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The Reasons for the Break of Henry VIII from Rome

‘Henry VIII broke from Rome because he wanted to increase his own power.’ Explain why you agree or disagree with this view.

It could be interpreted that Henry VIII broke from Rome because he wanted to increase his own personal power, however there are two main contradicting views. Firstly that Henry realised the wealth of the Church and decided to take that supply for himself, and secondly that he was spurred by his need for an annulment. Overall, it can be argued that his need for an annulment was the most important factor.

A key motive behind the break with Rome was Henry VIII’s quest for power. This is evidenced through his attempts in conquest to claim parts of France and expand his kingdom, and his desire to be seen as an ‘imperial king’. Such a monarch would not accept a higher power than his own, or being contradicted by a greater force in matters of his annulment. This anger would have been supported by the Collectanea satis copiosa, compiled by Cranmer, which undermined the Pope’s role in the English Church and referred to an Erastian tradition – that the King of England was accepted as head of the English Church. However, this desire to overthrow the Pope’s power never would have come about if not for the need for an annulment, making this quest for power more a means than a motive. It can been seen that his desires later change to a lust for power, through the Act of Supremacy in 1534 which named him ‘the only Supreme Head of the Church in England’, confirming the previous Acts and making him the unquestionable Head.

However, this grab of power is seen only as a different approach, not the reason for the break. Originally, through charging the clergymen with praemunire and the Act of Annates in 1532, Henry sought to change the Pope’s decision by putting financial pressure on him. If this had worked, no doubt he would have been contented and had no need to pursue power, thus he would not have broken with Rome. There, the need for the annulment was the reason that Henry VIII broke from Papal authority in England. This is the key starting point from which all other motives arise – if he had not need the annulment, he never would have begun the journey which led to his separation with Rome. Marking this motive as the beginning of all things clearly proves that it is the sole reason behind the break, no matter how Henry tried to achieve it, the reason he employed these methods was because he needed an annulment. It was the trigger, the cause, at the heart of every Act and every decision until he finally declared the marriage invalid in the 1534 Act of Succession.

The final possibility is that Henry was driven by a need for money. He was a king used to a lavish lifestyle, and after around twenty years of ruling no doubt the royal coffers would have run low. Along the process of striving for an annulment, no doubt Henry would have realised what a vast wealth the Church had – by fining those accused of praemunire he was awarded a large sum of money – but this was little more than a fringe benefit. He did not abolish Papal authority in England for assets, originally he halted annates to put pressure on the Pope, not to advance his own riches. Although this would have appealed to Henry as an added bonus and an easy source of income, it was not a motive.

In conclusion, the reason for Henry’s break with Rome was his need for an annulment. This long quest was not begun with the break in mind, instead its origins were his desire for a divorce. While the end result was an accumulation of power and wealth, his seize of power was simply a method with which to achieve his goal. When putting financial pressure on the Pope was ineffective, he sought another means, thus proving that power was not the reason he broke, no more than wealth (a fringe benefit) but merely a way of getting the annulment with Catherine of Aragon that he so yearned.

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