Henry VIII probably had an ‘overrated and oversexed’ image following him. By 1547, the year of Henry’s death and consequently the end of his reign, he had had six wives. He also went to great lengths to allow him to get rid of some of these women. For example, when it came to the point in his reign when he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon he had to go to great lengths to allow this to happen. As a divorcement is not allowed in the Catholic Church, Henry needed to find evidence to support his statement that his marriage was illegal so he could annul Catherine.
An annulment states the marriage was not valid in the first place, and only the pope has the right to grant such a process, this was just one of the causes of the break with Rome in 1533. To carry out the annulment Henry needed to be in charge of the English Church. However Henry’s desire for a divorce did not necessarily mean he wanted to break with Rome, the English church had been part of the Catholic Church under the power of the pope for centuries. This was a radical move made by Henry to achieve what he wanted.
England’s break with Rome relocated the Pope’s power in England to Henry himself; however it did not lead to the end of Catholicism in the country. Many Catholic practises remained and many people’s beliefs were not changed from Catholicism to Protestantism – this included Henry himself. This means that the break of England from Rome did not lead to a full reformation in England, however if Henry had not performed this radical act, England might now be a predominately Catholic country. In 1534 the second act of Annates was confirmed, this said that abbots and bishops would now be appointed by the King and not the pope.
To some people this may have suggested that now Henry had broken away from Rome, the decisions he was making would also take up a more protestant approach to religion. Another clear move towards Protestantism was the act of ten articles. The seven sacraments of the Catholic doctrine were rejected, leaving a belief in only three, baptism, the Eucharist and penance. There was lots of opposition to the reformation in many different formats however there was never anything significant enough to cause a major crisis. When people openly challenged Henry’s decisions e. g.
John Fischer, the Bishop of Rochester they paid with their life. This happened rarely, people didn’t normally go as far as to challenge Henry’s authority publicly. This may be one of the reasons why the reformation was as smooth as it was. As the years went on though, Henry made some moves that suggested to the people that he was heading back towards Catholicism. The Truce of Nice signed by Charles V and Francis I brought a halt to the Habsburg – Valois war and created the real possibility of a joint invasion of England by the Catholic powers. This threat lasted up until 1540, and prompted Henry to rediscover the six articles.
Also Henry’s commitment to the Catholic belief was further confirmed with the trial and execution of John Lambert for his rejection of the transubstantiation. With the reformation came financial implications that would benefit Henry. The Act for first fruits and tenths meant that clerical taxes would now go to the King rather than the pope. Also the two acts for Dissolutions of the monasteries, first in 1536 and then in 1539 gave Henry access to more financial benefits. This was because after the dissolutions the crown inherited the land that they were on and the surroundings.
Rich nobles would then purchase the land and the money would go to Henry. This helped him to recoup some of the money he had spent during his reign, the money that his father, Henry VII, had saved during his rule. Although there were lots of suspicions and thoughts that Henry would eventually turn towards Protestantism, it never happened. He made lots of decisions and enforced lots of policies that suggested this would but happen but equally he took steps back towards Catholicism. By 1547 under the power of the King, the English church had not really changed that much.
Henry VIII was intensely concerned about his reputation and had the ambition to be regarded as ‘the goodliest prince that ever reigned over the realm of England’. Under the guidance of Wolsey, Henry pursued the option of achieving honour through mediating peace. However it is thought this policy was only imposed because England was unable to achieve prestige through war. England was not a powerful country in Europe at the time of Henry’s reign. England’s position on the outside of Europe also caused problems; it made it irrelevant from the central issues Europe was fighting over at the time, such as the Ottomans, Milan and the Mediterranean.
Shortage of money was also another factor which remained a constant ball and chain to Henry’s conquering dreams. Only in the third French war when Henry had all the money from the dissolutions of the monasteries, did England have the resources to compete on the same level as the French and the empire. A lot of England’s foreign policy issues were dealt with by Wolsey. Of course Henry could say yes or no to a decision, but that was normally the idea of Wolsey. England came close to being attacked on two occasions, but Henry fulfilled the principle duty of a monarch and protected his country against outside aggression.
Overall, Henry’s relationships with the rest of Europe were rather good, although this was probably because England didn’t really get too involved with the main battles of this time. This was never Henry’s main priority; I feel he just wanted to keep England from getting attacked. His main achievement was in gaining a bloodless break from Rome. Henry’s image by the end of his reign was slightly different to the one portrayed in the 1520’s. He had done his best to fulfil his role as warrior – king. The victory at Boulogne would live on in popular memory for the rest of his life.
However he had provoked real hostility in his personal life – his rejection of Catherine of Aragon and his series of new wives gave people a negative view on him as a person. Fortunately, given the time period and what was happening in central Europe, Henry kept England mainly at piece during his reign. I do think that Henry VIII was slightly overrated as a King. He didn’t do anything drastically wrong but he didn’t exactly do much to help the people. If a peasant at the time had been asked what has Henry done for you, I feel they might have been speechless.