by Sandra Byrd
For me, the task was to take what Moorman's poured into the pint pot and then spill that into a teaspoon. It's a challenge worth picking up, though one must overlook the summarization of hundreds of years and many complex issues. To understand Tudor England, one must understand the religious and rulership issues which shaped and informed Henry VIII's decision and authority to break with the Catholic Church and establish the Church of England and his nation's autonomy.
|St. Patrick from Cathedral of |
Christ the Light, Oakland, CA
Moorman tells us that once he became king, William the Conqueror "...would not allow the pope to interfere with what he regarded as the king's lawful business...He [William] consequently made it clear from the start that he regarded himself as the head of the Church in England. He nominated the bishops and abbots and invested them with ring and staff. He summoned Church Councils. He expected his churchmen, just as much as his laymen, to pay respect to his wishes, and he refused to allow any foreign interference with his sovereignty."
This is an important trail to follow one hundred years or so later to King Henry II.
The country had just undergone a punishing civil war whereby Henry's mother, Matilda, had tried to claim the throne of her father, Henry I; but Stephen of Blois, her cousin and also a grandchild of William I, had claimed it instead. Many noblemen, having come from France where the Agnetic Succession laws forbid a woman from inheriting a throne, believed that a woman should not reign and blamed the unrest partially on a female claimant. Grateful for relative peace and calm, the nation hungered for stability after Stephen's death. Moorman reminds us that Henry II was "a wise and strong ruler who was determined to restore law and order." However, there remained a glitch.
|Murder of St Thomas Becket |
from a Medieval Psalter, @ Wikimedia
The church, including Henry's very good friend Archbishop Thomas Becket, disagreed, and stood in the way of this reform. Some years later, Henry II moaned something along the (apocryphal) lines of, "Can no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" Four men took him seriously and murdered Becket in the Cathedral at Canterbury. The world was shocked and Henry II never regained his moral authority.
There was some merit to his concerns, though. Is the King truly the ruler over all England and Englishmen? Moorman tells us, " For over three hundred years, the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury stood as a witness to the triumph of Church over State. It was no wonder, therefore, that in 1538 Henry VIII took steps to have it destroyed and the martyr's bones scattered."
Although there was some movement toward church reform via Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, for the most part the ruling classes of England stayed true to the Catholic Church right up till Henry VIII in the sixteenth century.
Henry, a handsome, jovial, and learned king was used to getting his own way. He was also used to having lots of money—his father, a notorious pinchpenny, left Henry a flush kingdom. He was a staunch supporter of Catholicism in the face of calls for church reform from people such as Martin Luther. In fact, the Pope awarded Henry the title, "Defender of the Faith," a title which the crowned head of England still claims, through Anglicanism. But regardless of everything obtained, he did not have the one thing he most wanted: a legitimate son.
When the Pope refused to allow him to dissolve his marriage to Queen Katherine, Henry's advisers came up with a number of assists. They reminded him of the passage in Leviticus which claimed a man should not lie with his brother's wife. (Henry had married his brother's widow). They also helped him reconsider who was final authority in England: Pope or King?
|Elizabeth I in Coronation Robes|
He got the money (from the church properties he'd claimed), the girl, and was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. One thing he didn't get. A son. Instead, an "s" was hastily added to the announcement of the arrival of a Princess, not a Prince.
However, those parliamentary acts allowed Queen Elizabeth I, the longest reigning and most important of Henry's children, to have unshakable civil legitimacy, if not in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It would be Elizabeth who would firmly establish the Church of England: an excellent queen to be sure, and perhaps the world's first female head of a Church. And a Tudor.
Sandra Byrd is the author of an historical novel series set in Tudor England. The books have twice been chosen by Library Journal as "Best of the Year," for 2011 and 2012. For her newest release, or to learn more, please visit Sandra's website by clicking here.
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