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The Reformation: The Annullment

Henry had been thinking of the possibility of annulling his marriage to Catherine since 1514, when Anne was only seven. It wasn’t until March of 1527, however, that the annulment proceedings began. Henry felt the need for a son to carry on the Tudor dynasty, which had only begun with Henry VII in 1485. Without the confidence of a male heir to the throne, the future of the kingdom was at risk. Therefore, Henry deserved a wife who could produce for him a son.

Cardinal Wolsey, the King’s advisor, agreed with Henry on this point, and assured him that the necessary papal agreement could easily be obtained. However, Wolsey failed to take into account the fact that Rome had been conquered that very year by King Charles V of Spain, who happened to be the nephew of Queen Catherine. Catherine wished to stay married to Henry, and made her views known to Charles. He made sure that no decisions would be made by the pope to open the door for an annulment.

In the fall of 1527, Henry sent two requests to Pope Clement. The first was that the Pope recognize the doubtful validity of his marriage to Catherine and her unwillingness to get a divorce and that Henry should receive permission to have two wives. The second request was that Henry be granted a dispensation to marry a woman with whose sister he had had sexual relations. A last-minute order from Henry stopped the first request from being received, however, the Pope did grant the second request, on the condition that Henry’s marriage to Catherine be annulled. As to this, however, the Pope was not ready to agree. Not only was Clement under the watchful eye of Charles, he also was reluctant to admit that the previous pope had made a mistake in allowing Henry to marry Catherine in the first place.

At the end of the same year, Henry sent another request: that the Pope should appoint Wolsey and another Cardinal to sit as a court in England, to decide upon the validity of Henry and Catherine’s marriage. This served two very important purposes: the first was that Catherine could no longer use her nephew to control the decisions being made; the second, that Cardinal Wolsey, who was technically a servant to the King, could oversee the process and rule in Henry’s favor.

Pope Clement agreed, but only on the condition, as ordered by Charles, that Clement would have the final judgment on the case. However, he promised, in a private message to Wolsey and Henry, that he would agree with whatever decision was made by the legate. He appointed Cardinal Campeggio, who had originally been sent to England in 1518 to promote a crusade against the Turks, as the second legate to supervise the trial. Clement secretly ordered Campeggio to delay the proceedings as much as possible, to try to convince Henry to stay married to Catherine, and to not make any decisions until ordered to do so.

When Campeggio arrived in England in October 1528, he tried to convince Catherine to retire to a nunnery. She agreed, but only if Henry would take vows to become a monk. Henry agreed to this, but only if the Pope promised to release him of those vows whenever the King desired. Of course, monkery was the furthest thing from Henry’s life as a spoiled, well-fed King. Campeggio refused to relay this proposal to the Pope, instead writing about the passion Henry showed for Anne.

“(It) is the most extraordinary thing. He sees nothing, he thinks of nothing, but his Anne; he cannot be without her for an hour. It moves me to pity to see how the King’s life, the stability and downfall of the whole country hang upon this one question.”

Despite his orders to postpone the hearings, Campeggio finally opened the courts n May 31, 1529. He maintained a strictly judicial mindset throughout the ordeal, and wrote to the Pope that, if he looked strictly at the evidence before him, he would be forced to rule in favor of the King. However, he skillfully manuvered his way into postponing the decision when, at the July 23 session of the court, the day the sentence was to be announced, he ordered that the courts close until October in the manner of the Roman courts for a summer recess.

In the mean time, Spain was closing its grip on Italy, after defeating the French army, backed in part by Henry, in a campaign to restore the Papacy to its own control. By October, the Pope, now under even closer watch, had revoked the case to Rome, out of the hands of Wolsey and Campeggio. Unless there were drastic political changes, Henry had no hope of the case ever being returned in his favor by Rome.

Henry VIII's Early Reign A New Church

History of England