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

3. The Break with Rome

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In this module, we think about the circumstances leading up to the break with Rome in 1534, focusing in particular on: (i) Henry's early life: the fact he was never expecting to be king, the death of his older brother Arthur in 1502, his accession to the throne in 1509, and his marriage to his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon; (ii) Henry's conventional piety and loyalty to the Catholic church: his participation in pilgrimages and other Catholic rituals; his request for a papal dispensation in order to marry Catherine of Aragon; his treatise, The Defence of the Seven Sacraments (1521), which defended the Catholic church against the attacks made by Martin Luther in his On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520); his appointment as Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) by the pope; (iii) Henry's priorities as as younger king: banqueting, tournaments, military success (especially against France) and the survival of the Tudor dynasty; (iv) Henry's anxiety about his lack of a male heir by the mid-1520s; (v) the extent to which Henry had genuine scruples about the validity of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon; (vi) the emergence of Anne Boleyn; (vii) the difficulties faced by Henry in having his marriage to Catherine to Aragon annulled: Catherine's relationship with Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and Charles' control of the pope following the 1527 Sack of Rome; (viii) the attempts of Thomas Wolsey to find a solution to Henry's Great Matter, his failure, fall from grace, and death; (ix) the attempts of Thomas Cranmer to find a solution to Henry's Great Matter: his soliciting of opinions from theologians across Europe and the compilation of the Collectanea Satis Copiosa; (x) the attempts of Thomas Cromwell to find a solution to Henry's Great Matter: his use of Parliament; the passing of the Ecclesiastical Appeals Act 1532 and the Act of Supremacy of 1534; (xi) the extent to which the Act of Supremacy represents a revolutionary change in the governance of the church in England; and (xii) the extent to which people's everyday experience of religious was unaffected by the break with Rome.


In this course, Dr Jonathan Willis (University of Birmingham) explores the Henrician Reformation. We begin by thinking about the 'health' of the church in late Medieval England, focusing in particular on the concept of lay piety. After that, we turn to some of the criticisms of the church that had been made prior to Henry – from Wycliffe and the Lollards in the 14th and 15th centuries to Christian humanists such as Desiderius Erasmus. In the third module, we think about Henry VIII's role in the English Reformation, tracing the events that led to the Break with Rome in 1534, before moving on in the fourth module to think about why the relatively limited changes represented by the Break from Rome led to such broader changes in the following decades.


Dr Jonathan Willis is a Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Birmingham. He is primarily a historian of the English reformation, with interests in the history and theology of late-medieval and early modern Europe more broadly. His research focuses on the religious and cultural history of England over the course of the long sixteenth century. His recent publications include Church Music and Protestantism in Post-Reformation England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010) and The Reformation of the Decalogue: Religious Belief, Practice and Identity and the Ten Commandments in England, c.1485-c.1625 (CUP, forthcoming 2017)

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

Willis, J. "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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