How did King Henry VIII and his ideas impact the Renaissance? Why did his ideas take place during the Renaissance era?

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The Renaissance was essentially a cultural movement which sought to revive ancient models of pagan learning. Central to the Renaissance was the idea of the Renaissance Man, an archetypal individual who developed all facets of his human personality: intellectual, moral, and spiritual. Henry VIII very much saw himself in this light. It is perhaps difficult to reconcile this image with the popular understanding of Henry VIII: the fat, ruddy-cheeked tyrant who greedily plundered the Church's wealth, incited religious chaos both at home and abroad for the sake of his overactive libido, and had two of his wives brutally executed on largely trumped-up charges.

Despite all of that, Henry was a highly intelligent and incrediblly learned man, deeply versed in pagan literature as well as Scripture. He loved to converse and correspond with great men of letters such as Erasmus and Thomas More. (Before he had the latter executed, of course.) However, there can be no doubt that Henry was a devotee of Renaissance ideals and saw himself, quite justifiably, as part of a developing intellectual culture.

It is somewhat ironic, then, that Henry contributed in large measure to the ultimate decline in the Renaissance and its ideals. The Renaissance was essentially an elite movement, one that was confined largely to a small minority of literate Europeans, mainly men. It depended upon a common foundation of ideas and attitudes for its strength and enduring success. Whatever their national differences, Renaissance men saw themselves as part of a republic of letters, in which scholars from one country could converse in Latin or Greek with scholars in another. There was a fundamental unity at the heart of the Renaissance, one that transcended national boundaries.

With the onset of the Reformation, however, all that changed. As Christendom started to split asunder, the cultural unity of Europe also began to break. Nationalism became an increasingly powerful force, especially in England, where a new sense of national identity developed, one that defined itself against a foreign, hostile Catholic Church. The breaking up of Christian unity also gave rise to the increased prominence of vernacular languages, particularly in relation to Bible translations. The hegemony of Greek and Latin, initially an intrinsic element of the Renaissance, began its long, slow decline.

By seeking to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, Henry contributed to all of these developments in some way, shape, or form. His direct challenge to the Pope's authority, combined with his increasingly insistent assertion of English national rights, helped to undermine the very foundations of the movement to which he had previously owed allegiance. The universality of the Renaissance had given way to the particularity of the Reformation, and the history of Europe would never be the same again.

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