Having no male heir to succeed him, the King sought a divorce from Catherine of Aragon—in twenty-first-century terminology, an “annulment”—citing the Biblical prohibition of marriage to one’s brother’s wife. The “king’s great matter” was further complicated by his infatuation with Anne Boleyn, who refused his amorous advances; for her, it was marriage or nothing.
With Cardinal Wolsey in charge, Henry petitioned Rome to grant the divorce, but the pope was under the thumb of the Emperor, Charles V, who was also Catherine’s nephew. A court was convened, opinions were sought from theological experts across Europe, but all was in vain. It was Henry VIII vs. the Roman Catholic Church, with no softening of position on either side.
William Tyndale penned The Practyse of Prelates as a treatise on the excesses and abuses of Church power and the matter of the king’s proposed divorce. Tyndale, best known for his translation of the Bible into English, sharply attacked the English prelacy, antagonizing both Church and important government leaders. In the second part of the book are Tyndale’s aggressive objections to Henry VIII’s proposed divorce of Catherine of Aragon.
Pictured at right is Henry's answer to Practyse of Prelates. Henry argues that the pope cannot dispense with the law of God and cannot, therefore, waive the biblical stricture against marrying one’s brother’s wife. He repeatedly declares that the pope has no power to override the law of Scripture nor the power to revoke to Rome a case that should, by both Church and English law, be heard in England. This is the first hint of Henry’s coming attack on the supremacy of the pope in the English Church.
Learn more about Catherine's defense of her position by listening to the curator's audio comments on the letter she wrote to her nephew, Emperor Charles V.
Henry VIII. A glass of the truthe. London, 1532?