Henry VIII: Contemporary of Charles V

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Henry VIII

Contemporary of Charles V

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Charles V's most famous European contemporary was England's Henry VIII. The two both faced the challenge of the Protestant Reformation—Henry inadvertently contributing to it and Charles resisting it in every conceivable way. Both started out as loyal supporters of the Church of Rome, which served their interests by teaching the divine right of kings.

Whereas Charles remained a believer until his death—albeit one who had a major falling out with the pope—circumstances led Henry to break with Rome and start his own church, the Church of England, which continues to this day as the Anglican Communion. The emperor, the English king and the pope were all major players on the European stage for four decades of the 16th century.

Henry VIII became king exactly five centuries ago on April 21, 1509, succeeding his father, Henry VII, who was the first of the Tudor dynasty. The dynasty was to end with the death of Henry's daughter Elizabeth I, one of England's greatest monarchs.

It is interesting to note that no king since Henry has chosen to take his name. Henry was the eighth king with that name and likely the last, for Henry was tyrannical, particularly in the last half of his reign.

He was most famous for having six wives. It's not just the English who are aware of that. When European leaders met some time ago in Henry's Hampton Court Palace, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed them all with the introductory remark: "As Henry VIII said to his six wives, 'I won't keep you long!'"

But his reign was far from humorous. Its significance continues down to this very day—not just in England but throughout the English-speaking world, including the United States.

For without Henry, who broke with Rome (and his daughter Elizabeth I, the first fully Protestant monarch), we might never have had religious freedom.

Henry's reign coincided with the Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther. The 14th-century English theologian John Wycliffe had started the process by translating the Scriptures into English. Jan Huss of Bohemia (1369-1415) came under Wycliffe's influence and carried on his work in central Europe. A century later, a German priest named Martin Luther built on their work and forced the schism that is known as the Protestant Reformation. These three men were the fathers of the Reformation.

Henry VIII was appalled at Luther's criticisms of the Roman church. He quickly came to the defense of the papacy, publishing a book on the sacraments that criticized Luther. For this, he and his descendants were awarded the title Fidei Defensor, "Defender of the Faith," which carries down to this day as a title of the British monarch. The two letters F.D. are still inscribed on British coins.

It wasn't long, however, before Henry himself clashed with Rome. Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon, his late brother's widow, but had no male heir. He blamed his wife and petitioned the pope for a divorce. He was refused, mostly because the pope was a virtual prisoner of Catherine's nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

As Henry could not get his own way, he had himself proclaimed the head of the English church, which led eventually to a total severing of the ties with Rome. The Church of England became independent and separate of Rome, with the sovereign as its titular head.

Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn, gave birth to Elizabeth I but was executed shortly afterwards.

Henry did finally have a son by his third wife, Jane Seymour. Edward VI became king in 1547, at the age of 10, but died at 16, to be succeeded by his half-sister Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, a Catholic zealot who persecuted Protestants. Mary died in 1558 and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, a Protestant who stood up to Rome and secured the Protestant Reformation in England.

Elizabeth saw a need for England to turn its back on the continent of Europe and secure trade beyond the continent. She laid the foundation of the British Empire during her 45-year reign.

Thanks to Elizabeth and her father, the English-speaking world has known religious freedom for as long as anybody can remember. Prior to the break with Rome, there had been no religious freedom. Wycliffe had been condemned as a heretic for translating the Bible from Latin into English, although he died a natural death.

Fearful of losing religious freedom, colonial America was "Protestant and virulently anti-Catholic," wrote American historian Brendan McConville in The King's Three Faces (p. 7).

Historic fears of Catholicism led to anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844. Anti-Catholic sentiments continued until fairly recent times. John Kennedy's Catholicism was a major issue in the election of 1960 with many fearful that he would take his orders from Rome. Protestant U.S. President Jimmy Carter refused to address the pope as "His Holiness" when the pope visited the United States in 1979.

So it's indeed ironic that today we see so many intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic converting to the Catholic Church. The latest two well-known converts are England's Tony Blair and U.S. Congressman Newt Gingrich. This trend is highlighted in the latest issue of the Catholic intellectual magazine Faith and Reason.

Reasons for changing allegiance are not difficult to fathom. The Protestant churches are largely in disarray, unsure of what they believe. They never really recovered from the theory of evolution published by Charles Darwin 150 years ago this year. This attack on the Bible led eventually to Protestants themselves attacking the Bible, so that today there is disunity on many matters of faith.

Attitudes toward Rome have changed substantially in the United States, Britain and Australia in the last few decades. In the 1950s there was great distrust of Rome, as many considered Pope Pius XII (1939-58) a Nazi collaborator. It would have been unthinkable then that five out of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices today would be Catholics, including the chief justice. Even in England, five centuries after Henry, there are moves to allow a Catholic to once again sit on the throne.

Returning to Rome could have significant political consequences just as great as Henry's severance of allegiance. Considering the biblical prophecies about an end-time revival of the Roman Empire led by the political "beast" and the religious "false prophet," the revival of the Church of Rome at this time is of great interest.

Revelation 17 is a prophetic account of the relationship between church and state since the fall of the Roman Empire. "The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits" (verse 9). These are seven major revivals of the Roman Empire, in which the church (the woman) has played a major role. This sometimes uneasy relationship is described as one of "fornication" in verse 2.

One final revival of this religious-political system is set to take place immediately prior to Christ's return (verses 10-14). To understand more about this, read or request The Book of Revelation Unveiled at wnponline.org. WNP