The parliament forbade by statute any further appeals to the papal court; and on a petition from the clergy in convocation the houses granted power to the King to suspend the payments of first-fruits, or the year’s revenue which each bishop paid to Rome on his election to a see.
Henry VIII Makes Himself Head of the Church of England, featuring a series of excerpts selected from A Short History of the English People by John R. Green published in 1874. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
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“The King’s majesty,” runs this memorable clause, “hath as well the care of the souls of his subjects as their bodies; and may by the law of God by his parliament make laws touching and concerning as well the one as the other.” The principle embodied in these words was carried out in a series of decisive measures. Under strong pressure the convocation was brought to pray that the power of independent legislation till now exercised by the church should come to an end, and to promise “that from henceforth we shall forbear to enact, promulge, or put into execution any such constitutions and ordinances so by us to be made in time coming, unless your highness by your royal assent shall license us to make, promulge, and execute them, and the same so made be approved by your highness’ authority.”
Rome was dealt with in the same unsparing fashion. The parliament forbade by statute any further appeals to the papal court; and on a petition from the clergy in convocation the houses granted power to the King to suspend the payments of first-fruits, or the year’s revenue which each bishop paid to Rome on his election to a see. All judicial, all financial connection with the papacy was broken by these two measures. The last, indeed, was as yet but a menace which Henry might use in his negotiations with Clement. The hope which had been entertained of aid from Charles was now abandoned; and the overthrow of Norfolk and his policy of alliance with the Empire was seen at the midsummer of 1532 in the conclusion of a league with France. Cromwell had fallen back on Wolsey’s system; and the divorce was now to be looked for from the united pressure of the French and English kings on the papal court.
But the pressure was as unsuccessful as before. In November Clement threatened the King with excommunication if he did not restore Catherine to her place as queen and abstain from all intercourse with Anne Boleyn till the case was tried. But Henry still refused to submit to the judgment of any court outside his realm; and the Pope, ready as he was with evasion and delay, dared not alienate Charles by consenting to a trial within it. The lavish pledges which Francis had given in an interview during the preceding summer may have aided to spur the King to a decisive step which closed the long debate. At the opening of 1533 Henry was privately married to Anne Boleyn. The match, however, was carefully kept secret while the papal sanction was being gained for the appointment of Cranmer to the see of Canterbury, which had become vacant by Archbishop Warham’s death in the preceding year. But Cranmer’s consecration at the close of March was the signal for more open action, and Cromwell’s policy was at last brought fairly into play.
The new primate at once laid the question of the King’s marriage before the two houses of convocation, and both voted that the license of Pope Julius had been beyond the papal powers and that the marriage which it authorized was void. In May the King’s suit was brought before the Archbishop in his court at Dunstable; his judgment annulled the marriage with Catherine as void from the beginning, and pronounced the marriage with Anne Boleyn, which her pregnancy had forced Henry to reveal, a lawful marriage. A week later the hand of Cranmer placed upon Anne’s brow the crown which she had coveted so long.
“There was much murmuring” at measures such as these. Many thought “that the Bishop of Rome would curse all Englishmen, and that the Emperor and he would destroy all the people.” Fears of the overthrow of religion told on the clergy; the merchants dreaded an interruption of the trade with Flanders, Italy, and Spain. But Charles, though still loyal to his aunt’s cause, had no mind to incur risks for her; and Clement, though he annulled Cranmer’s proceedings, hesitated as yet to take sterner action. Henry, on the other hand, conscious that the die was thrown, moved rapidly forward in the path that Cromwell had opened. The Pope’s reversal of the primate’s judgment was answered by an appeal to a general council. The decision of the cardinals to whom the case was referred in the spring of 1534, a decision which asserted the lawfulness of Catherine’s marriage, was met by the enforcement of the long-suspended statute forbidding the payment of first-fruits to the Pope.
Though the King was still firm in his resistance to Lutheran opinions, and at this moment endeavored to prevent by statute the importation of Lutheran books, the less scrupulous hand of his minister was seen already striving to find a counterpoise to the hostility of the Emperor in an alliance with the Lutheran princes of North Germany. Cromwell was now fast rising to a power which rivaled Wolsey’s. His elevation to the post of lord privy seal placed him on a level with the great nobles of the council board; and Norfolk, constant in his hopes of reconciliation with Charles and the papacy, saw his plans set aside for the wider and more daring projects of “the black-smith’s son.” Cromwell still clung to the political engine whose powers he had turned to the service of the Crown. The parliament which had been summoned at Wolsey’s fall met steadily year after year; and measure after measure had shown its accordance with the royal will in the strife with Rome.