11 July 1533 – Henry VIII Ordered to Abandon Anne Boleyn

Pope Clement VIIOn 11th July 1533, Pope Clement VII declared his sentence on the annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragin and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn:

“Sentence of Clement VII. against Henry VIII., declaring his divorce from Katharine and marriage with Anne Boleyn null; and pronouncing the King to have incurred the greater excommunication, but suspending the declaration of the same till the end of September.”

A further document in Letters and Papers corroborates this:

“On the 11th of this July, the Pope in Consistory pronounced a sentence restoring the Queen to her royal state, annulling the King’s marriage with Ana, whose children are declared illegitimate, and declaring that the King is excommunicate, and has incurred the penalties contained in the briefs.”

In the Pope’s eyes, Henry was still legally married to Catherine of Aragon and he expected Henry to abandon the pregnant Anne Boleyn on pain of excommunication. He was giving Henry until September to make the appropriate arrangements. Henry ignored the sentence and was married to Anne Boleyn until May 1536, when their marriage was annulled and Anne was executed for high treason. The papal bull of excommunication was actually not issued until 1538 after the King had “gone to still further excesses” in the Pope’s eyes.

Notes and Sources

  • LP vi. 807
  • LP vi. 808

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9 thoughts on “11 July 1533 – Henry VIII Ordered to Abandon Anne Boleyn”
  1. I didn’t realize the excommunication was not effective until 1538. That is interesting. So they were just threatening him in 1533 if he did not comply.

  2. The use of the term ‘in the Pope’s eyes’ I am glad to see is in quotes as it was more than just the eyes of the Holy Father: it was the decision of the Curia, a special investigatorary body that looks at the legality of marriages and stuff under canon law. The Pope only makes the decision final, by messure of confirmation and sentence. He issued a Bull as Henry had already gone ahead and married Anne without waiting for leave from Rome on the divorce or not. Henry was in breach of both orders from Rome to wait and the normal procedure would have been to wait. The problem with Henry and Anne, they had waited, seven long years. Henry had lost patience, broken with Rome and divorced himself. He had, of course used the English canon law courts to make a decision with Cranmer at its head,, declaring his marriage to Anne lawful. The Pope’s sentence and decision of the Curia reversed this decision and added extra to it as Henry had married again without consent.

    There are some historic arguments that I have read recently in a rather biased book highly praising Henry from the 1830s that argues for the marriage of brother in law and sister in law being unlawful as with the model in Leviticus and some early Curia had declared it so.

    Having said all of the above: when Pope Clement gave the decision and it was confirmed later by Pope Paul 111; he was aware that Henry had married Anne and that she was pregnant, but that is Henry’s fault. He chose to sleep with Anne before the divorce was finalised and secretly married her, due to her being pregnant, so he put her at risk and himself from the point of view of the Church. In the eyes of the One True Universal and Holy Catholic Church Henry was still married to Katherine. Part of him knew that; which is why he was still not married to Anne in early January 1533. He brought matters forward when she told him she was pregnant. It is not the Pope’s fault that Henry and Anne did not wait: it is their fault and they both were pius and adult enough to know it. The fact is: they no longer cared.

    What was Henry’s response to the Curia’s decision? He said it was too late and on learning that a sentence of excommunication hung over him he showed he definately did not care. He said:” Let the Pope do as he likes in Rome: I will do what I want here!” meaning England of course. Henry throught Anne was about to give him his longer for son and heir. Of course he was not going to abandon her. The Pope told him to do so as he was still lawfully married to Katherine. A year or two before hand and Henry may have been worried by a threat of Excommunication. I doubt that he was now. He had felt his own strength and he was looking forward to life with a new Queen and hoped for a son. He had achieved what he set out for and the Pope had let him down. Henry, once a true son of the Church, Champion of the Catholic Church, Defender of the Faith: had gotten what he wanted by changing his own laws.

    I do find it interesting that the sentence was not enforced until 1538. I can only assume that the Holy Father was at first being patient and then after the executions of the sons of the Church Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More caused outrage that he decided to carry out the Excommunication. The problem then is who to enforce it; Francis or Charles and are they willing to do so. It seems that for a time neither of them where and by the time the Edict was issued in 1538 the reason for it had passed, and the danger of war went with it. Some form of reconciliation had also been hoped for when Henry married the proto Catholic Jane Seymour and even Henry asked about a partial mending of relations at least. Why Pope Paul 111 should suddenly enforce the sentence is a bit of a mystery, although the Pilgrimage of Grace aftermath and his destruction of the religious houses, along with the problems with Cardinal Pole, may have twisted Rome’s hands.

  3. Just a P.S If you are an ordinary English Catholic this must have been confusing. You are told that the King is now Head of your nation’s church and not the Pope, then that the marriage to Katherine is not lawful by an English commission, and that his marriage to Anne is so. Then a few weeks later you are told by the edict: the decision from Rome confirms that the marriage between Katherine and Henry has always been lawful and still is. Then shrotly after this you are being told that it is treason to say that this is so, and to swear and oath declaring the marriage to Anne lawful and only the marriage to Anne is lawful. On top of this you have to swear Henry is head of the Church and not the Pope. When your head stops spinning, you have to decide whether to keep it or not.

    Confused: I would think most people probably were.

    1. BanditQueen this was amazing 🙂

      I myself am new to Tudor history, have been following this website and as a result other facts for about a year plus now. The great thing about history is that these are true stories (or so we are led to believe), as opposed to legends/stories or movies or TV shows.

      To me the king henry and Anne Boleyn story, in a religious sense (to me only as I enjoy and respect the religious side of life (I am Catholic) ), is a factual example of what ‘temptation’ in general (of the flesh, of power) can do to one – it can kill! This to me is a very powerful dose of wisdom to one – how far will we go and what price are we willing to pay.

      I also don’t like the fact that king henry abused his power to get whatever he wanted, and to remove whatever he didn’t want.

      Exactly, who’s head would not be spinning back in those days – and with barely any access to a Bible for making moral choices! I guess one could go with the Pope that there was something wrong with king henry – he got excommunicated, that says something! But yes, if one agreed with the Pope, then one’s life would be on the line.

      So many moral choices to make back in that time – if one was a servant of the king, what did one do? Did one value one’s life more than one’s morals? Did one prefer to ‘kiss the king’s butt’ than stand strong and not falter in one’s beliefs? I think in one of Claire’s posts, one of the king’s wiser counsellors Sir Thomas More said it perfectly in one of his speeches – if he were to say that king henry was his religious ruler on Earth, he would be going against God and the Pope – but he was strong enough to challenge henry, but unfortunately his life was cut short.

      I’m also a big superman fan (Lois and Clark The Adventures of Superman, LOL!) and it always shows moral dilemmas – in the last episode of season 2, Superman is asked to steal diamonds for a crook otherwise his parents die…..same thing as with king henry….no wonder the game of Chess was invented! It was all about blackmail, backstabbing, etc, typical criminal style of operating in the world.

      Appreciated your comments BanditQueen 🙂

  4. I can just imagine Henry reading this out sarcastically and laughing at the end. Give up? He had just finally won. He had gotten rid of Catherine, married and crowned Anne and she was pregnant with what he believed would be his son and heir.
    On another note, I thought he was excommunicated over Anne. Surprising they had that much patience to wait until 1538 for the final straw.

  5. But … Imagine what would have happend if Henry DID give Anne up when he received that letter?

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