Henry VIII

"The King's Great Matter"

Summary "The King's Great Matter"

This series of events infuriated King Henry, who was determined to marshal all the political force necessary to secure the divorce and to get his male heir. And although Henry was a devout Catholic in many ways, he did not want the pope or the Roman Church itself to stand in his way. His summoning of Parliament at the close of 1529 was the first step in his political war against Rome. Among the members of Parliament were many common lawyers and landowners who resented the power of the Church with its vast landholdings and its court system–which often caused jurisdictional disputes when Church jurists conflicted in their legal opinions with common law jurists. These members of parliament also resented the taxes they had to pay which were sent off to Rome to support the Papacy. Henry did not find it difficult to get such a Parliament to vote with him to override the pope's decisions concerning the divorce and to subordinate the independence of the Church in England to obedience to his crown.

Although Henry at first considered himself the supreme head of the Church in England, his title soon changed to "Supreme Head of the Church of England." This distinction was crucial, because the second title signified a schism with the Catholic Church, which, until the first decades of the sixteenth century, had reigned virtually unchallenged in Western Europe as the ultimate spiritual and temporal authority. Henry, who had once been named Defender of the Faith by a pope, now claimed pope-like authority over the Church in England, which was thenceforth conceived as a distinct body answerable only to God, and to no man outside its national borders. This break with Rome was a revolutionary step for Henry to take, and it required firm support from Parliament and severe methods of enforcement by the government to secure it as reality. These were some of the driving reasons behind the 1534 Act of Supremacy and Oath of Succession, the rejection of which guaranteed the imprisonment and death of men such as Thomas More.

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