Several factors fed into Henry VIII’s decision to split from Rome in the early 1530s: his desire to be Supreme Head of the Church of England, with all the power and revenues that would bring; a desire to rid his realm of superstition and open up the Word of God to the people, consistent with his early interest in Erasmian humanism; the influence of the reformers around him at court, including his chief minister Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer. But none of these would have created a Reformation without the crisis over the succession to the throne.
By the standards of the time, Henry VIII needed a male heir; the only son born to Katherine of Aragon, also named Henry, died young. When years of increasingly desperate diplomacy failed, Henry VIII’s only option was to declare that his marriage had never taken place, freeing him to marry Anne Boleyn. Historical sources were ransacked to prove that England had always been an ‘empire’, independent of any external allegiance. Finally Henry was the equal of Emperor Charles V, in his own eyes at least. The king’s increased status is reflected in the more elaborate royal iconography of the 1530s, including portraits copied from Hans Holbein’s original and a new Great Seal.