This was originally written in October last year ass a response to a prompt from our local writing group. I had been researching the background to The Reformation and the role of Henry VIII. I’m posting it here because today The Writing Reader has given her followers Henry VIII as her daily prompt #1981. It takes the form of an apologia from the man himself.
I thought long and hard before I made up my mind. If I was to justify my decision to all those who would condemn me, it was necessary that my case be as strong as was possible in the circumstances.
Permit me to explain. At my father’s bidding, I married my late brother’s wife. Though for reasons we need not go into here, the marriage did not take place until after my father’s death. He would have been as pleased as was I when she duly presented me with a son and heir. And he would have been as devastated when the child died before he reached but two months old. Our second child was a girl. I came to believe that my marriage was cursed. The bible passage that forbids such a marriage and foretells that it will be barren seemed to be coming true.
I had other children, with other women. One of these, a son, to whom I gave my own forename. But he would never be recognised as a legitimate heir. All this took place before I set eyes upon a young woman who was, at the time, a servant of the wife of the French king. Her many charms took my breath away. I was unashamed in my wooing of her. I begged her to be my mistress. This she refused. I needed to rid myself of the cursed marriage and the wife who had failed in her duty.
I was beset on all sides by those who would advise me. On the one hand were those who insisted that marriage was for life, that, despite having been contracted against the old bible injunction, it was still an irrevocable contract. On the other side were those who deemed the old laws of the Church to be outdated. Among them were some who desired that the laity be given the opportunity to read the holy bible in their own language. I deemed this a dangerous idea that would take power away from the clergy.
At first I ignored these latter, preferring to cling to the old traditions. I engaged learned men, masters in theology and matters of precedent, to search texts and garner opinions that would strengthen my case. My wife insisted that her marriage to my brother, which lasted but a short while owing to his untimely death, was never consummated, so that the charge of incest leveled against her was false. Wolsey, who was supposed to secure her conviction, instead took her side and stopped the trial. I had no option but to divest him of his position.
I might as well not have bothered. His successor, Thomas More, was no better. My love was as eager to become my bride as was I to take her. It was by her hand that I received a book, written by one of those who had dared to distribute copies of the New Testament translated into English. In this treatise he presented the case for the supremacy of a king in his own realm. It was his contention that such a man ought to be governor of the Church as well as the state.
It was a tempting proposition. But to resurrect a dispute that had plagued previous kings of England filled me with dread. It had led to the assassination of Arch-Bishop Becket and the subsequent penance of Henry II. It had led to the excommunication of that king’s son, John. This, then, was my terrible dilemma. My Chancellor, Thomas More, was condemning and burning heretics. My love’s father and his friends were arguing that the Pope in Rome did not properly have jurisdiction over a sovereign state. God, they insisted, had always intended kings to be rulers of their own churches.
I prevaricated. I still hoped to convince the Pope of the justice of my case, that my marriage was illegal and should be annulled. I commissioned my own English translation of the bible and announced my intention to distribute it, should Rome not accede to my demands. Those among the English clergy who insisted that Rome carries the supreme power, I charged with the crime of Praemunire – infringement upon the right of the king, punishable by imprisonment and confiscation of property. The fools sought to placate me with money, as if I had not already all the wealth a man could possibly desire. My only unmet desire, that of my heart for the hand of the lovely Anne.
The clergy, with their oath of allegiance to the Pope and the money they submit to Rome were, it seemed to me, indeed traitors. And so it was that I demanded, and got, their submission.
I asked not that they change any of the important practices of the Church. Unlike others who sought wider reforms, I had no desire to end the celibacy of priests or to deny the presence of Christ in the mass. I sought only the right to be master of the Church within my own realm. In that capacity I could declare my marriage null and void and take the hand of my true love.
As I said at the beginning of this explanation of my actions, I thought long and hard. It took many years of listening to the counsels of others. I had no desire to bring about the events that followed. The sacking of monasteries, the redistribution of Church lands to loyal citizens, that was the work of others. I wanted only to legitimise my marriage to Anne and the opportunity it afforded to secure a male heir to the throne.
Our first child was a girl. Anne’s second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Had it lived, that child would have been a boy and I know now that God was still punishing me, that I was to be denied a male heir. The curse had not been lifted. And, now, I discover that my own true love has been unfaithful to me. Cavorting, it is said, with many in my own entourage. Even the court musician. I know this for he has confessed it.
The very one for whom I made so many far reaching changes, incurring the wrath of the Pope and sacrificing the lives and livelihoods of many a good man, turns out to have been nothing but a scheming whore. She is guilty of treason. Our marriage is surely dead. Yesterday it was annulled. Today she shall die. She will feel no pain, the swordsman I have secured from France is an expert in his trade. It will be short and swift. Tomorrow I will marry Jane.
Henry VIII Photo Credit: Workshop_of_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger_-_Portrait_of_Henry_VIII_-_Google_Art_Project on Wikimedia