supreme-headOn this day 482 years ago, the Convocation of the English clergy granted King Henry VIII the title “singular protector, supreme lord, and even, so far as the law of Christ allows, supreme head of the English church and clergy”. This was an awkward political step in the history of the church. Protestantism had been catching on in the church in England, but Henry was a staunch Catholic, even having been granted the title “Defender of the Faith” by the Pope for opposing Protestantism.

However,  a political  opportunity arose for churchmen of protestant inclination when Henry desperately wanted a son to be his heir. Impatient of his wife Catherine’s inability to produce a son, and attracted to Catherine’s sister Anne, Henry petitioned the Pope for annulment of the marriage so that he could remarry. The Pope refused the petition, but Henry called together the clergy and lawyers to see if the matter could be decided by the Archbishop of Canterbury, in disregard of the Pope’s prohibition.

Partly as a result of pressure applied by Henry, and partly through a desire to distance itself from the church of Rome, Convocation acceded to Henry’s plan which effectively made Henry, rather than the Pope, the head of the church in England. The church then granted Henry his divorce so that he could remarry, and in the years after Henry’s death the English church took on a more Protestant flavour.

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