Henry VIII and Religion

By positioning him firmly within the changing context of his times, Lucy Wooding sees coherence in Henry VIII’s religious policies.

Henry VIII is notorious for many things, but being very religious is not usually one of them. We might think of him as being majestic, bellicose, destructive or manipulative, but not as being particularly pious. And yet religion was one of the subjects that concerned Henry the most; he gave it perhaps more consideration than any other aspect of his reign save warfare. Religion was an integral part of his daily life and a crucial aspect of his kingship. Henry’s religious policies were arguably the most far-reaching of all his innovations as ruler, and his most lasting legacy. Today, the subject of Henry VIII’s religion is perhaps the most hotly contested historical aspect of his life and times.

Debating the Reformation

Henry’s religion was a puzzle to his contemporaries, and has remained a source of contention ever since. The problem is that his reign coincided with the beginnings of what subsequently was termed the English Reformation. Henry’s break with Rome, his institution of the Royal Supremacy, his introduction of an English Bible and the dissolution of the monasteries were all steps on the path to England’s Protestant future. The question is whether Henry himself was aware of this, and whether he intended it to happen. Our understanding of the king and our understanding of the English Reformation are inextricably intertwined, and to make sense of one we have to try to make sense of the other.

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