The Act of Succession and its oath

Posted By on April 20, 2021

On this day in Tudor history, on 20th April 1534, in the reign of King Henry VIII, prominent Londoners were called to swear a special oath.

Just what was the Oath of the Act of Succession? What were people swearing to?

Find out the highlights in this edition of my #TudorHistoryShorts video series, and read on for more details.

The Act of Succession had been passed by Parliament on 23rd March 1534, the same day that the pope pronounced sentence on Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Following Catherine’s appeal to Rome, the pope ruled in her favour and pronounced her marriage to Henry valid. However, back in England, the First Act of Succession declared Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn valid and vested the succession in their issue. According to English law, Henry and Catherine’s daughter Mary was now illegitimate and had been removed from the line of succession, and six-month-old Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter by Anne Boleyn, was the legitimate heir to the throne.

The Act required subjects to swear an oath, the Oath of Succession, renouncing any foreign authority and recognising Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII’s wife and their children as legitimate heirs to the succession.

You can read more about the provisions of this act in my article The First Act of Succession.

Of course, things would change after Anne Boleyn’s fall in 1536. On 8th June 1536, Parliament passed the Second Act of Succession removing both of Henry VIII’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, from the line of succession and declaring them bastards. Parliament confirmed the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, which had been proclaimed by Archbishop Cranmer on 17th May 1536, and confirmed the validity of Henry VIII’s marriage to Jane Seymour, which had taken place on 30th May 1536. It described Jane as “a right noble, virtuous, and excellent lady, Queen Jane”, as the king’s “true and lawful wife”, praised her “excellent beauty, and pureness of flesh and blood”, and described the marriage as “so pure and sincere, without spot, doubt or impediment”. Parliament also stated that “the succession to the throne be now therefore determined to the issue of the marriage with Queen Jane.” The new queen wasn’t even pregnant yet, but she would go on to give Henry a son in October 1537, the future Edward VI.

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