11 February 1531 – Henry VIII becomes Supreme Head of the English Church.

Henry VIII c.1530-1535 by Joos van Cleve
Henry VIII c.1530-1535 by Joos van Cleve
On this day in history, 11 February 1531, Convocation granted Henry VIII the title of “singular protector, supreme lord, and even, so far as the law of Christ allows, supreme head of the English church and clergy”, and it was George Boleyn, Lord Rochford and brother of Anne Boleyn, who played a prominent role in persuading Convocation of the scriptural case for the King’s supremacy.

Here is an excerpt on this from George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat, the biography of George that I co-wrote with Clare Cherry:

“The Convocations of Canterbury and York were the English Church’s legislative body which, like Parliament, was made up of two houses: the upper house of bishops and the lower house of general clergy. The Convocation of Canterbury ran at the same time as Parliament, and the King’s articles were introduced to them on 7 February 1531, following which Convocation met on five consecutive days between 7 and 11 February. George Boleyn, by now a member of the Privy Council, was chosen by Henry to express his growing anti-papal sentiments and Parliament’s arguments in favour of supremacy. He was sent to Convocation on the afternoon of Friday 10 February and delivered various tracts, one of which still survives today.1 George announced to the legislative body that the King’s “supreme auctorite grounded on God’s word ought in no case to be restrayned by any frustrate decrees of popish lawes or voyed prescriptes of humanr traditions, but that he maye both order and minister, yea and also execute the office of spiritual administration in the church whereof he ys head”.2 Convocation did not want to deal with this 26 year-old envoy, they wanted to deal directly with the King but when they sent members of the lower house to see the King, they were turned away and instructed to deal with George. Henry, ever the coward, was happy to use the inexperienced young man as a buffer between himself and Convocation, and this was no doubt to the extreme satisfaction of the Boleyns. The position in which Henry was happy to put George can have done nothing to temper the young man’s pride, and it is hard to imagine that Thomas Boleyn was unmoved by his son’s extraordinary prominence at such tender years.

Convocation initially balked at the idea of recognising Henry as head of the church, and eventually a suggestion was made, either by Cromwell, Thomas Audley or even George Boleyn himself, to qualify the demand with the words “as far as the law of Christ allows”. The following day, upon hearing the King’s agreement to the limitation clause, the clergy agreed the amended wording, thereby accepting royal demands to recognise Henry as “Head of the Church of England, as far as the law of Christ allows”. Although this was a victory for the Boleyns and their supporters, verbal acceptance by the clergy and actual compliance were two different matters, and any act of Convocation had to be agreed on by Parliament to be enforced.”

Notes and Sources

Excerpt taken from George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway (2014), MadeGlobal Publishing, p108-109. The book is available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

  1. “Folio 94 Rochford MS, a Treatise Delivered to the Convocation of the Clergy on 10 February 1531, by George Boleyn, Lord Rochford.”
  2. Lehmberg, Stanford (1970) The Reformation Parliament 1529-1536, Cambridge University Press, p114.

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7 thoughts on “11 February 1531 – Henry VIII becomes Supreme Head of the English Church.”
  1. Two very odd things said above

    “Henry, ever the coward” and

    “and it is hard to imagine that Thomas Boleyn was unmoved by his son’s extraordinary prominence at such tender years.”

    Henry was no coward, he was master manipulator and used his servants, and Thomas Boleyn may have thought, like the French, that George was too inexperienced for the jobs given him, but hard to believe anybody would refer to a 26 year old as “tender” in years. We don’t even think that today, do we? Maybe the usage is different in the UK?

    1. The French didn’t say that they thought that George was too inexperienced or too young to be a diplomat. This idea rests on the words of Jean du Bellay who simply referred to George as Thomas Boleyn’s “petit prince” (little prince), which, if you read the rest of the letter comes across more as du Bellay seeing George as the apple of his father’s eye, following instructions from Thomas to make sure that the ambassadors in France treated his son well and “often dined with him”, rather than him seeing George as being too young or inexperienced for such an office. Du Bellay went on to warn ambassadors in Paris to make sure that George was given a good welcome.

      Obviously it is simply a point of view, but I do think that Thomas would have been proud of his son being used by the King in such a way when there were plenty of older and more experienced men to deal with such an important matter and to deal with the men who made up Convocation. It was “tender in years” compared to the other men Henry VIII made us of.

    2. Henry never faced anything head on. He always got someone else to do his dirty work for him and then blamed them if something went wrong or if he later changed his mind. To me that makes him a coward.

  2. A belated happy birthday to you, Claire, I hope you had a wonderful day and managed to have at least some time to yourself and away from Tudor history 🙂

  3. It was not that Henry was a coward but that he was not a man to do things forcefully at this time; he was not a KIng that had been used to the rule of the country himself, and this was a new move, Henry was also not that great with words. Maybe he used George Boleyn to show that he trusted him to put the Kings case better than he could have done himself. 26 was young, but we do not actually know that George was 26, he could have been older as we do not know when he was born. Now I accept that the evidence cited in the book gives a better case for his being the younger Boleyn child and his age has been calculated on circumstances that show a better case for this age than any other, but it is still a guess, even if it is a well argued and educated one. George Boleyn was meant to be good with words, maybe he could give the case well enough for the King and Henry is showing his trust in the young man.

    Convocation gave Henry the empty title of head of the church as far as the law of Christ allowed because it could be used to invalidate the title and who knew what the title meant in any event. This was only the start of a long four year road to the full break with Rome and Henry as full head of the church. Henry of course would accuse the church of having more loyalty to Rome than him and use accusations that they behaved like Wolsey to force the submission of the clergy, but not today. It would soon follow, as would the resignation of Thomas More, whose first job as Chancellor had been to bring the Kings case for the divorce to Parliament, even if he did not reveal his own opinion at the time. Henry knew what he wanted, and Convocation just had to accept his envoy and like it or lump it; they had no further choice. Perhaps Henry was also making the point using a younger man to make his argument: this is a new era; George Boleyn is a new man with new ideas; the old order is changing.

    1. Most certainly the old order was changing Bandit Queen, and it continues to do so.
      The cowardice of Kings of yesteryear has now warped into some convoluted perversion of Flowers in the Attic. Queen Anne’s ghost is haunted with Moron’s in the Roof. She is no doubt thankful that her brother George is alive and well to aide and resuscitate her from this ghoulish Tudor nightmare. George’s verbal talents remain regardless of the passage of time. Anne IS happy, to have a protective brother who loves her, as a brother should.

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