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The Reformation: Henry VIII's Early Reign

The birth of the Reformation occurred many years before the public would start to see the results. For several centuries before the 1500’s, England had an uneasy relationship with Rome, the center of widely-practiced Catholicism. The country was isolated from the European continent, and many reformers found their way to England.

In 1503, the future king, Henry VIII, was offered the hand of his dead brother’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, at the insistence of his father, Henry VII. Since marrying the wife of one’s brother was considered incest, he had to get special papal dispensation for the marriage to go forward. The pope reluctantly agreed, and the couple was married.

King Henry VIII took the throne in 1509, at age 18. He was extremely popular among every circle, as an excellent sportsman, musician, scholar, and theologian. Soon after he became King, his wife became pregnant. Catherine gave birth to four sons, all of whom died shortly after birth, before she finally produced a living child, a daughter named Mary in 1516. Henry began to doubt the marriage, since Catherine seemed unable to produce any sons.

At that time, it was generally accepted that, if they were married for political reasons rather than love, royalty could venture outside their marriage to find the romance that was missing. When Mary was only two years old, Henry took his first mistress, Elizabeth Blount. She gave him an illegitimate son in 1519. In 1524, Henry moved on to Mary Boleyn, the daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, a merchant and diplomat who was a favorite with the Henry VIII.

Three years later, the King’s attentions turned to Mary Boleyn’s sister, Anne, a lady-in-waiting to Henry’s wife, Catherine. Anne was raised in France and had been a lady-in-waiting to Marguerite of Navarre, from whom she may have absorbed some Protestant beliefs and practices. It was partly because of Henry’s desire for Anne that the Reformation occurred.

The Annullment

History of England