Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Heresy against the Church of Henry

Henry VIII
Charges of heresy and gruesome punishments for the offenders are sadly commonplace throughout history. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and those of any other faith have been victims of persecution at some point. However, it is under the reign of Henry VIII that we see charges of heresy stem from the fact that one dares to disagree with the king.

Henry is famous for destroying a tie that had existed for centuries between England and the Roman Catholic Church. His new Church of England was not born because he had theological differences with the Pope but because he couldn't tolerate being underneath anyone's authority. By naming himself Head of the Church of England, he announced to the world that his word was equal to God's. Some of the persecution that took place after Henry made this extraordinary change demonstrates his desire not to please God but himself.

Thomas Cromwell
Both Catholics and Reformists were sent to their death under Henry's watch, emphasizing the fact that it was not misinterpretation of the Bible that he was most concerned about. After executing one of his most faithful followers, Thomas Cromwell, for his faux pas in pairing Henry with a German bride, Henry went on to order other deaths.

Within days of Cromwell's demise in 1540, six others were put to death. Three of them were Reformists burnt at Smithfield. The other three were Catholics who were hanged, drawn, and quartered after convictions of treason. Henry's inquisition sniffed out any who preached against Catholic tenets of faith or failed to recognize him as God's new representative to replace the Pope. While Henry tended to charge Protestants with heresy and Catholics with treason, it came down to the same thing: failure to worship Henry.

He cruelly dealt with his own daughter based upon this tyrannical need to place himself above all others. Not only did he steal the title of princess from the girl who had been raised to believe that she would be his heir, but he kept her from her mother and dismantled her household. Mary was adamant that she would not deny her faith or the legitimacy of her parents' marriage, so Henry punished her further. Refusing to allow Margaret Pole, Mary's godmother and former governess, to support Mary's household, he sent the former princess to wait upon her infant half-sister, Elizabeth. Among rumors that Anne Boleyn would have Mary poisoned or that Charles V might rescue her and take her to Spain, Henry inflicted even greater punishment by refusing to visit her himself and having her closely watched.

Heretics burned at the stake
Nothing besides complete obedience could ensure survival during Henry's reign. The fate of his wives attests to this, and his treatment of other friends and family was not much better. Thomas More, Thomas Wolsey, Margaret Pole, and countless others enjoyed Henry's favor for a time before his wrath was turned upon them each for nothing more than failing to agree with him and make events occur according to his wishes. In the case of the Pole and Courtenay families, thinning their numbers also relieved Henry of the threat of Plantagenet royal bloodlines.

Traitors hanged, drawn, & quartered
Many theories exist to explain why Henry turned into a bloodthirsty egotist as he got older. Would he have broken with Rome if Katherine had successfully borne him a son? Early in his reign, he had welcomed his extended family to court, but he became increasingly threatened by them as their broods grew and his did not. Did injuries cause brain damage that made him suspicious and cruel? His temper increased exponentially with age and onset of diseases. Whatever the reasons, heresy against the Church of Henry was a charge to be carefully avoided in Tudor England.


  1. Great post with many very valod points. Thanks for sharing :-)

  2. he is certainly in hell.

    1. Unless he was insane

    2. Well, I hate to judge who may or may not be welcomed to the heavenly realm, but Henry certainly left his eternity in much more doubt than I would be comfortable with.

  3. With such a drastic change in behavior, it could have been caused by physical damage to his brain or late onset mental disorder.

    1. It certainly could have been due to something like that. There are many theories regarding Henry's personality change through the years, but whether it was a medical problem or old age curmudgeonry I guess we'll never know.