Henry VIII Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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How did King Henry VIII change the religion in England?

After the Pope denied King Henry's request for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (the vatican didn't want to anger Spain), Henry and his parliament split from the Roman Catholic Church through the Act of Supremacy, which then placed Henry and all successors as head of the new Church of England.

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Henry VIII fundamentally changed the nature of religion in England by breaking free of the Catholic Church. This established the groundwork for England to become a Protestant country.

Despite the radical changes he initiated, Henry was generally quite conservative when it came to religious matters, and it's important to remember that a number of true believers in the Protestant cause were put to death during his long reign.

The official position of the court changed rapidly during these turbulent decades, largely in response to political developments in Europe. When Henry needed to make alliances with Catholic powers, persecution of Lutherans and Calvinists was stepped up. When he needed the support of Protestant powers, it was time to crack down on those who adhered to the old faith.

Henry conceived of the Church of England in political rather than confessional terms, as primarily an instrument of his kingly power. In breaking free from Rome, he was affirming what he believed to be his God-given right as sovereign to determine the religious life of his realm.

Once he'd established himself as Supreme Head of the Church of England, loyalty to the new church was equated with loyalty to the king. Those who did not, or could not, subscribe to the new order were to be regarded as traitors who owed their allegiance to a foreign pope—or in the case of Calvinists, to a foreign ideology—and not to the king of England.

Although die-hard Protestants trod warily in case they incurred the wrath of the king, they took the opportunity given to them by the break with Rome to lay the groundwork for an authentic Reformed Church in England, one that would replicate the state church of Calvinist Geneva.

But they had to be careful. So long as the erratic Henry was alive, there was always the danger that his religious policy might change at the drop of a hat. As that policy was largely dictated by political necessity, the balance of power within the state between conservatives and reformers was always subject to change, with fatal consequences for the losers.

To some extent, Henry encouraged such tensions between the rival factions because they diverted his nobles' attentions away from potentially plotting against him. Throughout his entire reign, Henry was highly insecure about the stability of his throne. He saw the establishment of the Church of England, free from the Pope's control and with himself as its Supreme Head, as a way of consolidating his power and making himself the closest thing that England has ever had to an absolute ruler.

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After failed attempts to obtain a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII took momentous steps that led to “The Reformation,” a significant occurrence in the history of religion.  Prior to the reformation, all of England’s inhabitants including King Henry VIII prescribed to Catholicism. In fact King Henry VIII was such a strong adherent that he was bequeathed the title “Defender of the Faith” by the pope for his efforts in protecting Catholicism against the Protestants. However, all these changed upon the pope’s denial of Henry’s request for a divorce.

Through enactment of the Act of Supremacy formulated by Henry VIII and his parliament, England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of England became an independent entity from the Roman Church and the king of England was appointed as leader of the church. As such, the Pope had no influence over any religious matters in England and this paved way for transformation to Protestantism.

The “Dissolution” led to the closure of all monasteries and convents in England and the wealth obtained from such establishments channeled to other courses like strengthening of England’s defense against aggressors. During his reign as leader of the church, King Henry VIII permitted the translation of the bible from Latin to obtain an English version. The “Lord’s Prayer” was also recited in English as opposed to Latin, which was in use when the Pope led the church. In addition to the above, under King Henry VIII, priests were not allowed to marry.

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King Henry VIII came into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church when he desired a new wife and the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Bolelyn in hopes of having a male child and, thus, preserve his lineage.  Pope Clement, who was virtually a prisoner of Catherine's nephew, Charles V of Spain, was reluctant to raise the ire of Spain's king by annuling a marriage for which Henry had been granted a dispensation in the first place.  The Pope dragged the case on for years; frustrated Henry consulted with Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was himself a very clever man.  Disenchanted with Rome, Cranmer lent his support to Henry; and, with the Machiavellian skill of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII convinced Parliament to repudiate the authority of Rome over the English church and the king's subjects.

Henry VIII was then made head of the Church of England and Protestants moved into positions of prominence in the country. Also, Henry suppressed the monasteries and put their property and wealth at his own disposal, reducing the power of the Catholic Church in England.

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King Henry the VIII changed the religion in Wngland when he asked the pope for another annulment but the pope refused and made Henry angry enough that he separated his church from the Roman Catholic church to form the Church of England so that he could divorce his wife and marry another woman in attempts to concieve a son (which never does happen)