Henry VIII was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He is most remembered for having had six wives throughout the course of his life, and for his controversial break with Rome, which saw England cut itself off from the Catholic Church and Papacy, and in doing so fragment its relations with Continental European powers.
It was Henry’s relationship with Anne Boleyn which is most commonly considered to be the primary motive for England’s break with the Church. At the time, King Henry was married to Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, and mother of his daughter, Princess Mary.
Distressed that he did not have a male heir to inherit his throne, and that his Queen was unlikely to give him any more children, Henry sought an annulment from the Pope, which would allow him to put Catherine aside and marry another woman, in the hope of having a son. This, however, was not to be. Without the Pope’s blessing, Henry empowered domestic, English clergymen so that they, regardless of the Pope, could grant him the divorce he so desperately craved. With Rome’s authority in England no longer recognised, the Crown began a policy of religious reformation, which eventually led to the complete reorganisation of the Church in England and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Many across England were unhappy with these changes, and regarded Henry’s new Queen, Anne Boleyn, as the cause of their forced estrangement with what they regarded to be the true mother Church in Rome.
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The changes in England did not happen overnight. The parliament which managed the Break with Rome, and the Reformation that followed, is known as the English Reformation Parliament, and sat from 1529 to 1536. Malcontent brewed in every corner of the kingdom from its inception.
One of many people who had cause to be upset was Friar William Peto. Not only was Peto a fiery defender of Rome known for his holiness of life, he was also confessor to Princess Mary, the daughter whom King Henry had cast aside along with her mother, Catherine. On Easter Sunday 1532, the friar delivered a rather controversial sermon in the King’s presence at Greenwich’s Franciscan chapel. During his sermon he compared Henry to King Ahab, husband of Jezebel. Jezebel was associated with false prophets, and blamed for having led Ahab astray. According to Scripture, after Ahab died, wild dogs licked his blood. Peto thundered that if Henry should marry Anne – his Jezebel – the very same thing would happen to him. 1
Just a few months later, Henry and Anne were wed in secret. 2
When Henry died in 1547, his coffin stood overnight in Syon Abbey, as it made its way to Windsor for burial. According to “a contemporary document” identified by a 19th century historian, the “leaden coffin” had become damaged “by the shaking of the carriage”. This had allowed fluids to leak from the dead King’s remains. “In the morning”, when workers came to repair the coffin, they found “the pavement of the church was wetted with his blood”. Not only that, they supposedly saw “a dog creeping, and licking up the king’s blood”. 3
If this account is to be believed, Friar Peto’s prediction had come true.
“God’s judgments were ready to fall upon his head and that dogs would lick his blood, as they had done to Ahab.”
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