Video of the week: A letter from Henry VIII which changed history



2015-06-26 12:10:06

Video of the week: A letter from Henry VIII which changed history

Desperate for a male heir, King Henry penned a letter which would lead to a split with the Pope

Henry VIII is remembered as one of the leading figures of British history as his swaggering attitude to his reign and personal crisis over a lack of a male heir led to his repeatedly changing his wife and even a breakaway from the Catholic church.

The Anglican church now has 80 million members around the world, and wars have been fought in which the split was crucial (the Papal-backed Spanish Armada being an early example). But just how did the split come about?

Henry wanted a divorce (or more precisely annulment) from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. He argued that his lack of male children (they had all been miscarried or stillborn) was due to God's disapproval of the marriage.

Catherine had been married to Henry's elder brother Arthur before he died, and Henry mounted Biblical arguments about the acceptability of this. Much rested on whether she had actually slept with Arthur.

However, there was a more important factor in play than any Biblical argument: Pope Clement was at the time a prisoner of Catherine's nephew, The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, following the Sack of Rome in 1527, and this prevented him from annulling the marriage.

Henry VIII's divorce letter

Thwarted, Henry declared himself the head of the church in England, decided that on balance he would grant himself a divorce, and the rest is history.

Few documents relating to Henry's request for a divorce survive, never mind ones signed by the king himself. But one key manuscript does: a letter currently possessed by Paul Fraser Collectibles:

This is a letter Henry himself wrote to Cardinal Benedetto de Accolti, the Bishop of Ravenna (as he could not write to the imprisoned Pope directly).

Henry sends a recommendation for his envoy Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire (also, provocatively,the father of Anne Boleyn) to be sent to represent him in discussions with Emperor Charles V. With a clear, bold signature, it is a totally unique collectible from a turning point in British history.

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