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Impact of Religion on Crown Policy from 1509-1603: Fate of Anne Boleyn

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Many factors can be argued to be the most influential and political ones regarding crown policy. These factors may contradict each other or even complement each other, however, the most influential one is still debated. In my opinion, I think that religion was the most influential political factor, however other factors such as Successorship, Foreign policy, Rebellions, and Public opinion could also be pivotal contributing factors that influence crown policy. I believe that Religion was the most important factor due to how essential it was to most individuals during this time period. Religion was accepted by everyone and played a huge role in day-to-day life.

‘The sixteenth century was an age of religion: God mattered’ -English reformations.

Christopher Haigh believes that religion was the most influential factor to the crown policy during the period of 1509-1603. He goes on to say that few in England doubted the basic ideas of Christianity and even if they did they would keep the doubts to themselves, as it would be a crime of heresy to speak out against God. The Christian belief system was rarely criticized or rejected as it was part of the day-to-day life every citizen on England was accepting of. An example that helps prove this statement is when Martin Luther protested outside of catholic churches in order to reform catholic traditions and ideology which was affecting those who devoted their lives to Christianity. In 1517, the results of these protests created the branch of Christianity known as Protestantism, which did not force its followers to blindly follow the dogma of catholic traditions and apostolic succession, but encouraged followers to accept the basic rules and teachings of Christianity, while still having a sense of individuality in the religion by having own interpretations of authority such as the bible or Jesus' teachings. This denomination of very traditional religion in the 1500s was a shock due to it having drastically new and different ideas of the new testament than the catholic churches. The influence religion has on crown policy is then also linked to Henry VIII wanting to divorce Catherine of Aragon, as he wanted a son, an heir to the throne, however, Catharine could not deliver a son but instead gave birth to a daughter called Mary. Because of this, Henry sought to divorce Catherine, However, pope Julius II could not divorce them, as in religion marriage is a lifetime commitment, and would not even consider divorce to be possible as in the eyes of the Lord two people who are married cannot break the vows between each other. In 1533, Thomas Cranmer becomes the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is the most important church-related job in England. This leads to Cranmer granting Henry a divorce, which allows Henry to marry Anne Boleyn legally. The Pope then excommunicates Henry which is a serious punishment for a strong Christian such as Henry. The pope does this as Henry went through with the divorce which was very serious due to the possible repercussions it had on the public. It suggests that anyone could now get a divorce, on the other hand, it could be seen as the king being allowed divorce due to God appointing him as monarch, which was the public opinion at the time of any monarch on the throne meaning her had higher privileges and authority due to him being chosen by God. In 1534 Henry splits off from Roman Catholicism and the Pope, making himself in charge of the church of England. Lastly in 1535, The bible is published in English and people can read the bible for themselves, rather than priests and other religious messengers translating it. This is when the different denominations of Christianity began to flourish as individual interpretations could be made without having to take the word of catholic priests or monks' interpretation of the translation. Haigh knew all these religious reformations were taking place during 1509-1603 and stated that the reformation was not a quick process but took time and many contributing elements helped in the outcome of the English reformation. I believe that religion influenced every monarch during 1509-1603, which meant it affected crown policy whenever a new law was passed, whether the reason behind the proposed law stemmed from religion or not.

Within the ‘Problem with succession’ the Tudor times state that the rules of succession were not black and white in the Tudor period, stating that every monarch wished to bequeath the throne to a worthy heir and in doing so, would prevent rebellions, assassination attempts and even wars in extreme cases. Successorship could be considered another influential political factor to crown policy. The monarch appointed as ruler of England would obviously be expected to have some major political influence on crown policy. For example, certain legislation will only be passed depending on the monarch's own beliefs and ideas on how to further the country in the way they think is best,if the legislation made it through parliament. Queen Elizabeth 1st decided to merge the catholic and protestant churches into the church of England, allocating herself as the head. She did this in order to stop the division of religion as the knock-on effect would be a divided England. This was done due to past rebellions causing instability in England, and this prevented catholicism and Protestantism from conflicting with each other. Queen Elizabeth, who becomes queen of England in 1558, passed laws such as the act of uniformity, which angered both Catholics and protestants alike in the same year she became queen of England. Both denominations of Christianity accepted this law, however, it meant that Catholics could not have a pope due to it conflicting with protestant beliefs, as well as Elizabeth making herself head.

Henry VIII had many instances where the crown policy was affected by successorship. The divorce between Henry Percy and Catherine of Aragon is one of the first and most important changes, not just relating to crown policy, but also contains changes for religion as well. Wolsey, who was Henry's chief advisor, was entrusted with the responsibility of finding a way around Henry's marriage to Catherine, as he had fallen for the young Anne Boleyn. Due to Catherine giving birth to Mary, Henry now had no trustworthy or reliable heir. With a son, directly related to Henry and is next in line for the throne, Henry would not have to worry about any opposition to his throne when he dies through a weak claim to the throne.

Henry's divorce- Extract, from a long letter from Cardinal Wolsey to Henry VIII, 5 July 1527;

‘...So I demanded of him whether he had any special conjecture or knowledge what the matter should be where in the queen desired to have his advice. Whereunto he answered that by certain report and relation [story] he knew nothing how be it upon conjecture rising upon such things as he hath heard he thinketh it was for a divorce to be had between your highness and the queen, which to conject, he was especially moved upon a tale brought unto him by his brother from London who showed him that being there in a certain company he heard say that things were set forth sounding to such a purpose...’

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This is an extract taken from a letter composed by Wolsey in an attempt to justify his reasons for being unable to pass the divorce of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. As Wolsey failed to divorce the two, he was not only preventing Henry from remarrying Anne Boleyn, he was also preventing the possibility of a male heir. Throughout the early years of his reign, this is what Henry desired the most. He wanted a successor in order to pass down his ideologies, resulting in similar ideas on crown policy and religion reigning over England for a longer period of time. He also strongly believed that God wanted Henry to have a male heir as the monarchy were said to be anointed by God. and Henry set him on to annul the marriage in 1530. Wolsey later died after attempting to annul the marriage. This was a huge setback for Wolsey as in 1518, he was appointed ‘Papal Legate’ which allowed him to exercise the same powers as the Pope himself. Wolsey was also put in charge of the legal system under Henry’s wishes and wished to reform justice most of all. This reinforces the fact that Wolsey had a considerable amount of power within the country and fought the Pope's wishes in order to obey Henry’s will. Religion influenced many aspects of day-to-day life, as well as crown policy, however, whether it was the most influential and political factor affecting crown policy is debatable. On the one hand, Succership played a huge role in crown policy especially during Henry VIII's reign, bringing out legislation in a whole different way to previous monarchs. He would often declare new laws such as the act of supremacy through proclamation rather than through parliament, which is also known as the ‘Henry VIII clause’. The act of supremacy was passed in 1534 which directly took power from the pope himself and granted Henry full power when he created his own Church of England. Henry declared himself as head of the church as he was king, and once again this reinforces the idea of monarchs being appointed by God and Henry thought that this made him a natural leader that should be in control. However I believe that religion is the most influential and political factor regarding crown policy as although you have the monarch Henry seizing control and power for himself through his own legislation, you can say that without religion, Henry would not have created acts such as the act of supremacy, as he would not have needed the act in order to try and control religion, which was such a huge aspect of everyday life.

Anne Boleyn’s speech-This account of Anne Boleyn’s speech at her execution was made by the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall. The execution took place on 19 May 1536 at 8 o’clock in the morning. It was the first public execution of an English queen; ‘Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law, I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me, he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.’

This Primary source conveys the religious language used in this time period. A lot of religious dialogue can be seen within the account and most citizens would have strongly resembled this dialect. The provenance of the source is Edward hall who was a member of parliament and was given the title of serjeant from 17 March 1553. I believe this in turn makes the source more valuable due to him being a trusted member of parliament, as well as the fact that this source is a recount written at the time of Anne Boleyn’s execution, meaning he would not lie or falsify the account of her last words and recalled what she said accurately as he was present at the time of her execution. One of the main speculations about why Anne Boleyn was sentenced to death was her growing power and status in England threatening Thomas Cromwell. Thomas disagreed with the dissolution of monasteries throughout England as Anne wished to further the monasteries but only in the areas that needed the most tending to. She wished to use the money for educational and charitable purposes and Cromwell felt Anne's growing influence over the King was a problem for him. Anne ended up ruining multiple policies, including an alliance with the Holy Roman empire in 1535. The overall tone of the speech can be considered more of prayer then a speech due to the connotations of God and religion present within the account. She directs a lot of her speech to God which correlates with her views regarding religion. However, it seems to be directed at the citizens watching the execution, asking for forgiveness as well as asking for their prayers. Different historians are unsure whether Anne was a conventional catholic, a zealous reformer or a protestant martyr. However, this source clearly shows the meaning and faith behind even the monarchy regarding religion during the reformation and was still held as important, although Protestantism was a conflicting force towards Catholics within England during the reformation and crown policy was affected due to the two different branches of Christianity clashing with each other. An example of this would be the Wyatt rebellion in 1554. I believe that the Wyatt rebellions can be considered either political or religious, however, the protestants rebelled due to the fear of catholicism returning.

An account of Thomas Cranmer’s death from an anonymous bystander in 1556;

“Mary had good cause to dislike Cranmer. Not only was he the premier Protestant in England, but he also annulled her parents’ marriage and subsequently married King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. But that I know for our great friendships, and long-continued love, you look even of duty that I should signify to you of the truth of such things as here chanceth among us; I would not at this time have written to you the unfortunate end, and doubtful tragedy, of Thomas Cranmer late bishop of Canterbury: because I little pleasure take in beholding of such heavy sights. And, when they are once overpassed, I like not to rehearse them again; being but a renewing of my woe, and doubling my grief. For although his former, and wretched end, deserves a greater misery, (if any greater might have chanced than chanced unto him), yet, setting aside his offenses to God and his country, and beholding the man without his faults, I think there was none that pitied not his case, and bewailed not his fortune, and feared not his own chance…”

Within this source, it relates back to God which is a consistent theme in all these sources. Thomas is claimed to have offended God within the source as well as his country. As mary was the queen of England during this time, it is possible that she meant the annulment of her parent's marriage being described as an act against God and the country. It affected a lot of political instability when the Wyatt rebellion took place as protestants were afraid of further catholic reformations in 1554. However, the main weakness of the rebellion was the lack of support from other nobles and even commoners across the country. This is why the rebellion failed as not enough Protestants feared the return of catholicism such as noble Thomas Wyatt. The protestant rebellions believed the marriage of Philip of Spain and Mary would allow Spain to have a great influence over English politics. However, this means that religion was not the only influential and political factor causing the rebellion. Mary decided to show her true Christian nature as a catholic and released the rebels that were imprisoned as her public opinion would increase by showing mercy.

In conclusion, I believe that religion was the most influential political factor affecting crown policy between 1509-1603. Successorship I believe did contribute to crown policy, especially during Henry VIII’s reign, and many acts and regulations were passed due to his own beliefs and personality. However he also was a very religious man and after creating the church of England, you can clearly see how much religion influenced him as a man and a monarch. His act of supremacy and Elizabeth I’s act of uniformity could be seen as very similar, as they both appointed themselves head of the church of England at different points in time. With four monarchs taking the throne in the space of one hundred years, you can clearly see that each individual from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I were different in one way or another, however, religion was important to the monarchs and allowed some sense of continuity between kings and queens who shared the same religious value and opinions. The implications of religion affecting crown policy meant that a stable sense of legislation could be relied upon for future kings or queens to continue during their own reign, however, the future heir of the throne would need to share religious ideology with the previous monarch if this was to work, and due to individuality and specific beliefs, this may not have always been the correct way to gain a sense of stability in regards to crown policy. In my opinion, I think that many changes during this period was due to religion's huge role in the reformation and even if many changes occurred, monarchs would have based most of their crown policy on basic foundational teaching of Christianity that helped further their religious standpoint.

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Impact of Religion on Crown Policy from 1509-1603: Fate of Anne Boleyn. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from
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