Our young Henry VIII was considered a devout Catholic: attending Mass three times a day, being buddy-buddy with the pope, and strongly defending the idea of transubstantiation (the changing of the bread and wine into the body of blood of Christ). Let’s just skip over the part about his spending “quality time” with young ladies of the court, shall we?
At that time, all Christians in England were Catholics, period. However, over in Germany in 1526 (when Henry was 35 years old), Martin Luther was busy organizing his new church after rejecting the Catholic Church, which was very corrupt at that time. Luther was especially riled up about indulgences, the Church’s way of saying “pay up at Mass and your soul will be saved.” His work sparked the Protestant Reformation, and Christianity was then split in two: Catholics and Protestants.
Around this same time, Henry was getting tired of his wife, Catherine of Aragon, failing to produce a male heir. He’d stayed married to this lady for nearly 20 years, and for what? One measly daughter? This had to end.
He ranted and raved and stomped his feet a bit when the pope wouldn’t grant him a divorce from this Spanish princess, but in the end he said, “Fine, the Catholic Church won’t let me divorce so I’ll take my ball and go home.” He declared himself the head of the brand-new Church of England, dumped Catherine, and married a certain court vixen named Anne Boleyn, as if she’d had “can produce male babies” stamped on her forehead. He embraced blossoming Protestant ideals such as married priests, no confession, and no transubstantiation.
Like a petulant child, he destroyed a ton of monasteries in England and cut off the heads of important Catholics in the country. That oughta teach ’em. But it didn’t help the new Queen Anne give birth to any healthy boys, nor did it keep his next wife, Jane Seymour, alive long enough to have more than one male heir. He couldn’t even stomach staying in the same room with Anne of Cleves (Wife #4), let alone try to have children with her.
And in 1539 (right between Wives 4 and 5), Henry convinced Parliament to pass the Act of Six Articles, which basically said:
- Transubstantiation is A-OK once again
- Communion is to be bread only, not wine
- No married priests
- Pay-per-view Mass was fine
- No remarried widows
- Confess to a priest
During the next several decades, his Catholic daughter Mary and his Protestant daughter Elizabeth would duke it out and the country would remain divided by religion. But for all intents and purposes, Henry — in his heart — was still a Catholic.