Why did Pope Clement not allow Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn?

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The pope's reasons for refusing to grant a divorce were largely political. Henry VIII prided himself on being a good Catholic. He was awarded the title Fidei defensor —defender of the faith—by Pope Leo X for his withering attacks on Martin Luther. Not unreasonably, then, Henry believed that he was...

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The pope's reasons for refusing to grant a divorce were largely political. Henry VIII prided himself on being a good Catholic. He was awarded the title Fidei defensor—defender of the faith—by Pope Leo X for his withering attacks on Martin Luther. Not unreasonably, then, Henry believed that he was in good standing with the Church and could therefore count on papal support for his intended divorce.

However, Clement VII was unable to offer much in the way of assistance to Henry, even had he really wanted to. At that time, the pope had much more serious problems to worry about, such as his bitter political dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Relations between the pope and the emperor had deteriorated so much that imperial forces invaded and sacked the city of Rome, causing widespread death and destruction. Clement was forced to hide in the Castel Sant' Angelo, where he was eventually imprisoned for six months.

Unsurprisingly, Clement had other things on his mind than a highly improper request from a monarch who wasn't even a particularly major player in European politics. Besides, Charles V was Catherine of Aragon's nephew, and he was deeply upset at Henry's shabby treatment of his aunt. Had Clement granted Henry a divorce, it would have antagonized the Emperor even more, and that's the last thing he needed at that time.

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The English King Henry VIII desired to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. However, Catholic teaching forbids divorce, so Henry had to receive special permission from Pope Clement VII. Aside from Catholic doctrine, Clement refused to grant Henry's request for two main reasons: it would reduce papal authority and it would offend Emperor Charles V.

Before he could marry Catherine, Henry had to receive special permission from the Pope (Catherine had briefly been married to Henry's brother, who died soon after the wedding. The Pope agreed to annul this marriage so Henry could wed Catherine). Henry asked Clement VII to declare his marriage to Catherine invalid, which would directly contradict the declaration which had allowed him to marry her originally. The result of this action would have been to weaken the authority of papal decrees.

Additionally, Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Charles' troops mutinied and sacked Rome in 1527--taking Clement VII prisoner in the process. Charles was embarrassed by this act, but it clearly showed the state had the upper hand if conflict arose with the Catholic Church. If Clement granted Henry's appeal, he would have incurred Charles' anger, and whom he clearly was in no position to openly oppose.

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