11 July 1533 – The Pope puts his foot down with Henry VIII

Posted By on July 11, 2017

By 11th July 1533, Pope Clement VII had really had enough of King Henry VIII’s behaviour.

The king who had been awarded the title “Fidei Defensor” (Defender of the Faith) by Pope Leo X in 1521, for defending the Catholic Church against the works of Martin Luther, had not only abandoned his first wife without an annulment from the Pope and remarried, Convocation had granted him the title of Supreme Head of the Church in England. Pope Clement was not impressed.

On 11th July 1533, the Pope declared that Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was null and void, as was the annulment declared by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in May 1533, and he restored Catherine of Aragon to her “royal state”. He ordered the wayward king to abandon the newly crowned and pregnant Anne Boleyn and return to Catherine of Aragon. If the king refused then the Pope would issue the bull of excommunication that he had drawn up. He’d give Henry until September to sort himself out, but if he didn’t heed the Pope’s warning then he’d be excommunicated, the most severe punishment that the Church could inflict.

Of course, Henry took absolutely no notice of the Pope, but he escaped excommunication until 17th December 1538 when Pope Paul III excommunicated him following his break with Rome, his persecution of those who did not accept his supremacy, the dissolution of the monasteries and Henry’s desecration of religious shrines including that of Thomas Becket.

Also on this day in history, Desiderius Erasmus, the famous Humanist scholar, died from dysentery at Basel during the night of the 11th/12th July. Click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

  • LP vi. 807, 808.
  • LP xiii. Part 2. 1087.

4 thoughts on “11 July 1533 – The Pope puts his foot down with Henry VIII”

  1. Banditqueen says:

    When I first saw the title of the article I thought you were about to say the Pope put his foot in it. Actually, that’s probably not far of the mark because the excommunication was a bit too late. Henry had gone beyond as you may say and was beyond caring. Privately he probably didn’t relish the reality of excommunication as it was something which had real meaning in the sixteenth century. Henry could legally under canon law be deprived of his throne and if his conqueror pleased his life. Catholic Europe was called upon if Henry didn’t obey the bull to enforce the excommunication and unite to invade England and his own subjects were released from their allegiance from him. They could in theory be called upon to rise up and throw him out. Henry was conscious of this and had to tread with care and statecraft to control the people and to keep the powers from uniting against him. Somehow he managed to do both.

    The Bull wasn’t of course enforced until 1538 but it was Henry’s continued crimes, not his marriage to Anne Boleyn which forced Paul iii to impose sanctions on England and Henry. There had been some hope that Henry may repent and return to the fold because he had married the faithful Queen Jane Seymour and made some peace with the Emperor. Even though it came at the price of obedience and denouncing her parents marriage, Henry had also reconciled with his daughter, the Princess Mary, a great hope for Catholic Europe. However, with Jane’s death and a new male heir Henry went forward with his dark plans to get rich from the monastic houses, had increased his persecution of those who opposed his policies and he had put down the northern rebellion and pilgrimage of grace with typical harshness. The total of these things had forced the Pope to confirm the Excommunication and call on Francis and Charles to invade England to enforce it.

    But why in any event would a previously faithful son of the Catholic Church ignore such a threat at a vital time in his domestic and European political stability? Well, Henry had lost patience with the Church’s refusal over his divorce to Katherine of Aragon and arranged things himself by making himself Head of the Church and breaking from Rome. In July 1533 Anne Boleyn had been crowned Queen and his new marriage declared good. She was pregnant with what they all believed was his son, due in September, so no return to Katherine was happening. Anne had a living child, but she was a daughter, a disappointing shock, but welcome as Henry hoped sons would follow. However, his alliance at this time was with France, keeping the Empire on its toes and by playing one power off against the other, Henry managed to keep them from turning on England. While his marriage to Anne was going well, with more than one hope of a son, he had become more powerful through the Supremacy, the Treason Act kept people in line and he really had nothing to be concerned about and may simply have grown so confident that he could ignore the Pope. In short, Henry now felt he could do as he pleased and no longer feared or needed the Pope or foreign powers.

    Henry was no fool, however, and he did take steps to defend England. He surveyed and mapped the entire coastal pathway and began defensive forts which would blow a ship out of the water, so heavily gunned were they. In 1538 he set out to inspect the early ones and improved them if a weakness was found. Henry would have found a better career as a naval and defence guru than he did as a King or husband. If Henry Viii achieved anything it was our country’s naval and military defence, something which would lead to naval dominance for centuries. He had iron and brass factories and smelters everywhere. Canon and guns were produced on a rapid and industrial scale. When he was said to have remarked that he had enough fire power to conquer Hell before the siege of Bourlogne in 1544, he wasn’t joking. His worst enemy, however, was that after the city fell, the rains hit and disease ensured he couldn’t march any further. His break from Rome brought the threat of invasion to an ever present danger, so Henry couldn’t afford to ignore his enemies completely, no matter how he behaved in public.

    In one sense, though there was another reason the powers stayed their hand, the death of Katherine in January 1536 lessened interest in England and Henry, for a time at least seemed more amenable to an Imperial Alliance. The death by execution of Anne Boleyn and a more friendly bride as far as Charles V was concerned in Jane Seymour, gave Henry the rest bite from threats abroad, but the Supremacy had made him more powerful and the wealth from the monasteries made him financially secure, so he had no desire to be reconciled with Rome. In fact the opposite happened, as he defeated the pilgrimage of grace, Henry used the fact that some of the Friars had joined the rebellion as an excuse to close the larger monasteries as well as the smaller ones. With all of this the Church could no longer turn a blind eye and his time was up. Francis was asked to attack Henry and now he couldn’t ignore the threat, even if up to now he no longer cared what the Pope said and he had to see to his country’s defence. One last thing, however, panned out in Henry’s favour, Charles V and Francis I were too busy fighting each other to be bothered for now to attack Henry, who continued to exploit their varying positions.

  2. Karen says:

    Thank you, Banditqueen, for explaining some of the extremely convoluted politics of the time. I am in awe of your grasp of history.

    1. Karen says:

      There was another Karen on the site in the past: not me! I am a new, different Karen. I am surprised that I was allowed the same name.
      I’m not new to this site, but new to posting here. Thank you all for your scholarship & your patience.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Thanks for your kind comment. It’s nice to hear from you and glad you enjoy the site. The real scholar is Claire. I like to keep my mind sharp.

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