Henry VIII and Pope Clement VIIOn 5th January 1531, Pope Clement VII wrote to Henry VIII following a plea from Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s wife. In his letter he forbade Henry to remarry while the case for the annulment was still on-going and threatened him with excommunication if he took matters into his own hands and disobeyed Rome:

“At the request of the Queen, forbids Henry to remarry until the decision of the case, and declares that if he does all issue will be illegitimate. Forbids any one in England, of ecclesiastical or secular dignity, universities, parliaments, courts of law, &c., to make any decision in an affair the judgment of which is reserved for the Holy See. The whole under pain of excommunication. As Henry would not receive a former citation, this is to be affixed to the church gates of Bruges, Tournay, and other towns in the Low Countries, which will be sufficient promulgation. Rome, 5 Jan. 1531.”

Henry had been trying to get his marriage to Catherine annulled since the summer of 1527 and had a new queen, Anne Boleyn, waiting in the wings. It is little wonder that Henry VIII did eventually take matters into his own hands, breaking with Rome and marrying Anne in secret in January 1533. The annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine was declared by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer on 23rd May 1533 following a special trial at Dunstable Priory, Bedfordshire.

A Timeline of Anne Boleyn’s Relationship with Henry VIII – From 1528-1533 gives more information on Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII’s relationship.

Notes and Sources

  • LP v. 27
  • LP vi. 525, 526, 529

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20 thoughts on “5 January 1531 – Henry VIII ordered not to remarry”
    1. He didn’t divorce Catherine, their marriage was annulled and this meant that it had never been valid. Henry was convinced, and so were many of those he sought advice from, that his marriage to Catherine had never been valid and therefore did not exist. He believed that the Pope acted contrary to God’s law in issuing a dispensation for it. He therefore believed that his marriage to Anne was valid whenever it took place because his first marriage was not lawful and therefore was not valid. I hope that makes sense. See https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/did-henry-viii-commit-bigamy-when-he-married-anne-boleyn/ for more on this.

      1. Henry’s ‘belief’ that his marriage [as distinct from matrimony ] was invalid has no more effect on the truth than his contemporaries’ belief that the world was still flat. It boils down to a matter of competence [a canonical term for jurisdictional or legitimate authority ]. Henry had the authority to dissolve his marriage to Kathryn because he gave himself such authority. Charles I paid the ultimate price for similar assumptions.

        Henry’s support from scholars of the time, like Cranmer, are of little account due to their sense of self-preservation. Cranmer ‘s hiding of the fact of his own marriage from Henry is a strong case-in-point. Cranmer may have had a sincere belief in his evangelical persuation, but his bravery came only at the end [far too late, as a personal opinion ].

        Henry may have convinced himself of his own Divine Right [a term not in use in his generation]; but it does not give him due competence.

        Henry’s biblical ‘scholarship’ was tailor-made for his preferences. His biblical reference was Lev 20:16, forbidding the marriage of a man to his sister-in-law: he conveniently overlooks Deut 25:5, requiring a brother to wed his brother’s widow. As a devout Christian, Henry, or his advisors, should have also considered Jesus’ own reflection in MT 23:24.

        Admirers of Anne Boleyn [as I am ] need to recognize a simple fact: that she and Henry were truly husband and wife only after Kathryn’s death. The events of 1527-1536 were mere flumery in terms of matrimonial jurisdiction.

        Ironically, it all came to nought. Henry was a widower once- or twice-over by the summer of 2536.

        1. I’m certainly not defending Henry VIII, what I’m saying is that what mattered back then was what Henry VIII thought and what happened. Whatever our views are on the matter, they don’t change what happened then and what was seen as lawful by Henry VIII and that’s what mattered at the end of the day. He had believed for years that his marriage to Catherine was invalid and he had learned people agreeing with him, therefore he saw his marriage to Anne, whenever it happened (November 1532, January 1533) as completely lawful and right. He would not have considered himself a bigamist and neither would those he was seeking advice from.

        2. People didn’t believe the world was flat in 1531. People have known the world was round since the Ancient Greeks, Mesopotamia, India, Egypt and Henry’s scholars would certainly have known.

          Henry believed sincerely that his marriage was not valid, but yes, his use of Leviticus was convenient and it does support his point of view. However, Katherine had Deuteronomy which was given preference in order to protect a widow who had no child. A strict reading of this shows that a widow, dwelling in the home of two brothers, were one died and no son had been born, the living brother had the legal obligation to marry her and protect her. His first son would be the heir for his dead brother. The Talmud also uses the Book of Ruth and other examples to extend this to mean, close male relatives, so it could be an uncle who made this offer, as with Ruth, who was the widow of two brothers and lost two adult sons. A strict reading of Leviticus means the wife, not widow, of a brother, although a second verse extends this to a widow. It is often interpreted as while his brother lived and assumed were there had been children. If there are no children or the marriage was not consummated, as claimed by Katherine, which is highly likely, then Deuteronomy was given preference and Henry in fact was obliged to marry Katherine. The Church had taken that the marriage to Arthur was not consummated and granted a dispensation. Henry argued that the dispensation was not valid but he also overlooked the fact that he had a healthy child. Leviticus does not say sons, it says childless. The noun is gender neutral. Katherine could show that they had a child, Mary and she was Henry’s heir. Henry interpreted the verse to mean sons, again very convenient. The Church also argued that after so long the marriage had made itself good and so a new dispensation could be given to confirm the marriage. Henry was off the mind that a woman could not rule and was desperate for a son. He couldn’t divorce Katherine because he wouldn’t be able to remarry, not with a wife still alive. He needed an annulment. Henry had begun the process in 1526 but nobody saw the problem with his marriage. He had to examine it properly. Katherine viewing the marriage as valid refused to agree so the marriage had to be looked at by a court and she now appealed to the only authority she recognised, Rome, which was her right. Henry had also met Anne Boleyn who would only be his wife. Almost on a promise of sons, Henry agreed to marry her and at some point in 1527 the couple were on the same page, probably had now fallen in love and Henry wanted his annulment to wed Anne as well as to have sons. It may be convenient, but it was also what he sincerely had come to believe. He was losing patience by 1531 and he would seek his own solution. Thus the warning above and through the next two years.

          Yes, Henry definitely did marry Anne, who was up the spout with Elizabeth as he couldn’t wait any longer in January 1536. His own method of getting an annulment, via Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and his court at Dunstable to declare his marriage to Katherine invalid and his new marriage valid, had not yet been completed. The Curia in Rome only stopped dragging it’s feet in 1534, declared for Katherine and Henry was declared Excommunication, which was not enforced until 1538. In the eyes of the world and Catholic Church, yes, you are right, the only authority which could now make any decision was Rome as Katherine had legally brought her case to them. Henry had allowed the case to go to Rome and in 1529 to 1533 he could do nothing to prevent Katherine from exercising this right, short of locking her up, taking all her servants away, not allowing any communication and binding and gagging her. It was not against any law to appeal to Rome until Henry made it so in 1533/4. A long process in Convocation and Parliament made Henry Head of the Church in England, a Church which remained Catholic, not Protestant, but without the trimmings, made his marriage to Anne valid and their children his only heirs. This included the break from Rome and the Treason Act which made writing, talking and thinking anything against the new marriage treason. However, in 1531, Henry was still a child of the Catholic Church fully and as no decision on his marriage had been made, he wasn’t entitled to act and marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope had every right to issue a warning and it was hard luck. Henry would have to wait or find a way forward, to get his clergy on his side.

          Henry may have believed he was free to marry, but yes, you are right, until someone declared his first marriage invalid he had to wait. Katherine was also still living at the palace. Henry needed to remove himself from contact with Katherine, Anne would make him do that over her still making his shirts. He had to bribe the English clergy over their allegiance to the Pope, he had to use threats to bride Convocation and he needed support from abroad, so he flattered King Francis with a visit with Anne and his court in 1532. He and Anne began to sleep together in October that year, may have had a ceremony of betrothal or marriage in November and then the ceremony we know about at the end of January 1533, at which Henry claimed he already had his annulment and was free to marry. He had to wait for Rome, ironically to confirm his new Archbishop, Thomas Cranmer who then did the honours in April 1533. Henry believed he was free to marry Anne and that she was carrying his son. However, yes, in the eyes of most people, his marriage to Anne was not valid at the time as he still had a living wife. He would not actually be free before Katherine died in January 1536. It was then even more ironic and sad as his marriage to Anne ended in her callous execution and the trauma of the death of their son, also in January 1536. Although this didn’t end the marriage to Anne, she was more vulnerable, with the events of May 1536, following as her enemies gathered.

          Henry used two things to invalidate his marriage to Anne. He tried to say she had contracted marriage to Henry, Earl of Northumberland, who swore this was not true. This failed so he used incest, with her sister, for which he never got any dispensation although he had hinted at it in 1526. This was a plausible argument, which Anne, already condemned agreed. She may have been promised a pardon or just fearful for her daughter, Elizabeth, on whom she doted. Anne had been promised a swift death, with a sword, rather than burning, the normal execution of a female traitor. She still was unsure, however. She also seems to have been under the impression that she would go to a convent. The reason Henry had to have his marriage declared invalid to Anne was to declare Elizabeth illegitimate. Her execution would end his marriage, but he wanted no contenders for his crown not with his new Queen to be, Jane Seymour. Elizabeth would still be his legal heir and he wanted her set aside. The Act of 1536 world confirm this and make Mary illegitimate and only children born to Jane, legitimate. However, this last callous act was needed to make certain as he still needed a clergyman to make the declaration. The law was firmly rooted in common and canon law and the latter still had priority in 1536 when it came to marriage and the family. For Thomas Cranmer, a man who had so much hope in Anne as a supporter of reform, this was a terrible blow, but as a man who owed his appointment to Henry, he really had no choice. In five years Henry had evolved from a child of the Catholic Church being told to behave and wait for her authority on his marriage to a man who gave the orders to state and church. The change was terrifying.

  1. And then he used the same excuse to get rid of Anne by insisting that their marriage was invalid by having relations with her sister, he really was the worst hypocrite of all, he changed the laws around to suit himself.

    1. Jane, I think Henry was pretty confident that in some way his marriage to Catherine would be dissolved. When Archbishop Cranmer declared the marriage invalid in May 1533, that meant that there had never been a marriage at all – – from 1509 to 1533. So, legally, Henry had never been married to Catherine and there was thus no bigamy when he married Anne.

        1. I don’t think he knew when the marriage was going to be annulled at this point. He married Anne in January 1533 because he had started sleeping with her after their trip to Calais (and may well have married her in a ceremony in November 1532) and so there was the risk of pregnancy. Henry needed to be married to Anne so that any child resulting from their relationship would be legitimate.

    2. Yes, but it already didn’t exist in Henry’s head. Obviously it sounds crazy to us but to Henry, and to some canon law experts he sought advice from, it just was not valid and therefore he was free and single regardless of when it was actually annulled. Once it was annulled any other marriage that Henry had entered into, i.e. his marriage to Anne Boleyn, was deemed legal.

  2. Since Henry’s marriage to Anne was also annulled, he couldn’t have committed bigamy, in any event … because it, too, was invalid from the outset. Also, the only one who thought that Henry’s marriage to Catherine was invalid was Henry … both Martin Luther and William Tyndale agreed with the Pope that the marriage to Catherine was valid !

    1. According to John Schofield’s biography of Thomas Cromwell, he opposed the divorce because “what G-d had joined, let no man put asunder.” (p. 54.)

      1. Henry probably wasn’t amused to find a number of leading Lutheran and Evangelical churhmen, not even William Tyndale, from whom he had lifted the idea as the Supreme Head of the Church to get his own annulment and to not wait for the Pope, wrote against his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, believing his marriage to her valid. Not that Henry, Luther and Tyndale actually agreed on anything which wasn’t to his own advantage and he still held them as heretics. Anne Boleyn may have encouraged the use of the Tyndale New Testament and had one herself, but Henry remained traditional and as soon as Anne was out of the picture, Tyndale was hunted down in the Empire, taken by his agents and burned as a heretic. I think his opposition to his annulment made it personal. The same with Cardinal Pole who wrote to condemn his marriage and treatment of leading Catholic officials such as Thomas More and John Fisher and the monks. Henry had him hunted down on the Continent but was unable to get to him, so he waited, then attacked his brothers, brother in law and elderly mother instead. It eas all personal and all vicious.

  3. Thomas Cromwell was a 100% behind Henry so I cant see him being opposed, He made a lot of money out of the sacking of the RC Church’s etc. He is said to be Little Jack Horner sitting in the corner. Martin Luther where and how does he come into the picture, A German who was married or going to marry a Nun, dont see how he fits in the puzzle.

    1. Henry actually asked the opinions of the German reformers and his own English ones in exile. Not one of them supported his reading of scripture because they had a better knowledge. Henry was a fine theological student, but he wasn’t an expert. Cranmer used old laws to back up Henry, as did Cromwell and rewrote English history. They didn’t use theological arguments. They ditched them. They found what would support King Henry. Ironically, the students of the Bible and theology understood that Deuteronomy takes priority over Leviticus in the case of a childless widow of a brother and obligations in the Hebrew Bible. (Don’t worry, it took me 20 years to get it). Luther may have had some odd ideas on runaway nuns and celibacy, marrying Katherine, a runaway nun, but his Old Testament knowledge was sound. Even more convincing was William Tyndale who wrote a pamphlet against Henry’s annulment, despite saying King’s are not subject to Pope’s and the unofficial patronage of Anne Boleyn of his New Testament. Henry wanted international support and hoped these very influential men would support him. None of them did. Philip of Bavaria who wanted support for what turned out to be bigamy even asked Luther to support him. Not surprisingly he said no. Henry in fact found any great statesman and churchmen on both sides of international reputation against him. On the Catholic side he was opposed by the best selling author of Catholic theology and promotion, Sir Thomas More and a Bishop of renown, international reputation and a keen supporter of Katherine, who made it no secret, John Fisher. He was not supported by every great family, either, although they gave in and accepted his will. He was not supported by all of the Universities as he claimed and the so called old laws were probably invented. It made no difference because by 1533 Henry had found his own strength. With the two people willing to do his bidding, especially Cromwell and his legislation which propped up Henry and Anne, on pain of death, his bribing the clergy into submission, now he was not going to be opposed. The Act of Supremacy gave Henry incredible powers. The lion had found his true strength and no longer could anyone tell him what to do. He may need a bang on the head to later become a Tyrant but now he could clearly see his way forward, his will was starting to be everything and no doubt he may even have wished he had broken with Rome and everything which held him back years ago.

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