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Role of Kings in English Reformation: Example of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

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Was the Kings a great matter cause for the English reformation?

Albert Frederick Pollard was the chair of the history at the London University College for 28 years and written over 500 entries on the Tudor period. His many years of knowledge of the Tudor period make this source more reliable. However because this book was written so long after the matter, some of the information could be inaccurate, which could make it less reliable. Also, some of his work has been discredited over recent years by the school of history for some controversial speculations. He was also part of the Whiggish school of history that believed that Henry VIII was a reformer who pushed England out of its medieval ways. This could affect the reliability of his work, as Pollard may have been more in favour of Henry VIII and not considered all aspects.

My interpretation of this source is that A.f Pollard believed that the main theme for the cause of the reformation was the need for power and not Henry VIII’s divorce. A.F Pollard states that Henry VIII’s divorce was the occasion, not the cause of the reformation. This could mean that it was circumstantial that the divorce and the beginning of the reformation happened at similar times and they were both inevitable to happen on their own. This source also tells me that the real cause for the reformation was Henry’s need for power in England. It also states that Henry was able to succeed because of the devotion of the English people and the support of parliament, which in turn made Henry ultimately more powerful.

Although this source focuses on power, it neglects the fact that Henry was a devout Catholic before the divorce and reformation. This gives evidence that the divorce and desire for power over the churches outweighed his religious beliefs. Also, the source does not include the importance of money in the reformation. After the war with France Henry VIII was short of money and as there was a lot of money in the churches, by gaining power over them would give him the money that he needed. This source also does not mention the corrupt church and how they were exploiting the people for money, which is why Martin Luther started the protestant revolution.

Source 1 is from the book ‘Henry VIII’ written by A.F Pollard a historian and University professor. As the motive for this book was written for academic purposes, to teach others about this period it means that it is very credible. This is because it will be backed up with evidence and not bias, as it is to educate others. Also, a book is a reliable source as most academic books are usually looked over and reviewed by several publishers and editors before it is published so there is less room for bias opinions.

  • Source 1: ‘Henry VIII’ by A.f. Pollard, published by Groupil & Co, London, 1902

The key issue was one of power. The Church would not allow Henry VIII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and this gave him the opportunity to rid himself of the Church’s restrictive influence. The divorce, in fact, was the occasion and not the cause of the reformation. The cause was Henry VIII’s determination to exercise supreme power in England. Ultimately, the wonder is not that the break took place when it did, but that it was delayed for so long. The success of Henry VIII’s mission was confirmed by a rising tide of nationalism felt by the English people and voiced by Parliament. The allegiance owed to the Pope could no longer be accepted. The Church in England had to become the Church of England. The lion was to truly become master of his own jungle

This source tells me that before there was any doubts in the Catholic Church that the relationship between the King and the Pope was good. It also states that Henry VIII took advantage of the situation where the people of England were losing trust in their church. My interpretation of this source is that the divorce contributed to the reformation but did not cause it to happen. It was instead the mistrust of the public in the church and the information that had been revealed. However, lastly, this source states that without the divorce there would not have been a reformation as Henry VIII’s power would have been against it, which highlights its importance.

This source is like source 1 in the way that it expresses that divorce is not the sole cause for the reformation, and they support one another on this front. However, they are different as source 2 focuses more on the corruption of the church but source 1 focuses on Henry’s hunger for power.

G.R Elton was a German-born historian who specialized in the Tudor period but focused mainly on the study of Henry VIII’s life. He taught as a professor of modern history at Clare College in Cambridge for 5 years. As his studies focused mainly on the life of Henry VIII this could mean that source 2 is more biased and less reliable than source 1, it will focus more on the actions of Henry and not other factors that could have affected the reformation.

This source comes across to me as though there are some negative feelings towards Henry VIII. Words such as ‘exploit’ ‘broken’ and ‘issue’ support this interpretation.

This source does not explain how Henry’s desire for more power and money largely affected his decision to split from the Catholic Church. This source mentions how Henry was to exploit the anti-Catholic feelings, that the public were having but it neglects to mention that before this Henry VIII was a committed Catholic. He was even given the title of ‘defender of the faith by the Pope because he defended the Catholic Church from Martin Luther’s teachings. This was until Henry had something to gain from the reformation.

Source 2 is one from a book titled ‘England under the Tudors’ which follows the religious and government changes that occurred in the Tudor period. The information written in this book by G.R Elton was questioned by other historians and is no longer considered a correct theory. This makes this source of less value and credibility than others that are accepted. Like source 1, because it is a book to be used for educational purposed it will be more credible as it will have been checked over before being published.

  • Source 2: G.R. Elton, England under the Tudors, published 1977

Until Henry VII fixed his desire upon Anne Boleyn, and Pope Clement VII found himself a prisoner of Charles V, there was nothing to disturb the harmony between the King and pope. Until their alliance was broken, all the underlying anti-Catholic feelings in England that Henry VIII was to exploit remained under the surface. This illustrates the importance of the divorce issue in the English Reformation. It did not alone cause the Reformation and did not even play any large part in bringing about a movement that rested on English national feeling and the scandal of a corrupt Church. However, without the divorce, there would have been no Reformation in England because the power of the Crown would have been against it.

This source was a pamphlet in the form of a petition from the poor to Henry VIII. It was only 5000 words and was written to express the miseries of the poor people as a result of the Church. This source is valuable as we can see firsthand the opinions of the protestant people at this time. However, this makes it very biased, as Fish was a protestant reformer and it cannot be said that it is all true. This source was written directly to Henry VIII to persuade him into thinking the way the protestant reformers did. This could mean that some statements or facts may have been exaggerated in order to sway Henry VIII to break with the Catholic Church.

Clergy: religious leaders e.g. catholic priests ministers etc.

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Papal head: the authority or position of the Pope in the Catholic Church

Fish was a protestant reformer who had very strong opinions against the Catholic Church, as shown in source 3. This could affect the sources usefulness and it may be seen as bias because he was a protestant reformer. As Henry VIII’s divorce would have been in favour of Simon Fish because this would cause the break from the Catholic Church. As Fish was alive during the time the reformation it makes this source useful because we get to see firsthand what some of the public people’s opinions were during that time.

  • Source 3: Simon Fish’s A supplication for the beggars, written 1529

The clergy are not the shepherds, but ravenous wolves going about in sheep’s clothing, devouring their flock. They do no work, yet own more than a third of the country. The best manors, land, and territories are theirs. Besides this, they take a tenth of everyone’s wages, a tenth of the wool, milk, honey, wax, cheese, and butter that is produced, and even every tenth egg from poor widows. And what do these greedy idle, holy thieves do with all this produce they take from the people? Nothing, but take all rule, power, authority, and obedience from you, your Highness, and give it to themselves and their Papal Head.

Although this source gives opinions on the Catholic Church and its affect on Henry VIII’s power, it does not mention his divorce itself and the people’s opinions on it. It also does not include any real evidence and is based from one protestant’s opinion.

An interpretation of this source may be that Simon Fish believed that the Catholic Church was taking money and resources from the poor people and they were extremely angry. He states in this petition to Henry VIII that the church is taking all of the rule, power, and authority away from him, which would have influenced Henry, even more, to go ahead with the break with Rome. These reformers were angry and pleading with Henry VIII after discovering the actions of the Church. Words used such as greedy, idle, thieves, and ravenous are all words of anger and have been used to persuade the reader against the Church. Because of the anger used in this text, it makes the reader question the value of what is actually being said.

Source 3 is backed up by source 1 because it explains the importance of Henry VIII’s power and the part this would play on the reformation rather than his divorce. This source and source 2 also support each other as source 2 explains that there were ‘anti-Catholic feelings in England’ which this source clearly shows to be true.

This source is a letter written from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. It was written a year after Henry VIII decided to divorce Catherine of Aragon and approximately 2 years after Henry had began his quest for Anne. This is only one of many letters sent between Henry and Anne. As Henry VIII wrote this it makes it a very valuable historic piece that gives us an insight into his mind and the reasons behind his actions. Although some of the letters may have been lost in translation so it can be batter understood.

As Henry VIII himself wrote this it makes it very bias as he would not have wrote bad about himself. This is because although this letter comes across like he is in love with Anne Boleyn and that is his only motive for the reformation. His love for Anne may have only been part of the reason and his desire for the power and money he would gain from breaking with the Catholic Church may have played a great part however Henry would not have admitted this himself.

This source may be interpreted in a way that Henry VIII was determined to do anything to make Anne Boleyn happy. The phrase from this quote ‘I will cast out all others’ and ‘to serve you and you alone’ seems to me that he would have even abandoned his religion in order to get his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and be with Anne Boleyn because she refused to be his mistress and would not be with Henry unless they were married. I also believe Henry is referring to casting out the Catholic church because this letter was written the same year that he went against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and ultimately the beginning of his journey to acquire a divorce.

  • Source 4: A letter from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, written in 1528

I beg you with all my heart to let me know definitely your whole mind concerning the love between us both. For I must of necessity force you to reply, as I have been more than a year now smitten with love’s dart, being uncertain either a failure or of finding a place in your heart and sure affections. If it pleases you to play the part of a true, loyal mistress and friend, giving your body and soul to me, I promise you that I will cast out all others save yourself from my thoughts and affections, to serve you and you alone.

In this source, there are many words used that show this is a love letter and one showing lots of emotions. Some of these words include heart, affections, true, loyal, friend, love, and smitten.

This source is similar to source 3 in the way that it was written. They are both direct messages meant to be read by one specific person.

This source is different to sources 1 and 2 as Henry doesn’t mention anywhere his desire for power being the reason for the divorce and split with Rome but rather his deep desire to be married to Anne Boleyn.

  • Dart: a sudden, intense pang of a particular emotion
  • Smitten: to suddenly like or be in love with something or someone


In conclusion, there is evidence to say that the King’s great matter was the cause for the reformation and evidence to go against this statement. Sources 1 and 2 both claim that the divorce played a role in the reformation but in no way was it the sole cause, but rather it was to gain money and power from the church. Source 3 also supports the interpretation that the cause was more so to do with power and taking over from the corrupt Catholic Church. However, source 4 is very different and solely focuses on Henry VIII’s love for Anne Boleyn and how he would do anything for her including a divorce. After studying the above sources I believe that without Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Arragon the reformation would have never happened but the divorce alone would not have cause it and there were many more factors. One of which was money and power as Henry VIII had lost a lot of money after the war with France and taking over the Church would give him this money. As well as this I think pressure from the public weighed into the cause as shown in source 3, they were extremely angry with the Catholic Church and played a part to push Henry VIII to split with Rome. His need for divorce and money along with the new realisations of the Catholic Church were all a coincidence to happen around the same time but played equal parts in causing the reformation.

  • Essay plan
  • Paragraph 1 – Introduction

I would give a short background on the question that the essay is about.

  • Paragraph 2 – I would include my sources that support the question, I would then include interpretations of this source and a breakdown of what makes it reliable or not.
  • Paragraph 3 – This paragraph would include evidence that goes against the question and also interpretations and a breakdown of the sources.
  • Paragraph 4 – Conclusion

I would write a conclusion summing up the evidence that supports it and goes against it and give my own overall opinion

  1. Cambridge Dictionary (2019) Clergy. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2019)
  2. Cambridge Dictionary (2019) Papal. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2019)
  3. Cambridge Dictionary (2019) Smitten. Available at: (Accessed 24 October 2019)
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica (2019) A.F Pollard. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2019)
  5. Haskolinn Reykjavik (2019) Reliable Sources. Available at: (Accessed: 20 October 2019)
  6. Historical Research Update (2015) Sir Geoffrey Elton. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2019)
  7. History Learning Site (2015) Henry VIII Timeline. Available at: (Accessed 24 October 2019)
  8. Lexico (2019) Dart. Available at: (Accessed: 24 October 2019)
  9. Oxford learner’s dictionary (2019) Defender of the faith. Available at: (Accessed: 13 October 2019)
  10. Spartacus Educational (2015) Simon Fish. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2019)
  11. Wikipedia (2019) Geoffrey Elton. Available at: (Accessed: 10 October 2019)
  12. Wikipedia (2019) Simon Fish. Available at: (Accessed: 17 October 2019)
  13. YouTube (2018) The Tudors: Henry VIII – The Break With Rome – Episode 20. Available at: (Accessed: 8 October 2019)

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Role of Kings in English Reformation: Example of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
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