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The Kings Great Matter

The Spanish-English marriage alliance of Catherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur was arranged when the children were very young. Catherine traveled to England only to face tragedy when her young husband, Arthur died in 1502.Henry VII wanted to marry Catherine to his younger son, who would be, Henry VIII so that he did not lose the dowry money from Catherine’s parents and to secure some other agreements between the two countries. In the Catholic Church, it was forbidden to marry the wife of a deceased brother. A papal dispensation was required for the marriage. It was easily obtained from Pope Julius II. Henry VII died before the marriage took place but Henry VIII immediately married Catherine once he became King. Many people involved questioned the validity of this dispensation. Catherine’s mother, Isabella did not like the idea of her daughter being remarried and requiring a document from the Pope to have it done. But, once Henry VII died and Henry VIII proceeded with the marriage, no one mentioned the dispensation or the validity of it until Henry decided that he needed a grounds for divorce. Under the circumstances of Henry not wanting to be with his wife anymore, he proposed many doctrines that had been insignificant until then.

Henry and Catherine actually had a fairly good marriage. The biggest problem in the marriage was lack of ability to produce a male heir. This was very important to Henry. They tried several times but were not successful. The couple did have one child that lived but, it was a girl named Mary. After many miscarriages and years of disappointment, Catherine began to get much older and lose much of her attractiveness. Henry not only began to lose interest in his wife, but he also began to worry about not having a son to succeed him on the throne. This was when the King’s great matter began.

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Throughout this time period, Cardinal Wolsey, an advisor to Henry and very powerful in the Catholic Church, moved closer and closer to Henry. As the relationship progressed Henry became more distant to Catherine. Wolsey spied on Catherine and she thought he acted against her always. She began to believe that Wolsey had always hated her and possibly that she had always hated him also. She held him responsible for the promotion of Henry’s bastard son, for tempting the King of France to break the word agreed at Madrid and plunging Europe into war, for ruining the alliance between the two countries, and for seducing the pope and the Italian states. She also held Wolsey responsible for Henry’s irritability.

It isn’t surprising that Catherine also blamed Wolsey for Henry wanting to divorce her. But, Catherine was not the only one with this idea. The ambassador, the emperor, Reginald Pole, Catholic controversialists, and Catholic writers ever since have agreed that Wolsey was probably the instigator.

Catherine’s thought that Wolsey had put the ideas of divorce into Henry’s head was very reasonable. She believed that Wolsey thought this was the best way to safeguard his pro-French policy by removing Catherine and replacing her with a French princess. Wolsey was serious about his French alliance and did hope to arrange a French marriage. He also feared Catherine. He knew that he needed to get rid of her so that he get closer to the king and help him handle his affairs. Most of the time, Cardinal Wolsey was looking out to better himself and his policies.
Catherine was wrong about a few things though. She did not blame Henry for any of this. She felt he had been manipulated and took up for him every chance she had. She was wrong about Henry. He was not the innocent person she thought he was.
Protestant writers have told the story according to Henry, that his conscience had separated him from Catherine. But, still many have said that it was simply out of desire for another woman.
Henry’s want for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon has also been attributed to his health. During the years 1527 -28, it was obvious that his health was on the decline. In 1524, he suffered from a head injury while jousting with the Duke of Suffolk. This injury is said to have caused him many severe headaches and possibly an alteration in behavior and character. His character began to change slowly after this. He went from a happy leader, fairly good husband and interested in his people to an irritable, suspicious, and selfish king. In the same year he also suffered from an ulcer in his leg which contributed to his irritability and impatience.
Someone told Henry that he had been living in sin with his brother’s wife. The name of who told him this was never released. Henry’s arguments of his marriage to Catherine being invalid consisted of two sections. The first section argued that the union of a man and the wife of his brother was contrary to the law of God and that any papal dispensation pretending to allow it was worthless. The second section argued that the particular dispensation granted by Pope Julius II, which he had married Catherine under, was invalid. His first argument contained several parts. The first part was two texts in Leviticus. Leviticus 18:16 reads Thou shall not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife: it is thy brother’s nakedness’ and Leviticus 20:21 reads If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.’ Henry and his advisors could not just use these scriptures. They advisors had to prove that they were true under all circumstances and were out of reach of all papal authority.

However, the texts from Leviticus that Henry used were contradicted by a text from Deuteronomy. This text read: When brethren dwell together, and one of them dieth without children, the wife of the deceased shall not marry to another, but his brother shall take her, and raise up seed for his brother.’ In order for Henry’s arguments to succeed he had to somehow get rid of this text from Deuteronomy. It was attacked in many ways. Some argued that the text from Deuteronomy was a ceremonial or respective interpretation of the law that was allowed to the Jews but, like circumcision, was dissolved by the coming of Christ. Others argued that this text was only permissible under certain rare conditions, none of which was present in Henry’s case.

Henry, Wolsey, and a few other advisors had been meeting privately to discuss how the proceedings of the divorce should take place. These secret meetings were how the whole process came to be known as the king’s great matter. The plan was not to involve Rome at all. Cardinal Wolsey and Warham were going to hold a secret court in England. They were going to call Henry in, charging him with living in sin with his dead brother’s wife. Henry would plead guilty and the private court would then sentence him and the marriage to nullity. But, they ran into a problem. Catherine found out what the plan was. Her nephew was Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He had much power in Rome and over the papacy. She wrote letters and sent them to Charles for help. In her letters, she told him the entire story and appealed the case of the divorce to Rome.
In 1527, Wolsey was in a hurry to get to France. He was trying to beat Catherine’s letters to Charles for help. He knew that if Charles heard the story he would threaten Pope Clement VII so that he would not dare dissolve the marriage. However, Wolsey did have an alternative plan. It is a good thing he did because he did not beat her letters to Charles. In June 1527, Charles troops attacked Rome and put the Pope up as prisoner. Wolsey went to France and signed the Treaty of Amiens. This protested that no action of the Pope would be valid while he was under duress and proposed that Wolsey, himself, preside over the cardinals in this time of trouble. Wolsey was afraid that Charles would provoke the Pope to do something while under imprisonment. Wolsey’s next plan was to make comments to Henry’s ambassador with Charles that there was a rumor going around in England about the divorce between the king and queen and that there was some questions from the French concerning the validity of marriage and the papal dispensation for the marriage. He also said that the queen had heard of the rumors and was very upset. He did to place doubts in Charles mind about what Catherine had told him.
Henry and his most trusted advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, began to fall away from each other a bit. Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. She hated Wolsey and he did not want them married because he wanted Henry to marry a French princess to benefit himself. They began going separate ways in trying to achieve this divorce. While Wolsey tried to make peace in France and to organize a way to rescue the pope from Charles power, Henry went behind his back and had a document drawn up by his secretary, William Knight, that would manipulate the pope. Henry was going to take the document to the Pope himself to get him to sign it. He thought that the pope would appreciate a more personal approach. The pope did have a history of giving people divorces, so Henry really did not think he would have a problem either. He probably would not have had if it was not for Charles V. Henry’s sister, the Queen of Scotland, had no problem getting a divorce from the pope after she had been having an affair with a married man. Henry IV of Castile was allowed by the pope to take another wife to bear him children because his first wife could not. In 1498, Pope Alexander VI allowed the King of France to have a divorce so that he could marry the ruler of Brittany. Both of Henry’s sister Mary’s husbands had received divorces from the pope.

The document that Henry had written by his secretary contained many ideas that the Pope would agree with but in-between-the-lines he added the dissolution of the marriage between him and Catherine. Wolsey found out about Henry’s ideas but did not do anything because he knew that the papacy would not fall for it.
Wolsey wanted to get a Decretal Commission signed. This document would say that if he proved certain things concerning the marital dispensation then he could declare the marriage null and void. This case contained four things. The first was, the dispensation had been obtained under false pretenses because it was said Henry asked for it, when he didn’t even know what it was and was only twelve years old. The second was,it stated that it was issued to prevent war between England and Spain but at that time there had been no problems between the two countries. The third was, the dispensation had been granted by Pope Julius II out of his gratitude for two great leaders, Henry VII and Isabella of Castile but they were both dead before the marriage even took place so the validity of the document did not really exist. The fourth was, at the age of fourteen, Henry had protested against the marriage and no one paid any attention to him.

Pope made changes in the document Henry sent. This angered Henry because he thought the Pope was being provoked so, he sent troops to protect the Pope and free him from the Emperor. The Pope finally issued a decretal commission that the case could be tried in England. It was sent by Cardinal Campeggio who had been given strict orders not to actually go through with it. Following orders, he caused many delays.
During this time, Cardinal Campeggio, along with Cardinal Wolsey mentioned to Henry that maybe Catherine would enter a religious house to spend the rest of her days in peace. If she agreed to this then the divorce proceedings could have been cancelled. Henry liked this idea so he sent Wolsey and Campeggio to talk to her about it. Catherine listened respectively to the cardinals but told them that she would not agree to do that.

The brief of the marital dispensation issued by Pope Julius II was brought up from Spain which caused some added problems and delays. On June 15, 1529 the legatine court opened at Blackfriars in London. Henry and Catherine were both called to appear. When Catherine was called into court, she kneeled at Henry’s feet and begged of him to have mercy on her. She pleaded with him on how she had been a wonderful wife to him and she did not understand his reasoning to get rid of her as his wife. She meant the things she said to him but she also wanted to show the court that she did not agree with what Henry was trying to accomplish.

The legatine court in London was not successful and the proceedings were also called back to Rome. However, the court in Rome was not successful either. No matter how many things that Henry tried to turn around and justify to prove his argument, they did not work. Eventually, Henry went ahead and married Anne Boelyn according to his own opinion without the consent of the pope. Of course, this did not make things any brighter with the Pope or the church heads. On August 8, 1533 Pope Clement VII issued a bull commanding Henry to restore Catherine as his wife and put away Anne in ten days or he would suffer excommunication. If he didn’t comply, then the support of Charles V, all other Christian princes, and Henry’s own subjects would be called upon to carry out the terms of the bull by force of arms. After this, Henry seperated from the Catholic Church, because it would not allow the divorce, and formed his own church in which he was the head of it. This way he could do whatever he wanted. Henry’s great matter had turned into a matter that affected the entire country of England and probably all of Europe.


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