The King’s Great Matter: 1531

Clement VII

If you haven’t already read 1527, 1528, 1529 or 1530 yet, I recommend you do so! Otherwise, let’s get back into the next chapter of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon.


On January 1, Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys writes to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, that it is rumored Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn will marry during the current Parliament:

“The Lady feels assured of it. She is braver than a lion. She said to one of the Queen’s ladies that she wished all the Spaniards in the world were in the sea; and on the other replying that, for the honor of the Queen she should not say this, she said that she did not care anything for the Queen, and would rather see her hanged than acknowledge her as her mistress.”

Katherine’s health begins to deteriorate – doctors call her malady “hysteria,” though it was quite likely anxiety manifesting itself physically.

After receiving Henry’s letter from December 1530, Pope Clement VII responds by personally introducing an application forbidding Henry from remarrying until his first marriage is resolved and forbidding the clergy in England from trying the case.

Henry indicts the entire clerical estate under the Statute of Praemunire for having acknowledged Cardinal Wolsey’s legatine authority, as well as that of the Pope. He eventually offers pardons to those who bribe him.


On February 7, Henry claims that the English clergy must recognize him as their “supreme head.” By now, Wolsey’s former supporter, Thomas Cromwell, has been appointed one of Henry’s councilors. On February 10, he has a private meeting with William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, and on the following day, Henry gets his way. His new title is “Supreme Head of the Church, in so far as the Law of Christ allows.” Anne is overjoyed and credits Cromwell with having secured the victory.

John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester – and staunch Katherine defender – leads the resistance, but many give in to Henry out of fear. At the same time, Henry assures Antonio de Pulleo, Baron del Borgho, Clement’s representative, that he will always uphold the authority of the Pope in England.


Hearing rumors that the case will be moved from Rome to Cambrai, Katherine writes to Charles asking him to intervene. She also requests that he find witnesses who can testify  that she was in fact a virgin when she married Henry in 1509. On the advice of Chapuys, who warns her such a thing would nearly impossible to prove in court, she is also tasked with finding character witnesses who can paint a picture of someone with so much integrity it is unfathomable that she would lie.

On March 30, Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor, says before Parliament that any rumors that Henry wishes to divorce the Queen due to a relationship with another woman are untrue. Instead, he argues, Henry’s true motivation is his conscience. He then leads a deputation from the House of Lords to the House of Commons to where he announces that Henry has asked the country’s chief universities to weigh his case. The favorable cases found in Europe over the last year are then read out.


Fisher states that he believes there to have been a recent poison attempt made against him when he dined under Henry’s roof. Henry is livid, but to prove his innocence he orders the cook arrested and boiled alive.


A letter from Katherine’s father, King Ferdinand of Aragon, is found in Spain in which he writes to his Ambassador in Rome that Katherine’s marriage to Prince Arthur was never consummated. It is added to the dossier of evidence.


Early in June, a force of Henry’s leading ministers descend on Katherine at Easthampstead just before she was planning on retiring for the evening. Among the men are the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the Marquis of Dorset, the Earls of Northumberland, Wiltshire (Anne’s father), Stephen Gardiner and the Bishops of Lincoln and London. They harangue the Queen for hours and lay out arguments that she has displeased Henry by lying about her virginity at the time of their marriage and that she had embarrassed him in front of Europe by having him summoned to Rome. Their ask is that she agree the case should be heard within England.

Katherine, who had been tipped off this visit was coming, responds that she is Henry’s lawful wife and that he knew full well she was a virgin when they married. She then points out Henry’s humiliation is a result of his own actions in raising this issue in the first place and it was he who first brought the Pope into the fray. Still angry with Clement, but beholden to him, Katherine says that the Pope has shown Henry more favor than herself, but that she will – as she has maintained throughout – accept his verdict.

In short, Katherine wins, but there’s little glory in it. Norfolk and Suffolk recount the meeting to Henry and tell him Katherine swore allegiance to him first after two others. Henry asks if those people are Clement and Charles and they respond, no, they are God and then her soul and conscience. Henry is infuriated that some of these men seem impressed by Katherine – even pleased by her performance. Among them, notably, is his best friend and brother-in-law, Suffolk.

Gardiner, in particular, begins to change his tune. Though originally a good soldier for Henry and Anne, he is growing increasingly uneasy with the attacks on papal authority and makes this point of view clear. Anne loses her trust in him.

In a meeting with Del Borgho in which the threat of excommunication is raised, Henry responds that he doesn’t “care a fig” if Clement follows through. He says that though he believes Clement to be a “worthy” man, he is too influenced by Charles and he intends to do what he feels is right in England.


Throughout all of this – the past four years – Henry and Katherine have continued a custom stemming from their happier days, which is that when they are separated they correspond every three days. Following this pattern, Katherine writes to Henry in late July asking after his health. He responds in a fury that she clearly doesn’t care about his health since her behavior is so annoying to him. She answers that she doesn’t deserve his anger and that her behavior has always been with his permission.

After outsourcing the language to his Privy Council, Henry responds again by stating he knows that Katherine slept with his brother and he has witnesses to prove it. Rather hilariously, the letter isn’t addressed because none of the men who drafted it could agree on whether Katherine should still be addressed as “Queen.” Angry, Henry summons Katherine to him.

The two meet on July 14. Henry insists that Katherine is actively offending him with her behavior and again brings up his summons to Rome. In response, Katherine says Henry has hurt her feelings by not saying goodbye to her before he left for his summer hunting trip. (If you’re thinking those aren’t the same thing, you are quite correct). Henry answers that they should no longer communicate and then storms off. This is the last time the two meet in person.

Later in the month, Henry orders Katherine and Mary into the country. Katherine is to take up residence at the More, while Mary is to stay at Richmond Palace. The formalization of the couple’s physical separation is in fact a breach of marriage vows, particularly in light of Anne’s continued presence at court. In response, Katherine complains that the house she is being relegated to is “poor” and she would rather the Tower. Katherine and Mary never see one another again. Separating mother and daughter – who are devoted to one another – is a gamble from Henry to break his wife. Mary, at this point, is collateral damage.


Once Katherine and Mary are shipped off, Anne is given Katherine’s apartments at court.


Isabella of Portugal, Holy Roman Empress, orders a search of the Crown archives to look for evidence Katherine can use. She also deploys servants to find the Spanish members of Katherine’s long-ago household from her marriage to Prince Arthur and question them. Though she is acting as her husband’s regent, Isabella is also Katherine niece via her deceased sister, Maria.


Katherine writes to Charles, begging him to force Clement to issue a verdict on her case. Two weeks later, she writes to Chapuys that she is afraid the next session of Parliament will end in her and Mary’s deaths.


Katherine writes to Charles again, this time complaining of Clement’s indifference to her situation. She signs the letter, “Separated from my husband without having ever offended him.”

A new French Ambassador arrives in England, Gilles de La Pommeraye. Anne, who spent years in France during her youth, hosts him in a lavish welcome feast. Five days later, Gardiner, newly consecrated as Bishop of Winchester, is sent to France as a short-term ambassador for England.

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