The background to the Divorce of Henry VIII and Catharine of Arragon.

Catharine of Arragon had been a good wife to Henry and had tried  hard to give him the son he wanted. In the event six children were born, including two sons, but five were still born or lived but a few days. Only his daughter Mary survived. The problem of an heir began to materialise when Catharine reached 40, and further child bearing  was
thought unlikely. She was no doubt an influence on Henry`s early attitudes having her family ties to Catholic Spain  and her nephew Charles had succeeded Maxmillian as Holy Roman Emperor.  Meanwhile in 1527 Henry had grown tired of Charles V and allied himself with France, now ruled by Francis I, and he betrothed daughter Mary to the Dauphin. This however, faltered on the same grounds as had an earlier proposal (in 1522) for Mary to marry the Emperor, Charles V – “whether the marriage  between the king and the mother of lady Mary, were good or no ? ” 

The issue raised itself once again when Henry sought to divorce Catharine and marry Anne Boleyn.  Meanwhile, In Italy the Pope Clement VII had become the prisoner of Charles V who had invaded Italy and he was in no position to agree a divorce  (considering the family connections).
According to the mores of the day he did what he had to do – prevaricate and procrastinate.
What this charade demonstrated was that the earthly concerns of the prelates
– their personal security and wealth, was the determining factor even in the
weightiest of decisions. Indeed it was the Church`s involvement in temporal
politics that eventually determined the Pope`s decision and had very little
to do with the rule of the Scriptures or perceived rules of consanguinity.

At the time, Wolsey and Henry had two avenues to follow. The first and most direct was a decree by the Pope, now negated by circumstances,  along with a submission  to allow the marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn as soon as a decision had been made. An alternate means  was for the Pope to allow the matter to be resolved `locally` , ie  Wolsey as Papal Legate. In this an option was to declare the Pope incapacitated and Wolsey would hold a Convocation of cardinals to agree the matter of the divorce. In the event a second papal representative, Cardinal Campeggio, was sent to help Wolsey determine the facts – with instructions to prevaricate while Clement sought to extricate himself from the dominance of Charles V. Importantly the Pope declined them any plenary powers and reserved the decision to himself.  Wolsey was not happy at that and continued to seek a papal decretal ( defining the law as it applied to the case) which left the legates to determine the facts. This would have facilitated the use of the decretal as the basis for a declaration on a divorce without returning all once more to Rome.

Campeggio first tried to dissuade Henry from divorce and when he got nowhere turned to Catharine to seek her agreement to the king`s wishes. She was as obstinate as Henry, and moreover had right on her side. The two cardinals were left with nothing else to do but proceed to trial with the instruction (to Campeggio) that the decretal was only to be shown to the king, and then burnt. Both Henry and Catharine appeared before the court and made representations as a result of which certain murmurings grew about the treatment of Catharine, and the King appearing before his subjects to plead the law, when he was the law. This sort of prattle only made Henry more angry at the delay. On 23 July 1528 the court was due to report its decision at which Campeggio foolishly sought to invoke the Roman courts` timetable and take two months vacation until October. This was doomed and led to a sharp quarrel between Wolsey and Duke of Suffolk. Henry, nevertheless still had some hopes for a divorce even though the Pope  revoked the cause to Rome and withdrew the legates powers. Wolsey fought hard so that Henry was not cited to appear before the Pope in person. Meanwhile, on 8 November 1528 Henry made a public oration in which he sought to explain the issues to the public.

On the political front Charles V had taken Italy while Francis I had grown tired of the war and sought peace. In this he abandoned Italy to Charles, and they agreed on a Treaty at Cambrai which Henry effectively ignored. As a result Wolsey`s grand plan for conservative reform and England holding the balance of power in Europe, fell by the wayside. In a final and almost bizarre act the kings`officials ransacked Campeggio`s bags before he was allowed to leave the country at Dover. Henry had hoped to find the decretal which  might have been used to secure the divorce. But it was not found.

With time dragging on and Henry becoming very irate, in 1529 he finally sent the Earl of Wiltshire, Dr Lee, Bishop of York, and Stokesley Bishop of London as delegates to the Pope then at Bologna where he was meeting with the Emperor, Charles V. Again Clement ducked the issue and said he would consider it when he returned to Rome. Parliament meanwhile took the church to task and started to make reforms against the papal laws.

Henry`s response was to follow up on Cranmer`s suggestion
( N Pocock, in Reformation Papers p92, says this was Cromwell`s
suggestion, as evidenced in State papers) to obtain the opinion of the the Divines of leading universities in Europe for their opinion about a divorce. The twelve who responded concluded

 ” affirming plainly his marriage, in case as it standeth, both to be unlawful, and repugnant to the express word of God: and that no man is able to dispense  with the same “.

1531 was a pivotal year which
saw the passing of Wolsey on 29 November; and the death of Margaret of
Savoy, Regent of the Netherlands  and aunt of the Emperor Charles V on
1 December. Henry was becoming increasingly frustrated at the delays and
became determined to to find some other way of achieving a divorce if the
pope would not rule in his favour. The original intention of the
consultation with the Divines had been to fortify the Pope into making a
decision that the marriage was invalid. But the outcome caused Cromwell to
suggest to Henry that it should be used to represent the strong case against
the Pope deciding the other way. 

On 5 January 1531 the Pope
issued a breve (warning letter) that peremptorily warned of excommunication
if Henry proceeded to a second marriage before the existing marriage state
was decided. Ann was not mentioned by name and the warning differed from an
earlier breve of 7 March 1530 only in that the Pope was indicating he knew
of Henry`s intention to seek a decision elsewhere. 

save warnings having been heard from Rome by March of 1531, Henry sent the matter before Parliament:

“You of this worshipful house, I am sure, be not so ignorant, but you know well that the king, our sovereign lord, bath married his brother’s wife: for she was both wedded and bedded with his brother prince Arthur; and therefore you may surely say that be hath married his. brother’s wife: if this marriage be good or no, many clerks dodoubt, Wherefore the king, like a virtuous prince, willing to be satisfied in his conscience, and also for the surety of hi. realm, hath with great deliberation consulted with great clerks. and hath sent my lord of London, here present, to the chief universities of all christendom, to know their opinion and judgment in that behalf; and although the universities of Cambridge and Oxford had been sufficient to discuss the cause, yet because they be in his realm and to avoid all suspicion of partiality, he hatli sent into the realm of France, Italy, the pope’. dominion., and Venetian., to know their judgment in that behalf, which have concluded, written, and sealed their determinations, according as you shall hear read.’”

The replies from the universities were produced and read out. The significance of the decisions was to demonstrate that the Pope was not what  he claimed, and secondly, he presumptuously took unto himself  powers that he was not able to dispense. These truths, long hidden, were basic cracks in the foundations of the church of Rome.

Henry then caused the bishops to be called before the kings bench on writ of Praemunire. The bishops meanwhile were at a convocation to which Thomas Cromwell had gone with the charges about swearing loyalty to the pope. The church offered Henry settlement of £100,000 from the see of Canterbury and £18,840.0s.10p from the see of York to be quit of the charges. Notably in their submission the prelates called Henry ” the supreme head of the Church of England” which they had never admitted before.

In January 1532 Parliament met again and Henry called for the Speaker , twelve Members of the Commons  and eight Lords to attend him.  He presented to them a copy of the oath of the clergy to the Pope that had been disclosed by  Cromwell, and commented that

“For all the prelates  at their consecration  make an oath to the pope, clean contrary  to the oath that they make unto us, so that they seem  to be his subjects, and not ours.”

He then gave them copies of both oaths and charged them to “invent in some order that he might not thus be deluded of his spiritual subjects.” The resultant oath of the clergy to the King was the physical act that made the break with Rome a reality. But it still kept catholicism as the faith.

The Oath of the Clergy to the King.

I John, B. of A., utterly renounce, said clearly forsake, all such clauses, words, sentences, and grants, which I have or shall have hereafter of the pope’s holiness, of and for the bishopric of A, that in anywise have been, are, or hereafter may be, hurtful or prejudicial to your highness, your heirs, succesors, dignity, privilege or estate royal: and also I do swear that 1 shall be faithful and true, and faith and truth I shall bear, to you my sovereign lord, and to your heirs kings of the same, of life and limb and earthly worship above all creatures, for to live and die with you and yours against all people and diligently I shall he attendant to all your need, and business, after my wit and power; and your counsel I shall keep and hold, knowledging myself to hold my bishopric of you only, beseeching you of restitution of the temporalties of the same; promising(as before) that I shall be a faithful, true, and obedient subject unto your said highness, heirs, and successors during my life: and the services and other things due to your highness, for the restitution of the temporalties of the same bishopric, I shall truly do and obediently perform. So God me help and all saints.

A consequence of the new Oath was the resignation of Sir Thomas More as Lord Chancellor; he resigned 16 May 1532 although he continued to hold the seals and be law officer until January 1533 when he left office entirely. He was succeeded by Sir Thomas Audley.

A third breve was prepared on 25 January
1532 which named Ann for the first time and firmly rebuked Henry for
cohabiting with her. It further ordered him to dismiss Ann and take back
Catharine ; if he failed to do so within one month of receiving the breve he
would be excommunicated. The document was was posted  at Dunkirk and
Bruge on 21 and 23 January 1533. But it was both pointless and too late, as
Henry and Ann had married on St Erkwald`s Day, 14 November 1532.

About the same time the convocations of the clergy and a meeting of parliament concluded that appeal to Rome was not necessary. It became the duty of Thomas Cranmer, now Archbishop of Canterbury  along with the bishops of London,  Winchester, Bath and Lincoln with a large entourage to go to Dunstable where Catharine now was. Here she was summoned on 10 May 1533 to appear in a matrimonial court but did not appear. Neither did she appear on the next fifteen days on which she was cited. Eventually she was cited for contumacy and by the assent of those present declared divorced on 25 May, and the marriage declared  void and of no effect. An interesting point about this, which took place after Henry had married Anne Boleyn, was that it need not have been done. It was in fact to meet the publics` opinion and desire to tie up loose ends. If nothing had been done, because the marriage was unlawful in the eyes of God, then Henry was guilty of  an incestuous and adulterous affair. The decision about the divorce was ratified in the 1534 parliament and included determination of the succession.

Catharine continued with her appeal to Rome against the divorce and would listen to nobody but a few Spanish advisers. She rejected the universities opinion and procured from the Pope (contrary to the law as it happened) declarations and admonitions followed by excommunication and interdiction against the king and the whole realm. The pope`s curser, a faint hearted man, posted a monition that the king should `surcease  the suit of divorce`  on the church door in Dunkirk which was taken down and brought to London. The Duke of Suffolk  was subsequently sent to Bugden, near Huntingdon, where Catharine was, but was unable to speak with her (she stormed out of the meeting). He proceeded to break up her court and dismissed many servants, leaving but a few who were clearly instructed to serve her as a princess, not a queen. Those who would not so serve her were dismissed.

According to Cranmer,  Henry and Anne Boleyn were married quietly about St Paul`s Day, 25 January 1533; he was not present and did not learn of it until a fortnight later (other historians quote November 1532). It follows that at some earlier date Catharine was probably formally declared divorced ; she was later referred to as the   Princess Dowager in an act of parliament in 1534. On 7 September 1533 Queen Anne gave birth to Elizabeth, the future queen.
An interesting side light on the marriage of Henry and Anne is revealed in a
letter Cranmer sent in 1533, to Hawkyns,
the Ambassador at the Emperors Court. This reveals that Cranmer did not
perform the marriage ceremony but he did officiate at the coronations.