*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 3rd of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It is a rare day on the calendar that we have two events separated by 5 years which would not only completely change the face of the church in England but also the parliament as well.
It was on November the 3rd in 1529 that King Henry VIII’s 5th parliament sat. This would be known as the Reformation Parliament.
Brief background- the British Parliament didn’t work at the Capitol (as we might think of MPs or congresspeople today) but rather was summoned by the Crown to pass legislation. This Parliament would be referred to as the Reformation Parliament because through it Henry would take the last steps to declare himself the head of the Church of England. The final blow to the Catholic Church in England occurred on this, the 3rd of November (5 years after the parliament was called) in 1534 when Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy making Henry VIII “the only supreme head on Earth of the Church of England”.
So, if you are new to this story or not, let’s break it down.
Henry was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon before he was king and when he was only 12.
Regarding Catherine, she was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand (of Columbus lore) and thus a marriage would unite England and Spain. Catherine was married to Henry’s older brother who was going to assume the crown. When he died suddenly she was married to the next brother in line. According to Canon law this was illegal according to an interpretation of Leviticus 18. The Pope granted a dispensation for Henry and Catherine (this was helped as Catherine’s nephew happed to be Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor).
But Catherine couldn’t produce a male heir (their only surviving child was Mary, the future queen) and Henry soon fell in love with Mary Boleyn, and then her sister Anne. In order to marry Anne he would need another dispensation from the Pope permitting the divorce. Pope Clement would have none of this (he already made a dispensation and he wouldn’t want to upset the emperor, Catherine’s nephew).
There is a lot of intrigue and details, but the short version sees Henry call Parliament in order to weaken the power of the Pope in England and eventually break from the Papacy altogether thus securing his place at the head of the church and thus divorcing Catherine and marrying Anne.
Henry can be caricatured as a lout who only chased his own considerable appetites. He can be maligned for using the church to line his own pockets. And while some of this is true, the Reformation of England was a gargantuan effort that involved reversing hundreds of years of precedent. The Reformation Parliament took aim at the English Catholic Church. Catholic Church courts were dissolved with all matters now in the king’s purview. The tax collected by churches and sent to Rome were diverted to the English Crown, and the right to appeal an English sentence to the Pope was also 86ed. And then it was 5 years to the date of the sitting of Parliament in 1529 on November 3rd that the Act of Supremacy was passed officially making the monarch the head of the church- the Church of England.
While Henry’s power increased his use of the Reformation Parliament marks an important change in the country’s political history. Traditionally, Kings didn’t need anyones authority to enact laws. The Crown is unmatched in its authority. But Henry knew that working through Parliament would give his radical changes the imprimatur of the people. The Reformation Parliament not only created the Anglican Church but also the model of a king working in conjunction with a bicameral legislature.
The most consequential and turbulent years of Henry’s reign are bookended with the calling of the Reformation Parliament and the Act of Supremacy which both occurred on November 3rd in 1529 and 1534 respectively.
The last word for today comes from Isaiah 35- a beautiful promise for the people of God:
Strengthen the weak hands,
and support the unsteady knees.
Say to those who are panicking:
“Be strong! Don’t fear!
Here’s your God,
coming with vengeance;
with divine retribution
God will come to save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.
Then the lame will leap like the deer, and the tongue of the speechless will sing. Waters will spring up in the desert, and streams in the wilderness.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man with more kids than Henry had wives, he is Christopher Gillespie
The show is written and read by a man reminding you that yes, Anglicans are in fact Protestants- don’t @ me. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.