The King’s Great Matter: 1533


Ok, you know the drill by now – we’re continuing our closer look at all the machinations at play through Europe during the divorce of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. You can catch up on 1532 here, and today we’re going to pick up where we left off in 1533.


In the middle of January, Thomas Cranmer joins Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn at Greenwhich and is told officially that he is to be named Archbishop of Canterbury. He doesn’t want the job. The King doesn’t know that the previous summer he married, which certainly isn’t allowed, and it bothers his conscience to accept a role that requires the approval of the Vatican only to argue against that same authority. Cranmer expresses the latter half of his reluctance to Henry, who in turn finds a solution – Cranmer will enter a “protestation” that gives him liberty to express his opinions, even if they undermine the Pope.

This all takes several days to hammer out, but when it is done – on January 24 or 25 – Henry and Anne are married a second time. On the morning of the 25th, Henry meets with Dr. Bonner, fresh from Rome, and the two discuss that they think Pope Clement VII is softening in his stance towards Henry and the King promises to continue his loyalty to the Vatican.


On February 8, Henry invites Clement’s representative in England, Baron del Burgho, to join him on his barge for the opening of Parliament. The two put on a show of friendliness, but privately argue over the issue of Henry complying with Clement’s ruling that he take Katherine back.

The Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys reports  to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, that if Henry doesn’t comply then he thinks the English will revolt. He urges Charles in turn apply pressure on Clement to withhold approval of Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury in exchange for Henry’s compliance. Parliament open, Henry meanwhile oversees the passage of an act forbidding subjects from appealing to Rome – it has been Thomas Cromwell’s brainchild since the previous autumn.

By the middle of the month, Henry and Anne know she is pregnant and, indeed, they inform Cranmer that they are married. To hold Henry’s feet to the fire – and bask in her win – Anne informs her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, in front of people that she intends to make a pilgrimage to Walsingham after Easter in the event she isn’t expecting. A week later she publicly complains of a craving for apples, to which she says Henry responded must be a sign she is pregnant.

On the 27th, Dr. Bonner returns to Rome with fresh instruction to demand that Clement allow England to try the case of Henry’s marriage to Katherine


Dr. Bonner and Clement meet on March 2, but Clement is in no mood and loses his temper. Sensing Cranmer’s approval is jeopardized, Bonner backs down, and on the following day, Cranmer’s necessary papal bulls are sealed. All of this, of course, is completely confusing to the rest of the world, including the English. Clement approving Cranmer while Henry is still not complying with his marriage verdict – and indeed attacking papal authority in England (with the help of Cranmer, no less) – makes it appear as though the Pope approves of Henry’s actions.

On March 30, Cranmer is formally consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury, just four days after the papal bulls arrive in England.


On April 2, the Convocation of Canterbury votes overwhelmingly in favor of stripping the Pope of the authority to issue a dispensation allowing a man to marry his brother’s widow. Meanwhile, a group of canon lawyers decide that Katherine and Prince Arthur must have consummated their marriage. The only dissenting voice is John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Katherine’s one-time lawyer.

On Palm Sunday (April 6), Fisher is arrested and placed under house arrest in the care of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. Three days later, Henry sends another delegation led by Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk to Katherine to tell her to give up her appeal to Rome and allow their marriage to be tried in England. She refuses. In response, they tell her Henry already married Anne months ago.

The next day, Henry and Chapuys meet, but the Ambassador knows nothing of the previous day’s meeting with Katherine. The two verbally spar and in their increasing tension Henry lets it slip that Anne is pregnant.

The following day, in Rome, Clement loses his nerve with Henry and instead lets Charles know that he intends to modify the papal bull from November 1532 that gave Henry one month to return to Katherine.

Two days later, on April 12, Anne appears before court in the queen’s jewelry and with an entourage of six ladies-in-waiting to hear mass from the royal closest. Her tenure as queen consort has begun.

Five days later, a new imperial ambassador from Charles, the Count of Cifuentes, arrives in Rome and tells Clement to issue the order of excommunication against Henry. Clement responds that if Anne is indeed pregnant, he can declare the marriage invalid, but Cifuentes tells him to act now and put a stop to the confusion. Instead, Clement says that unless Charles confirms he will wage war on England following the excommunication, he won’t do it. In other words, Clement can’t let his words look hollow in light of the Reformation, but Charles is in the sticky spot of jeopardizing his own situation and men for what would be a join force of England and France per their 1532 alliance.


Cranmer opens the marital trial of Henry and Katherine at Dunstable Priory on May 10 and it continues for five sessions, ending on the 23rd. Katherine refuses to show up on the grounds that she won’t acknowledge the court’s authority, which is just as well for Henry and Cranmer. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the fifth session, Cranmer finds that Henry’s marriage to Katherine was unlawful and grants him a divorce. Princess Mary is thus illegitimate.

On May 31, Anne is crowned queen of England in Westminster Abbey in a ceremony overseen by Cranmer himself. Dressed in white and with unbound hair, she is visibly pregnant to onlookers who gather in the streets to watch her procession from the Tower of London to Westminster.


Charles and Katherine’s representatives in Rome continue to pressure Clement to excommunicate Henry, or at least to re-issue the previous papal bulls so that the English people know what’s going on. Clement demurs, saying he can’t act until he is certain Charles intends to declare war.

On the 25th, the Dowager Queen of France dies at the age of 37. In addition to being Henry’s favorite and beloved sister, she is also Suffolk’s wife. She has, however, been a staunch supporter of Katherine and no fan of Anne’s by. Her death is the removal of one more person with the ability to keep Henry in check – ostensibly, at least.


On July 3, Baron Mountjoy is ordered by Henry to pass along a message to Katherine, who is at Ampthill. There, he tells her that it is Henry’s wish that she be known as the Princess Dowager of Wales. Her marriage to Arthur is still considered valid in England, thus in the eyes of the law she has been a widow since Arthur’s death in 1502. Katherine, who had injured her foot and couldn’t stand, responds in fury that she is the rightful queen of England and that Mary is legitimate. Even under the threat of physical retribution against herself, her daughter and her servants, Katherine responds that she won’t jeopardize her soul.

Two days later, Henry issues a proclamation announcing that his marriage to Katherine was illegal and Anne is the only queen.

On July 9, a cabal of cardinals in Rome meet to consider Henry’s latest actions and weigh whether he should be excommunicated. Two days later, Clement finds that Henry’s divorce from Katherine is invalid and his marriage to Anne unlawful. He states that he will give Henry until the end of September to correct his behavior or appeal, at which point the effect of the excommunication will be implemented. Six days later, Clement writes to Charles that he expects him to fulfill his word to declare war.


On August 8, Clement issues a papal bull that gives Henry ten days to separate from Anne and take Katherine back on pain of excommunication. Within the bull is language calling on all Christian princes to support his verdict by force of arms to ensure it is implemented.

King Francis I of France prepares for a meeting with Clement. The two have agreed to a marital alliance between Francis’s second son, the Duke of Orleans (once promised to Mary), and Katherine de’Medici. Clement likes the idea of raising the Medici family to royalty, while Francis wants to separate Clement from Charles. He urges Henry to join the planned meeting, while asking Clement to extend Henry’s grace period by six months.

Extraordinarily, Clement agrees to do Francis the great honor of coming to him and the meeting is planned for Marseilles in October. But Henry decides that it’s too tricky for him to leave England at the moment and instead deputizes Norfolk to represent him. If that isn’t bad enough, he then orders Dr. Bonner to inform Clement in Rome that he will be lodging a formal complaint against him to a General Council of the Church.

News of the July and August bulls reaches Chapuys via Charles by the end of the month. He passes the news along to Katherine.


On the afternoon of September 7, Anne gives birth to a daughter. Rumors abound through court that the couple will name her Mary to spite Katherine, but she is in fact named Elizabeth after Henry’s mother. Though not the son Henry so desperately wanted – and was seemingly confident in getting hitherto – he does make a point of declaring that Mary is no longer his heir and not to be called “Princess” any longer.

Katherine, who has been kept from her daughter for over two years, writes to Mary that she must accept whatever God has planned for her and respond loyally to Henry. With the letter are two devotional books to strengthen Mary’s resolve and faith, which Katherine encourages her to use alongside the continued practice of music in the face of stress and grief. It is worth considering that neither woman (or girl, really, since Mary is only 17) know for certain this won’t end in their deaths. For Katherine, it has been a near-constant fear since the dawn of the early 1530s that Mary’s place in the succession and her Tudor blood can lead to her execution on Henry’s orders.

Within weeks, Henry sends three noblemen to Mary to demand that she renounce her title. Ever her mother’s daughter, Mary refuses. She writes to her father that while she will always obey him, she can’t relinquish what isn’t hers to give and her titles were handed down by God. As punishment, Henry reduces the households of Katherine and Mary, stripping them of many of their servants and some material comforts.

While all of that is going on, Norfolk leaves for France to represent Henry at the meeting with Clement and Francis. En-route in Lyons, he learns of the papal bulls from the summer and the imminent threat of excommunication. After nearly fainting, he decides he can’t travel on to Marseilles and instead tells Gardiner to take his place. He opts to return to England to receive updated instruction from Henry.

Clement is (finally) feeling vindictive and decides that he can’t agree to Francis’s request for an extension for Henry. On September 27, in Pisa, Clement gives Henry one month to obey him.


Henry, meanwhile, is being petty and orders Mountjoy to inquire as to which of Katherine’s servants are still calling her queen instead of princess dowager. Mountjoy conducts the questioning, but complains to Cromwell that the task is ridiculous and distasteful. Nothing comes of it.

On October 12, Clement arrives in Marseilles. He is joined by Francis in the same palace the next day, at which point he tells the King that he won’t be granting Henry any favors. Regardless, the marriage of the Duke of Orleans and Katherine de’Medici goes forward on the 28th.


On November 7, Clement learns of Henry’s complaint to the General Consul. Still at Marseilles, Francis also learns the news and realizes reconciliation with England is a lost cause. Henry’s appeal is deemed frivolous and duly rejected within three days. By November 20, Clement departs France to return to Rome.

Francis, livid, sends an ambassador to England to express his anger with Henry, mainly that the English King reneged on several of the tenants of their 1532 agreement and that his behavior – and that of Norfolk – is insulting. From this point on, Francis refuses to involve himself in Henry’s marital problems.


Henry sends Suffolk to Kimbolton where Katherine is living to force her to take an oath acknowledging their marriage was invalid and to further reduce her household. Katherine refuses to do so and a smattering of her servants who also refuse are arrested or dismissed. When told that she is to move again to Somersham, Katherine refuses and locks herself in her bedroom.

Norfolk, at the same time, is sent to Mary so as to conduct her to Hatfield House where she is to join Princess Elizabeth’s household. Separated from her beloved governess, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who offers to cover Mary’s expenses herself, Mary writes to Norfolk that while she will go where her father tells her, she cannot renounce her title. She is conveyed to Hatfield on December 13.

Later in the month, Henry visits the household to see Elizabeth. Mary is locked in her bedroom to keep her from seeing him, but Cromwell goes to her and again asks her to give in. She refuses. When she hears that Henry is leaving she walks to a balcony so as to see him in the courtyard and waves down at him. At the sight of her, Henry touches his cap and bows, despite himself. On the way back, the French Ambassador compliments Mary’s intelligence and education and Henry praises her with tears in his eyes.

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