Henry VIII ex-communicated
The 17th of December 1538 AD
When Paul III finally excommunicated Henry VIII it marked the end of a long period of complex political and economic rather than religious manoeuvres. True, his advisors had recruited some religious radicals to support Henry's position in the long debates with Rome, their existence amounting to a background threat to the Pope. And Henry had in 1536 taken the then extreme step of allowing an English translation of the bible to be published, and copies to be distributed throughout the land, again a threat to papal authority. But the situation remained one of power rather than piety.
Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon had only produced one heir, Mary . For Henry this was worrying and embarrassing. Worrying in that a female heir would perhaps struggle to hold the kingdom for the Tudor line after his death. And embarrassing that a man who saw himself as the strongest, manliest, most athletic and gifted man in his kingdom and beyond, should not produce a string of sons in his image. When he became enamoured of Anne Boleyn Henry had his advisors seek a way out of his marriage to Catherine. The possible illegitimacy of the marriage, given Catherine had previously been married to his elder brother Arthur, who died within months of their union, was just such a loophole. Henry divorced Catherine, or more accurately had the marriage annulled, clearing the path to marriage with Anne Boleyn.
The pope was placed in a very difficult position, faced with Henry in distant England who might act against the Catholic Church there were his wishes ignored, and closer to home the Emperor Charles V, related to Catherine, who was pressuring the papacy to support her. Clement vacillated and procrastinated, but in 1534 matters came to a head. In that year the pope pronounced that Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid; and Henry had himself declared head of the English Church.
Still the pope attempted to keep the schism from becoming irrevocable, in spite of Henry beginning attacks on those in the Catholic Church whom he saw as resisting him, having some tried for treason, ordering public tortures of monks who stood against him, and eventually sending a commission to investigate the religious houses with a view to moving against them wholesale.
Henry was no protestant, and he retained a dislike of Martin Luther, but the prospect of material gains from seizing monastic property was tempting. His political situation, with the threat from overseas because of his actions large in his mind, meant amassing a far greater treasury was important and pressing. With monastic property in his gift his patronage also increased, buying the loyalty of some of the great families of England.
The Pilgrimage of Grace, a rising in the North of England sparked by Henry's treatment of religious houses, was ended with conciliation followed by bloody revenge on the leading participants, fixing still further in the king's mind the precariousness of his situation. He could not take a step back.
The final straw for the pope was Henry's attack on holy shrines in England, yielding yet more booty for the royal coffers. With the desecration of Thomas a Becket 's shrine in Canterbury , one of Europe's holiest pilgrimage destinations, he had gone too far for the pope to avoid the ultimate sanction. On December 17 1538 Henry was excommunicated.
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