If we ask the question, what if Henry VIII had not taken Catherine of Aragon to be his wife, would England have been a happier place to live?
The twelve-year-old Catherine of Aragon, had been betrothed to Henry’s older brother; Arthur. Catherine, aged sixteen, married the fifteen-year-old Arthur on the 14thNovember 1501 at St.Paul’s Cathedral. Arthur died a few months later, leaving a young wife.
Henry became the next in line, to the English throne, and sought to take Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon as his wife.
Catherine stated that her marriage to Arthus had not been consummated, and the Pope gave her the permission she sought, to marry Arthur’s brother Henry, the new heir to the English throne.
Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon married the new King of England; Henry VIII on the 11thJune 1509 at Friary Church in Greenwich.
Henry became obsessed, a desire to have a son to carry on the House of Tudor. This was not to be with Catherine, for she produced many children, and all but one died; Mary her daughter who would become heir to the English throne.
Henry felt he had no choice, but to cast his wife and Queen aside, and seek another wife… Henry knew the Roman Catholic Church would not approve his request for a divorce. Maybe an annulment, based on the grounds, that his entire marriage to Catherine his brother’s widow, would be deemed invalid in the eyes of God!
Men of God, argued about his request. On one side, one group maintained a marriage is a marriage for life, whilst the other side believed; a marriage is only a marriage if it has been consummated. Two quotations were put forward by men of God from the Bible.
Book of Leviticus: You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife: she is your brother’s nakedness… If a man takes your brother’s wife, it is impurity: he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.
Book of Deuteronomy: If brother’s dwell together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go into her, and take her as his wife.
Henry opted for the side which suited him best, and the Pope took the other side. A stalemate had come to pass, and Henry took advantage of the Reformation, as it gained ground in Europe, by making himself “Supreme Head of the Church of England,” in 1531. In the year 1533, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared the marriage between Henry and Catherine was void.
Barely three months earlier, Henry had secretly married Anne Boleyn. She gave birth to a daughter; Elizabeth, and shortly thereafter was executed on Tower Hill, making way for him to marry Jane Seymour, She who would bless Henry with a child, a long awaited son and heir; Edward VI.
Henry VIII, the Head of the Church of England, set about the destruction of England’s monasteries between 1536-1541. So it was, the “Dissolution of the Monasteries” was so ordered by Henry VIII, for it was said, England’s monasteries owned a quarter of England’s wealth.
Finally it came to pass, the translation of the Bible into the English language, was officially sanctioned, with the first becoming available in 1539… It was the duty of every church, to provide the English Bible for one and all to read.
King Henry VIII died on the 28thJanuary 1547, and was succeeded by his nine year old son; Edward VI.
Edward’s advisers believed in the reform of England’s Parish Churches, and were responsible for a directive, calling for the destruction of all things of a corrupt nature. So it was, altars were replaced with communion tables, paintings trashed, statues destroyed, glass smashed and shrines removed.
England became a truly Protestant land during the short reign of Edward VI (1547-1553). Edward and his advisers will be remembered, for they pushed forward the use of the “Book of Common Prayer” in 1549, and church services in England. The practice of Catholic trappings, such as clerical vestments, church decorations and feasts dedicated to saints were reformed or abolished.
A succession crisis loomed over England in the opening months of 1553, with the young King Edward VI seriously ill, and death seemed the only outcome.
If we refer to the Last Will and Testament of King Henry VIII, he left additional instructions within. In the event that his son Edward VI should die without male heirs, England’s crown would pass first to Mary then Elizabeth.
On the 21stMay 1553, Guildford Dudley the son of the Duke of Northumberland, took the King’s cousin; Lady Jane Grey as his wife. On the 12th June the dying Edward VI, had letters drawn up and signed off by him on the 13thJune, counter signed by 100 people (Councillors, Civic Dignitaries, Peers and Household Officers) on the 17thJune detailing who his successor would be.
On Thursday the 6thJuly, the Tudor Monarch King Edward VI died at Greenwich. Two prominent claimants existed to England’s throne; the Catholic Mary Tudor, heir by law according to Henry VIII’s last wishes and Lady Jane Grey according to the wishes of Edward VI.
The death of Edward VI was not announced for four days to enable preparations be made for the ascension of Lady Jane Grey, daughter-in-law of the Duke of Northumberland. On the 9thJuly Bishop Ridley announced that both Elizabeth the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, along with Mary the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, were bastards in the eyes of Parliament.
On the 10thJuly, the death of King Edward VI was announced, and Lady Jane Grey travelled by barge to the Tower of London where she was received as Queen. That very same day she was proclaimed Queen at Cheapside.
Mary hearing Lady Jane Grey had been proclaimed Queen by England’s people mobilised her forces in East Anglia.
On the 12thJuly, the Duke of Northumberland’s forces left London to face Mary’s forces on the battlefield. With Northumberland away from London, his councillors defected and proclaimed Mary as the true Queen of England on the 19thJuly. Northumberland realised his cause was lost had no choice but to surrender. On the 23rdJuly Northumberland surrendered at Cambridge to Mary… no blood had been spilt.
On the 8thAugust 1553 King Edward VI was buried at Westminster Abbey. On the 10thAugust Mary held an obsequy (Medieval Latin funeral rites), and on the 11thheld a requiem mass for him at the Tower of London.
On the 18thAugust, Mary issued a proclamation calling upon her subjects to follow her religion; Roman Catholic. It wasn’t long before Mary became unpopular with her people; by burning Protestant martyrs to bring England under the rule of Rome.
On the 1stOctober 1553, Mary was crowned Queen Mary I of England at Westminster Abbey.
On the 12thFebruary 1554, Lady Jane and her husband Lord Guildford Dudley were beheaded at the Tower of London.
The Execution of Lady Jane from the Chronicle of Queen Jane:
She being nothing at all abashed… neither with the sight of the dead carcass of her husband (Lord Guildford Dudley) she said… “Good people, I am come hither to die, and by law condemned to the same. The fact indeed, against the Queen’s highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and the desire thereof by me or on my (behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocence, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day,” and therewith she wrung her hands, in which she had her book… Then she said the psalm of Miserere me i Deus, in English, in most devout manner, to the end…
Then the hangman kneeled down, and asked her forgiveness, whom she forgave most willingly. Then he willed her to stand upon the straw; which doing, she saw the block. Then she said “I pray you dispatch me quickly…” She tied the kercher (handkerchief) about her eyes: then feel for the block said. “What shall I do? Where is it?” One of the standers-by guiding her there unto, she laid her head upon the block, and stretched forth her body and said. “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit!” And so she ended.
For a short time, Mary had achieved England’s reunion with Rome and the restoration of Catholic Worship. Condemned by ardent Protestants, it was popular with many of her subjects. Priests were permitted to perform Catholic rituals. Mary’s burnings proved brutal but an effective means of bringing people back to the Catholic faith.
On the 17thNovember 1558, Queen Mary I of England died, and on the 13thDecember a requiem mass was held, and on the 14thDecember she was buried at Westminster Abbey.
With the death of Queen Mary I, Henry II of France made unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Pope to recognise Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s cousin as Queen of England.
On the 12thJanuary 1559, Elizabeth travelled from Whitehall to the Tower of London by barge along the River Thames. On the 14thJanuary, Elizabeth’s coronation procession travelled through the city of London, greeted by pageants that praised her dynasty and Protestant religion. On the 15thJanuary, Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth I of England at Westminster Abbey by Bishop Oglethorpe.
Elizabeth like her father; Henry VIII became Head of the Church of England. She inherited a country divided over religion; Catholic and Protestant. Elizabeth set about tearing down Catholicism in England and promoting Protestant beliefs during her reign.