Although it is fair to say that a number of important factors ultimately resulted in Henry’s desire for a Break with Rome, it is clear that Henry’s wish for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon to ensure a male heir was the key underlying motive throughout the saga. Henry’s desire for power and financial gain are still both extremely important aspects of the debate, but it is certainly arguable that these are secondary ambitions which gained prominence as the events unfolded. For many years it had been clear that Henry strongly desired a male heir to the throne.
It was also becoming clear that Catherine of Aragon was growing too old to bear him a child that he craved, and Henry saw this as a sign from God that his marriage to Catherine was unholy, with this point being reinforced by Catherine’s miscarriages. It appeared that a divorce was therefore the only solution, and for this reason it can be observed as the guiding factor in the Break with Rome. Catherine was obviously unhappy with this, and so to ensure that she would not be able to appeal to the Pope over any events that were to follow, Henry had the Act in Restraint of Appeals passed in 1533.
This provided the pathway in 1534 for the Act of Supremacy. This enabled the King to alter doctrine, which he would be able to use to legalise the annulment of his marriage to Catherine. It was also extremely important in that [it] ensured opposition could be dealt with as the act required every subject to take the oath of Supremacy. The passing of the Act of Succession only several months showed how desperate Henry was to obtain his male heir. Henry was aware of the difficulties that Matilda, the only previous queen of England, had suffered, and so this act declared Mary illegitimate.
Time was certainly of the essence here, as it was also important to Henry that his son be 16 at the time coming to power to ensure that he was not usurped in the same way that other boy kings had. Finally, the Treason Act also of 1534 also amplifies the idea that Henry was desperate that any son he had would be seen as legitimate and face few problems when he came to power. The actions taken between 1532 and 1534 would suggest that Henry was becoming desperate to ensure the divorce and obtain a son, and so provides strong evidence to suggest that these were his real motives behind the Break with Rome.
Historians also argue that Henry’s desire for financial gain was also an important factor which led to his desire to obtain the Break with Rome. Firstly, the Act in Restraint of Annates, which had initially began as a threat in 1532, was put into place in 1534. The initial aim was to persuade the Pope into granting the divorce. However, by 1534 it was clear that this was not going to happen and so Henry was implementing policies to ensure a Break with Rome.
Ultimately, this means that by the time it was passed, the Act was no longer a way of threatening the Pope into granting a divorce. Instead, it was Henry simply take control of the Pope’s income and so it is therefore reasonable to suggest that by 1534, financial motives for a split had crept into Henry’s thinking. This was again shown in 1534 by the Act for First Fruits and Tenths. This provides a further example of money that was formerly sent to the Pope becoming an additional income for Henry.
It is certainly arguable that by this stage Henry was well aware of the potential financial benefits that the break could have, and so this may well have fuelled the rapid changes that occurred between 1532 and 1534. A final aspect of the divorce which is suggested by historians is Henry’s hunger for power, and this becomes apparent when observing some of the Acts put into place. The Act for Submission of the Clergy in 1534 (created in 1532) can be seen as the first step in Henry trying to take control of a very important aspect of everyone’s lives, the Church.
The Act of Supremacy reinforces the idea that Henry strongly desired power within the Church, and it begins to become apparent that along with the increasing financial importance that the break would have, power was also becoming an extremely important aspect. Such legislation as the Act of Supremacy and Treason Act provided Henry with security in his new positions, and with this evidence taken into account that it is certainly arguable that some of the other factors were simply covering for Henry’s greed for power.
It is worth considering that ideas of financial and power motives are not mutually exclusive. After initially just wanting the divorce and an heir, it may well have been the case that this lead to Henry obtaining more power which he was able to use his advantage for financial benefit. It is however also argued that Henry’s initial intention was never to gain extra power, yet this still links in with the idea that Henry’s lust for power evolved as events unfolded.
Consequently, if the Pope had granted the annulment in the first place, Henry’s desire for a male heir could have been rectified and the desires for power and money would never have been allowed to evolve. On balance, it has become clear that the way in which the events unfolded affected why Henry was so keen for the Break with Rome. Initially at least, there is strong evidence to suggest that Henry’s only real motive was to obtain the divorce and produce a male heir. However, as the years rolled by it is suggested that the reasons behind the events developed.
The concentration of legislation passing between 1532 and 1534 suggest both that Henry was becoming more desperate and also that a lust for power and money were now providing the fuel behind the events that both introduced and secured the Break with Rome. Therefore to conclude, although it is certainly possible that Henry’s strong initial desire was for a divorce and to obtain a male heir, but once he realised the possibilities that lay before him in gaining power within the Church and increasing his income drastically to enable his exuberant lifestyle these motives expanded and diversified.