23 May 1533 – Archbishop Cranmer Declares the Annulment of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII and Catherine of AragonAfter the brutal events of 1536, we rewind just three years to May 1533 when Anne Boleyn was preparing for her coronation, her moment of triumph.

On this day in history, 23rd May 1533, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer declared that Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been annulled:

“My lord of Canterbury gave sentence this day at 11 o’clock1 in the great cause of matrimony; has declared it to be against the law of God, and has divorced the King from the noble lady Katharine. He has used himself in this matter very honorably, and all who have been sent hither on the King’s behalf have acted diligently and towardly. Sentence shall be given for the King’s second contract of matrimony before the Feast of Pentecost. The process is partly devised. 23 May.”2

Convocation had already ruled, in March 1533, that the marriage was contrary to God’s laws and that the Pope should never have issued as dispensation for it, but, following his consecration as Archbishop, Cranmer had opened a special trial into the annulment proceedings at Dunstable Priory, Bedfordshire. It was on 23rd May 1533 that this court ruled on the marriage and Cranmer could send notification of the sentence to the King:

“Notification of the sentence of divorce between Hen. VIII. and Katharine of Arragon pronounced by archbishop Cranmer. Dated in the monastery of Dunstable, 23 May 1533. Present, Gervase prior of the said monastery, Simon Haynes, S.T.P., John Newman, M.A., and others.
The matrimony between the King and the lady Katharine being dissolved by sufficient authority, all pactions made for the same marriage are also dissolved and of none effect. That is, the jointure shall return again to the King’s use, and the money paid to him by her friends shall be repaid to her.
The matrimony being dissolved, the lady Katharine shall return to the commodity and profits of the first matrimony, and the pactions of the same, made with prince Arthur, and shall enjoy the jointure assigned to her thereby, notwithstanding any quittance or renunciation made in the second pact. For as these renunciations were agreed unto for a sure trust and hope to enjoy the commodities and pactions of the second marriage, which now she cannot enjoy, unless without fault she should be deprived of both, equity and right restore her to the first. This, we think, by our poor learning, to be according both to canon and civil law, unless there are any other treaties and pactions which we have not seen.
For the more clear declaration hereof, we think that when a matrimony is dissolved, if there is no paction of a further bond, then by law the money paid by the woman or her friends shall be restored to her, and the jointure return to the man and his heirs. In this case there is an especial pact that she shall enjoy her jointure durante vita, so that the said jointure is due to her by the pact, and the money paid by her and her friends by the law.”3

This declaration ‘rubber-stamped’ Convocation’s ruling and paved the way for the coronation of Anne Boleyn. The pageantry began on the 29th May and culminated in the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey on 1st June 1533.

Notes and Sources

  1. Thomas Bedyll, in a letter to Cromwell, states that the sentence was declared at 10am – LP vi.526
  2. LP vi. 525, Letter from John Tregonwell to Cromwell, 23rd May 1533
  3. LP vi. 529

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6 thoughts on “23 May 1533 – Archbishop Cranmer Declares the Annulment of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Catherine of Aragon”
  1. Lets not forget Elizabeth Howard, Ann’s mother, was King Henry’s mistress. Hence coming from a premier family she was married off as used goods to a very minor gent Thomas Boleyn. There fore parliament raised the point that he should not marry Ann. Henry denied it. If true it counted as incest then to marry her daughter.
    This led hime I believe to project the false charge of incest onto Ann – guilt.

    1. No! There is no evidence that Elizabeth Boleyn, née Howard, slept with Henry VIII. It is thought that it was a misunderstanding due to Blount (Bessie Blount), pronounced Blunt, and Boleyn sounding similar. When Henry was confronted with the rumour, he confirmed that he had slept with Mary Boleyn, but not Elizabeth. It is a myth. See https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/16784/was-anne-boleyn-henry-viiis-daughter/
      By the way, at the time of Elizabeth’s marriage to Thomas, Thomas was on the rise and the Howard family were tainted with the stigma of being traitors to the Crown. It was a good marriage for both parties.

  2. I have always had feelings about Katharine and the “Great Divorce.” I have had to overcome my feeling in that what King Henry VIII said to whom the people in England answered first, the Pope or the King. The “Act of Supremacy” as most all on this site, answers this question for us. The King was to be the Head of the Church in England. To him at the time, and even now, this sounds quite right, as Henry was an absolute monarch, and thus gave way to for him to marry Queen Anne.

    This was very much not only a marriage made from love, but played a signifcant and transforming thing for England, which changed the history books forever. Under this law, it was a true and right marriage. Europe was at that time being overcome, except France, Spain, Italy and a few others by the Reformation begun by Martin Luther. The Augsburg Confession in 1530 pretty much solidified Lutherans, and Swingli, and Calvin had infiltrated Calvinism, not only in Switzerland, but also John Knox bring Presyterianism eventually to Scotland, if not already there, as he was there when Mary Queen of Scots, became a widow, as Queen Consort of France, but I believe this was later on.

    In history, we do have many what if this had happened, and what if this had not had happened, etc. England, at this time, and later, to be govened by the King with regard to religious matters. Thus, enabling and joining many of the principalties in Germany, which is why he married in most part to Anne of Cleves.

    Leaving all this behind, Queen Anne was truly the established Queen and her coronation legitimate! No matter, that some (meaning at least one) that this marriage took place because Queen Anne was with child, and that being later, Queen Elizabeth I. After so much time, and the only royal marriage (Queen Anne was a descendant of Edward I) in history among the kings and queens of Europe to be a marriage made out of love! That, in itself, was an historic and only one ever to take place. What a joy it must have been to Queen Anne!

    I will defend Queen Anne as long as I am around! She was innocent of all charges brought against her! Queen Anne did give England a great gift, and that being Queen Elizabeth I, the grreatest absolute monarch that country ever had!

    “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” ~ Psalms 188:23

  3. FWIW, the first English monarch to marry for love was Edward IV to Elizabeth Woodville; she not only lacked royal blood, but she was a widow of a Lancastrian.

    JJ Scarisbrick’s biography contains a discussion of the canon law applicable to the divorce. Apparently, Henry’s case was extremely weak … the Roman Catholic church did not limit Deuteronomy (stating that, when a man died childless as did Arthur did, the man’s brother is obligated to marry the widow) to Jews; even if the marriage was consummated. However, the original dispensation only eliminated the defect based on affinity; there was another defect, called “public honesty”, based only on the public nature of the wedding and on Arthur and Katherine holding themselves out as married. If Arthur’s marriage was not consummated, there was no affinity … but there was an impediment of “public honesty”, which was not mentioned in the dispensation. Wolsey pointed out to Henry that his case was stronger on Katherine’s theory (no consum- mation) than his own Leviticus-based theory. (based on consummation), but Henry was too enamored of his own theory (and also distrustful of Wolsey) to adopt it. History might have changed if Henry had done so … the Pope (and the Emperor) may have responded differently to a stronger case.

  4. Esther, as I was looking up the royal lineages of Queen Anne (through her mother, Elizabeth Howard, descedant of Edward I, Ives, Eric, “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn” p. 221, and Jane Seymour, great-great granddaughter of Edward III) I came across this very thing in Ives, Eric, “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn,” p. 298! Elizabeth Woodville also was nowhere near to the royal blood of the aforementioned! Esther is also very correct about the others, as in “…the Roman Catholic church did not limit Deuteronomy… but Leviticus 20:21 as well. Man I love this site! Bravo, Claire as well! This issue has been brought up on other articles as well! I did find this site on this differentitation between the two and the two or three discussions commenting rather interesting, and well worth looking at for further explanation of this issue (thank you, again, Esther, as I really did want to find out more on this!):


    Wow, and to think I thought about this error this morniing after reading it in an historicla fiction novel which came highly recommended and was going to correct myself, and that’s the reason I pulled up this site again just now! Not only in Eric Ives, but, Worth, Sandra, “The King’s Daughter.” I believe her site is where I read the interview on C.W. Gortner. In addition, Trimlett, Giles, “Catherine of Aragon: The Spanish Queen of Henry VIII discusses this as well.

    Aside from reading, and quoting sources, I your statements on the difference between the two “The Bible” lessons had me learn a whole lot more today. Thank you! WilesWales

    I will defend Queen Anne Boleyn as long as I am around! She was innocent on all charges, but she did give England a very special gift, Queen Elizabeth I, the greatest absolute monarch that country ever had!

    “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvelous in our eyes:…” ~ Pslams 118:23

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