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The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47

2. The Break With Rome

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In this module, we explore the question of why Henry decided to break with Rome, focusing in particular on: (i) the popular explanation that Henry had simply fallen in love with Anne Boleyn and was looking for a way to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled; (ii) the extent to which Henry was anxious about his lack of a male heir by the mid-1520s; (iii) the problems (in Henry's eyes) of queen regnant, including her questionable legitimacy under the Salic Law of Succession, and the potential for England to be absorbed into another kingdom if/when she married; (iv) Henry's attempt to persuade Catherine of Aragon to take Holy Orders, and Catherine's refusal to do so; (v) the importance of Catherine's relationship with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and the 1527 Sack of Rome in making things more difficult for Henry; (vi) the extent to which Henry had genuine scruples about the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, based on her previous marriage to his brother, Arthur; and (vii) the various precedents that suggest that England should have autonomy from the Pope.


In this course, Dr Tracey Sowerby (University of Oxford) explores the reign of Henry VIII, thinking in particular about the English Reformation. We begin by focusing on decision-making in the Henrician court, before looking at the reasons behind the break with Rome—was it simply because Henry had fallen in love with another woman, or were there greater issues at stake? In the third module, we think about the extent to which the changes made by Henry were Protestant in nature, before moving on in the final two modules to think about the opposition to the changes that Henry was making.


Tracey Sowerby is a Senior College Lecturer in History at Keble College, Oxford. Her research interests cover early modern politics, religion, print culture, and intellectual culture and the interactions between them.

Her doctorate, and the book that developed out of it, examined the activities of Henry VIII’s most prolific propagandist, Richard Morison (c.1513-56), while at present she is researching the cultural history of Tudor diplomacy, thinking about how English diplomatic practice, personnel and theory adapted to three major sixteenth century developments: the introduction of resident ambassadors, the English Reformation and female rule.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Sowerby, T. (2018, August 15). The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 - The Break With Rome [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Sowerby, T. "The Tudors – Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 1509-47 – The Break With Rome." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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