On February 11th, 1531, King Henry VIII of England became recognised as Supreme Head of the Church of England. This event, a key moment of the English Reformation, was a result of a conflict between Henry and the Pope, arising from the issue of divorce.
One significant reason for England’s schism with the Catholic Church was over the Pope’s refusal to allow Henry an annulment from his wife. During Henry’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he hoped that she would provide him with a male heir so as to continue the Tudor family’s dominion over England. Alas, she could not. What’s more, by 1525, Henry had become enamoured with another woman, one Anne Boleyn, who refused to be his mistress. These combined factors made Henry assured in his view that he must annul his marriage with Catherine.
In 1527, Henry publicly confronted Pope Clement VII on the issue, in the hope of having his marriage to Catherine annulled. The Pope refused to allow the annulment of Henry’s marriage (due to the influence of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emporer). A degree of debate and conflict occurred over the next few years on this issue, but by 1531, Catherine had been banished from Henry’s court to be replaced by Anne Boleyn.
In defiance of the Pope’s decision, Henry ordered the creation of a document which made the nation’s monarch the supreme spiritual authority. Henry saw this as a way of making the Pope’s refusal of his annulment illegal. In fact, he demanded that the Catholic Church paid him £100,000 to pardon this ‘crime’. His last demand was that the Church in England recognised him, the king, as its head. And they did, formally raising him to Supreme Head of the Church of England on February 11, 1531.
By August 1532, the Archbishop of Canterbury William Warham had died. Henry handled this opportunity deviously, as he appointed Thomas Cranmer, a trustworthy supporter of the annulment, to the vacant position. Unaware of Henry’s intentions, the Pope approved this appointment.
In 1532, Henry held a secret wedding service with Anne. On 23 May 1533, Cranmer declared that the marriage of Henry and Catherine was null. Five days later he declared that the marriage of Henry and Anne was valid. Catherine was stripped of her title as queen and was replaced by Anne Boleyn.