Henry VIII and Catherine of AragonOn 5th April 1533, Convocation gave its ruling on Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, stating that the Pope had no power to dispense in the case of a man marrying his brother’s widow, and that it was contrary to God’s law.

Here is the record from Letters and Papers:

“Notarial attestation of the determination of the Convocation of Canterbury, begun 5 Nov. 1529, on the two points discussed in the King’s divorce, determining, 1, that the Pope has no power of dispensing in case of a marriage where the brother’s widow has been cognita. The house consisted of 66 theologians. The proxies were 197; the negatives 19. The second question was, whether Katharine was cognita. The numbers present, 44 ; one holding the proxies of three bishops. Decided in the affirmative against five or six negatives. Dated 5 April 1533.”

This ruling from Convocation was followed by a trial at a special court which opened on 10th May 1533 at Dunstable Priory, Bedfordshire, to examine Henry VIII’s case for the annulment of his first marriage. It was presided over by Thomas Cranmer, the newly consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, and he announced the sentence on 23rd May 1533, declaring the marriage to be “against the law of God” and ‘divorcing’ the King from Catherine.

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6, 1533, 311.
  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid (1998) Thomas Cranmer: A Life, p93-94.
  • Kelly, Henry Ansgar (2004) The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII, p206-210.
  • LP vi. 525, Letter from John Tregonwell to Cromwell, 23rd May 1533.
  • Ibid., 529.
  • Scarisbrick, J.J. (1997) Henry VIII, Yale English Monarchs, Yale University Press, p. 312.

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2 thoughts on “5 April 1533 – Convocation rules on Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon”
  1. Well if the Pope didn’t have the Power, Cranmer and Convocation didn’t either. The legislation as yet didn’t exist to make it so. However, in Henry’s mind he was only confirming what he already believed and wished. Katherine had a difficult view as did mostly everybody else. There were controversial aspects to the hearing as well as not all the witnesses came to give evidence. Perhaps that is not surprising as they had already given testimony to the papal representative court at Blackfriars to no avail. Katherine had appealed to Rome and that process had not yet been completed, for the decision was delayed again and again until May 1534. On the final decision the Curia declared for Katherine.

  2. Henry knew by this time he needed to clear the decks for the birth of Anne’s child. The forum he chose for legitimating his expected son was the Convocation.He had already decided not to wait for, or worry about Rome. That road was effectively closed to him. What was open was a civil road. He could legislate his way through his difficulties, and this was how he chose to proceed, using the English Church to pave his way, as he could now control its decisions through Cranmer. It was all political theater.

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