The Break with Rome

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.

The power of image

Very different to the image of Henry VIII that we have come to recognise today, this widely distributed portrait type pre-dates Hans Holbein’s more famous Whitehall Palace painting of the King (see fig….

The first divorce

Here we have a further two portraits – an engraved copy of the portrait of Katherine of Aragon, by an unknown artist, in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery and a copy of Holbein’s c….

Abolishing the power of the Pope

The Society’s collection contains a printed proclamation issued by Henry in June 1535….

Erasing the Pope

This chronicle of English history, first printed by Caxton in 1480, is an English translation of the Prose Brut chronicle (originally derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth with later additions), collated with a geographical description of Britain from the Polychronicon of Benedictine monk Ranulf Higden (d….

The dissolution of the monasteries begins

This manuscript records the yearly revenue of the abbey of St Albans from 1537-1538, ‘from the time of Richard Stephenadge late Abbott’ (heading fol….

The first English antiquary

John Leland (1505-1552) was the first person to publicly declare himself an antiquary and the first real example of an antiquary as we would recognise….

Publishing an English Bible

This is the Society’s 1553 copy of The Great Bible in English, bound into a volume with the later 1560 Book of Common Prayer, and ‘Certayne sermons appoynted by the Quenes maiestie’, published during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I….

A lasting impression

This is an original wax impression of the third Great Seal of Henry VIII….