23 May 1533 – The Annulment of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Catherine of Aragon

NPG 163,Catherine of Aragon,by Unknown artistWe’ve spent the last few weeks in 1536, counting down to Anne Boleyn’s execution, but now we swing from 1536 to counting down to Anne’s coronation in 1533.

On 23rd May 1533, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer announced the sentence of the special court that had met had Dunstable Priory, Bedfordshire, to examine Henry VIII’s case for an annulment of his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon:

“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

Cranmer also sent 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

Two months earlier, Convocation had ruled that Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was contrary to God’s laws, and that the Pope should never have issued as dispensation for it, but this sentence made it official: the marriage was over.

Notes and Sources

  1. Thomas Bedyll, in a letter to Cromwell, states that the sentence was declared at 10am, rather than at 11am – LP vi.526
  2. LP vi. 525, Letter from John Tregonwell to Cromwell, 23rd May 1533
  3. LP vi. 529

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn – TONIGHT

Just a reminder that the documentary “The Last Days of Anne Boleyn” is on tonight on BBC2 at 9pm. I’ll be watching it and will review it for those of you who don’t have access to British TV.

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