Henry the Eighth and All That
There is a popular impression that Henry VIII “invented” the Church of England in order to get a divorce. This impression is mistaken. By the time that Henry broke with Rome in 1534 there had been a continuously existing Church in England for almost a thousand years. Furthermore, Henry’s breach with Rome came at the end of a long period during which papal authority was steadily limited in England. The English Parliament began formally limiting papal power in the 1300s. In 1351 Parliament passed the Statutes of Provisors which meant that no one could be appointed to an office in the Church of England without the English monarch’s consent. In 1353 Parliament passed the First Statute of Praemunire which limited legal appeals to the pope’s court; civil and ecclesiastical appeals which were once made in the pope’s court would now have to be made to the English crown. Those appealing to Rome could now be tried for treason.
Henry VIII’s breach with Rome must be placed in its historical context, a context which is much wider than Henry’s desire for a new wife. This context had at least three aspects. One aspect was growing nationalism in England–increasingly the papacy was seen as an interfering foreign power. A second aspect was growing English resentment of the papacy’s financial and political interference in England’s affairs. A third aspect of this context was the events which were shaking Europe.