November 8 – King Henry VIII and his troubled conscience

Posted By on November 8, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 8th November 1528, King Henry VIII made a rather strange public oration to “the nobility, judges and councillors and divers other persons” at Bridewell Palace.

His speech was regarding his troubled conscience over the lawfulness of his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

In his speech, he lavished praise on Catherine, yet he’d proposed to one of her ladies, Anne Boleyn, and wanted out of his first marriage.

In the video and transcript below, I share an extract from Henry VIII’s speech and explain this strange situation.

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 8th November 1528, at Bridewell Palace, King Henry VIII made a public oration to “the nobility, judges and councillors and divers other persons” to explain his troubled conscience regarding the lawfulness of his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Edward Hall in his chronicle writes of how the king “was in a great scruple of his conscience and not quiet in his mind, because that diverse divines well learnèd secretly informed him that he lived in adultery with his brother’s wife to the great peril of his soul, and told him further that the court of Rome could not dispense with God’s commandment and precept.”

Hall goes on to say that the common people had been talking about this since the first day of the marriage and that the king’s advisors were now telling the king that he needed to find out the truth of the matter. So, as Hall explains, the king called together “the best learnèd of the realm” and consulted the universities of Italy and France, and “the great clerks of all christendom”, and then requested a legate from Rome to hear the case and give judgement.

Henry VIII’s speech on this day in 1528 at Bridewell was an attempt “to quiet the fears of the London citizens, who were very much on Catherine’s side”, although the king explained that it was provoked by negotiations for a marriage between his daughter, Mary, and the Duke of Orléans. According to Henry VIII, one of the French king’s chief councillors wanted to know if Mary really was the king of England’s lawful daughter when everyone knew that Henry VIII had married his brother’s wife against God’s law and his precept.

Henry then said:
“Think you my lords that these words touch not my body & soul, thinke you that these doings do not daily & hourly trouble my conscience & vex my spirits, yes we doubt not but & if it were your own cause every man would seek remedy when the peril of your soul & the loss of your inheritance is openly laid to you. For this only cause I protest before God & in the word of a prince, I have asked counsel of the greatest clerkes in Christendom, and for this cause I have sent for this legate as a man indifferent only to know the truth and to settle my conscience and for none other cause as God can judge. And touching the queen, if it be adjudged by the law of God that she is my lawful wife, there was never thing more pleasant nor more acceptable to me in my life, both for the discharge & clearing of my conscience & also for the good qualities and conditions the which I know to be in her. For I assure you all that beside her noble parentage of the which she is descended (as all you know), she is a woman of most gentleness, of moste humility and buxumness, yea and of all good qualities appertaining to nobilitiy, she is without comparison, as I this 20 years almost have had the true experiment, so that if I were to marry again if the marriage might be good I would surely chose her above all other women: But if it be determined by judgement that our marriage was against God’s law and clearely void, then I shall not only sorrow the departing from so good a Lady and loving companion, but much more lament and bewail my infortunate chance that I have so long lived in adultery to God’s great displeasure, and have no true heirs of my body to inherit this realm. These be the sores that vex my mind, these be the pangs that trouble my conscience, & for these griefs I seek a remedy.”

Wow, what a speech! It’s just a shame that he’d already proposed to Anne Boleyn, and she’d accepted by this point, and he really had no intention of staying married to Catherine! It makes you wonder what Anne thought of his speech!

Sources: Appendix C of George Cavendish’s “The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey” edited by Richard S Sylvester, and Hall’s Chronicle.

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