Renaissance and Reformation

Start Free Trial

Why did Henry VIII initiate the English Reformation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Henry VIII started the English Reformation in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Their marriage had not produced a male heir, and Henry decided that this was Catherine's fault. Henry wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope turned down the divorce request in order to avoid angering Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. The Catholic Church also did not look upon divorce favorably. Henry VIII divorced Catherine anyway and set up his own church, the Church of England. It had many of the same ceremonies as the Catholic Church, but the money stayed in England. Henry was able to eventually marry Anne Boleyn, though he would have other wives after her, none of whom would provide Henry with his male heir.

Henry VIII used this break with the Pope to seize monasteries. He gave his state church favored status and took over monasteries and parishes. He used the money to enrich the Crown. By keeping money at home that would otherwise go to the Vatican, Henry VIII took a major step in increasing the wealth and power of England.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The overriding reason Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, thereby starting the English Reformation, was his desire for a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She had provided him with a female heir to the throne, but not his desired male heir. He convinced himself that this was because he was living in sin for having married his deceased brother's widow (Catherine was initially married to Henry's older brother Arthur, who died young).

Henry was in love with Anne Boleyn and wanted to marry her; however, European politics prevented the pope from granting the divorce, because the powerful Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and Catherine's relative, blocked Henry's wishes. Finally, with Anne Boleyn pregnant, Henry simply split with Rome and made himself head of the Church of England.

Another compelling, if not primary, reason for the break was the opportunity to seize land and assets by dissolving many wealthy monasteries and abbeys, which Henry VIII did. He used this windfall to reward loyal supporters and to put more money in his own coffers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are two main reasons why Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and started the English Reformation.  Neither of them really has to do with theology as Henry had previously won the pope’s adulation as a “defender of the faith.”

First, Henry broke with the Catholic Church over his desire for a divorce.  He and Catherine of Aragon had been unable to produce a male heir.  Therefore, he wanted to divorce her and take a different wife who, he thought, would give him a son.  The Church did not want to grant him the divorce and so he broke from it.

Second, Henry wanted to have more control over the church in his kingdom.  Monarchs in these days were constantly wanting to have such control both because they church was rich and because it was very important to the lives of many people.  Monarchs did not like having an independent power in their kingdoms.  Henry’s desire to exert more control over the church also helped lead to his break with the Catholic Church and his creation of the Church of England with the monarch as its head.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial