Henry VIII was a major catalyst in the spread of Protestantism in the mid 16th century. However when he was young Henry was a fervent Catholic so what caused this change?
Henry was given the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ when he was young because he supported the pope and published a book entitled Assertio Septem Sacramentorum explaining his views and defending the pope from the views presented in Germany by a theological university lecturer, Martin Luther, which were deemed heretical at the time.
Henry’s split with the Church (the Catholic Church in Rome) is often blamed on the current pope not granting him permission to divorce his wife as it would go against Pope Julius II’s (a previous pope) decision in allowing him to marry his brother’s wife (Catherine of Aragon). However Henry believed himself in love with Anne Boleyn and was prepared to do anything to marry her. Eventually with the advice of Thomas Cranmer, he decided to break away from the Roman Catholic Church with the pope as head and set up his own Church – the Church of England with himself, and any future monarch, as head.
Wars in Europe and against Scotland as well as celebrations Henry had hosted drained the coffers of England. But he still needed money to fund the wars he was currently fighting. Many of the monasteries in England had belonged to the Church and its head the pope. As new head of the Church, Henry claimed these lands. The monasteries had lands which could be potentially sold to nobles to raise a profit. The monasteries also had gold and silver given as taxes to the church by the people which Henry seized and used for his own purposes.
Protestantism became popular throughout Henry’s reign because he forced his subjects to recognise him as head of the English church. He also gave permission to William Tyndale for a Bible to be translated into English and printed which made it accessible to anyone who could read.
Many would argue that Henry’s religion was purely political changing with the weather, or his wives. It suited him to be a Catholic when he married Catherine of Aragon. It suited him to be a Protestant and head of the church when he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. Jane Seymour was from a Protestant family. Anne of Cleves was married to form an alliance with another Protestant kingdom. Henry VIII reverted to Catholicism around the time he married Katherine Howard. And by the time of his death was married to a strong Protestant woman, Katherine Parr.
However this constant changing of beliefs would lead to conflict for several centuries afterwards.