Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cranmer's Choices

On May 23 and 28, 1533, Henry VIII's new Archbishop of Canterbury first declared his master's marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void and then his master's marriage to Anne Boleyn (which had taken place months ago on January 25) to be valid. These were the decisions Henry had sought from Pope Clement VII and for which he had determined to separate the Church in England from the universal Catholic Church and the authority of the pope.

Henry had asked Clement VII years ago for two decisions: one a reversal of the dispensation Pope Julius II had granted at the request of Henry VII so that Catherine of Aragon could marry his new heir, Henry, after Arthur, the Prince of Wales died. The crucial issue was that Catherine swore the marriage had not been consummated and there was no affinity barring her and Henry's marriage. Sometimes people use a shorthand reference to this issue and mistakenly say that the Church required consummation of the marriage for validity, but the real issue was affinity, sexual relations between in-laws. If Catherine and Arthur consummated their marriage, Catherine and Henry were then sister and brother and their marriage would be incestuous. Henry had developed a tender conscience that something was wrong with his marriage to Catherine since they had no surviving male children, and thus sought the reversal of the earlier papal decision.

Henry also had to petition the pope for a dispenstation FROM affinity because of his sexual relations with Mary Boleyn--otherwise he could not marry Anne Boleyn, her (his) sister!

The Papal curia granted the latter but could not grant the former. The negotiations with the curia were protracted. Henry at one point proposed that he and Catherine separate and retire to monasteries, but that he would need to leave the monastery and continue his work at King of England, which included providing a male heir, which of course required that he marry. Catherine would naturally remain in the cloister.

The death of Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham in August of 1532 gave Henry the opportunity to name Thomas Cranmer to that position. Cranmer was consecrated on March 30, 1533. Cranmer had to hide his wife since Henry was opposed to married clergy and he protested that of the two oaths he took, one to the Pope and the other to the King, he had to obey the second more than the first.

Having made these decisions on Henry's marital status in 1533, Cranmer would have to undo one of them on May 17, 1536. Then he declared Henry and Anne Boleyn's marriage null and void because of the affinity issue with Mary Boleyn! The dispensation Henry had sought and received from the pope before becoming Supreme Head and Governor of the Church in England was invalid, after all. The Catholic pope had no authority in such matters in England, even though the King of England had asked him.


  1. So much rewriting of history to suit the convenience of the moment! (Of course, I'm referring to what Cranmer and Henry did, not to your post!).

  2. You are correct, Matterhorn: Henry and Cranmer did rewrite the King's past to catch up with his current reality.
    Another example is how all the HA HAs (Henry and Anne) initial sets had to be revised upon Anne's fall for his new wife, Jane.

  3. Let's not forget, the pope had to approve Henry's choice of Cranmer as ABC, and did. I liken this situation to our involvement in the Middle East and the tensions and clashes there. If there was no oil, none of this would be happening, and the Middle Eastern countries would not have the wealth and power that they have. If the Holy Roman Emperor was not breathing down the pope's back, he probably would have granted the annulment to placate Henry and keep him in the fold, and the break between Henry and Rome probably wouldn't have occurred.

  4. The pope could not grant a decree of nullity to a valid marriage: once he did that, there would be no fold for Henry and England to stay in! Cranmer was presented as a loyal son of the Church; England and the Holy See had good relations throughout the Tudor rule up to this point (with Cardinal Protectors representing English ecclesial interests). Cranmer took oaths of obedience to the pope that he never intended to keep.