17 December 1538 – The Pope excommunicates Henry VIII

Henry VIIIOn 17th December 1538, Pope Paul III announced the excommunication of King Henry VIII.

Pope Clement VII had threatened the king with excommunication in March 1530 after he had found out from Catherine of Aragon that Henry had boasted that he would take a second wife “notwithstanding the inhibition and mandate against him”.1 Then, in July 1533, the Pope had declared “his divorce from Katharine and marriage with Anne Boleyn null […] pronouncing the King to have incurred the greater excommunication, but suspending the declaration of the same till the end of September.”2 Henry VIII ignored the Pope’s warnings and on 30th August 1535 Pope Paul III issued a sentence of excommunication against the king.3 This excommunication was then suspended, in the hope that Henry would toe the line, but his subsequent behaviour led to the Pope finally renewing the bull and excommunicating the king on 17th December 1538:

“Bull against Hen. VIII., renewing the execution of the bull of 30 Aug. 1535, which had been suspended in hope of his amendment, as he has since gone to still further excesses, having dug up and burned the bones of St, Thomas of Canterbury and scattered the ashes to the winds, (after calling the saint to judgment, condemning him as contumacious, and proclaiming him a traitor), and spoiled his shrine. He has also spoiled St. Augustine’s monastery in the same city, driven out the monks and put in deer in their place. Publication of this bull may be made in Dieppe or Boulogne in Fiance, or in St. Andrew’s or Coldstream (? “in oppido Calistrensi”), St. Andrew’s dioc., in Scotland, or in Tuam or Ardfert in Ireland, if preferred, instead of the places named in the former bull Rome, Paul III.”4

You can read more about what made the Pope finally ‘snap’ and excommunicate Henry VIII in my article from 2010 – click here.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1559 – Matthew Parker was consecrated as Elizabeth I’s Archbishop of Canterbury. Click here to read more about Parker and why his ‘duty’ to Anne Boleyn led to him taking this post.

Notes and Sources

Image: Henry VIII, Anglo-Dutch, c.1535-40, NPG.

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume IV, 6256.
  2. LP vi. 80.
  3. LP ix. 207.
  4. LP xiii. Part 2. 1087.

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5 thoughts on “17 December 1538 – The Pope excommunicates Henry VIII”
  1. Good article. Recommend changing “July 1553” to “July 1533” for the Pope’s declaration of nullity for Henry’s marriage to Anne. Again, good article and glad for this site of regular remembrances. Regards.

  2. Well, it had to come in the end, Henry had gone far beyond the divorce by the time the sentence was declared, and even more crimes against the Catholic Church with the martyrdom of Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher and the friars by the time it was enacted. As Henry had already seperated from Rome, he clearly no longer cared.

    1. Bandit queen, what u write makes sense to me ; by then, powerful sovereigns (this including the pope himself) used to bargain long before taking a decision, especially apunishment.
      Like it happened later (with our UNO, for instance), international decisions are to be seen as “moral” rather than “lawful”.
      The “new faith” was already there . I guess later, after queen Anne’s execution (women used to be the sinners, witches, not to say temptresses), it needed just some time in order to see if KH was to make further steps to the ancient faith.
      Call it cynism – or not

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