. 

The Submission of the Clergy: At this point clerical opposition collapsed. On 15 May 1532 the clergy formally submitted to Henry
Sir Thomas More. His resignation
was a blow to Henry and Cromwell
- in effect, ending their legislative independence, though John Fisher, bishop of Rochester, and eight others were absent. On 16 May Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor.

From the autumn of 1532 events speeded up. William Warham, the archbishop of Canterbury, died in August, and in October he was replaced by Thomas Cranmer, a protégé of the Boleyns.

Henry's marriage

In the first week of December Anne Boleyn became pregnant. This meant that the marriage had to take place as a matter of urgency. The impasse was broken. The longed-for heir had to be legitimate, and Henry could not wait for Rome.  On 25 January 1533 Henry and Anne were secretly married in a pre-dawn ceremony. At the end of March Cranmer was consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury.

The break with Rome

1533 was the decisive year that saw England break with Rome – and it was achieved by Thomas Cromwell through parliamentary statute.

The Act in Restraint of Appeals: The purpose of the Act was to prevent Katherine appealing to Rome. Its declaration that England was ‘an empire’ asserted Henry’s imperial kingship, independent of any foreign power. It was a statement, not of the king’s unlimited power, but of the sovereignty of ‘the king in parliament’, that was not subjected to any outside authority.  The Act was vigorously debated in the Commons, and the names of some thirty-five opposition members survives among Cromwell’s papers.

A coronation and a birth

In May Cranmer declared that Henry’s marriage to Katherine was invalid. On 1 June Anne Boleyn was crowned. On 7 September her daughter, Elizabeth, was born. The birth of a daughter kept open the question of female succession, and meant that Mary’s claim to the throne was kept alive.

The constitutional revolution

On January 15 1534 the fifth session of the Reformation Parliament met. The spring session was very active, amounting to a constitutional revolution.

The Act in Restraint of Annates: This withdrew Annates and instituted the procedure of congé d’élire by which bishops were appointed by the king.

The Act for Submission of the Clergy: This forbade Convocation to legislate except by the licence and assent of the Crown; it put the Church under the control of the state.

The First Act of Succession (23 March): This Act vested the succession in Henry’s heirs male by Anne or a subsequent wife, or in default of subsequent male issue in Elizabeth, and making it treason to libel the marriage. But the drafting committee would not accept that speaking against it was treason - it had to be deed or writing. The preamble to the Act enjoined that every subject of full age should take an oath to uphold this Act. This was brought in on the final day of the session (30 March). The formula was put to both houses and sworn to by everyone. It was a remarkable and novel assertion of royal power over the individual conscience.

The Second Act of Succession (July 1536): Following Anne Boleyn’s execution in May 1536 this Act declared both Elizabeth and Mary illegitimate, leaving Henry without an heir. (On 22 July Henry Fitzroy died, intensifying the problem.) However, the succession problem seemed to be solved when Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to a son, Edward, on 12 October 1537.


The reign of Henry VIII is notorious for its executions: two wives, one bishop, two statesmen and many other prominent people. However, these were carried out according to due legal process – however the law might be manipulated. 

Thomas More was tried in Westminster Hall before his execution in July 1535. In May 1536 Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, Lord Rochford, were tried by their peers (the House of Lords) also in Westminster Hall. 

On the other hand, Thomas Cromwell was executed without trial in July 1540 after parliament passed a bill of attainderThe Yorkist, Margaret countess of Salisbury, was executed in May 1541, two years after Parliament passed a bill of attainder against her.

Religious legislation

The dissolution of the monasteries: In March 1536, during the last session of the Reformation Parliament, Cromwell secured the passage of an Act that dissolved all monastic houses under £200 p.a. (372 in England, 27 in Wales) and vested their property in the Crown. The heads of the houses were pensioned off. Others had the choice of transferring to other houses or becoming secular priests. 

An Act of April 1539 recognized the dissolution of the larger monasteries. This simply gave legal sanction to changes that had already taken place.

The Act of Six Articles: The parliament that dissolved the larger monasteries had been was summoned for 28 April 1539 and sat for two months without prorogation. This was an unusual time of year for parliament to be sitting and showed a great sense of urgency. Parliament debated six religious questions and the resulting Act of Six Articles was a victory for the conservatives in the king's council, and a defeat for Cromwell's whole religious policy. The Act re-asserted Catholic doctrine - minus papal supremacy, and Tdefined the doctrine of the Church of England for the rest of the reign.

The succession

The hottest political issue of Henry’s last years was the succession and a possible regency, as Prince Edward would not attain his majority until 1555. In July 1544 the King signed the Third Succession Act that restored Mary and Elizabeth to the succession after their brother (though without legitimating them) and empowered Henry to settle the succession by his ‘last will and testament signed with the King’s own hand’. Henry’s actual will was drawn up just before his death in January 1547. It confirmed Mary and Elizabeth’s reinstatement to the succession  and excluded the Stewart line in favour of the Greys. The power during Edward’s possible minority was to be exercised by a Regency Council.  
Henry VIII, his (dead) third wife, Jane Seymour, his son
and his two daughters
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons 


  1. Henry VIII’s decision to bring about the break with Rome through Act of Parliament had momentous consequences. In doing so, he strengthened parliament and made it the final arbiter in religious matters.
  2. The matter of the succession was left open. The king’s will was given legal force, but only through Act of Parliament. Could the will be over-ridden?
  3. The Succession Acts of Henry’s reign established that in default of a male a female could succeed to the Crown.

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