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Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics


Henry VIII’s divorce (1533)


Famous for...


1. Henry VIII Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

Henry (pictured right in the early 1530's) wanted to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon who was:

  • a member of the Spanish royal family
  • the first of Henry’s six wives

The famous rhyme to remember what happened to Henry's wives is:

Divorced, beheaded, died,

Divorced, beheaded, survived.Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics



2.The pope (Clement VII)Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

Clement (pictured right above in c1531):

  • refused to let Henry re-marry.
  • forced Henry to replace Clement as head of the Church of England (to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon ,pictured right).



3. Protestantism 

Henry still kept the Church of England Roman Catholic

But his split with Rome made it possible for it to become Protestant in his son, Edward VI’s  reign.

Britain has been Protestant ever since, except briefly during the reign of Mary, Henry and Catherine of Aragon’s daughter.



Key events


Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics


Henry VII (pictured right in 1505) dies.

Henry VIII becomes king and marries Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish widow of his dead, elder brother, Arthur .



Cardinal Wolsey becomes Henry’s chief minister.


Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics


Wolsey (pictured right in 1526) is sacked for his inability to get Henry’s divorce and replaced by Thomas More.




Unable to support the divorce, Thomas More   resigns and is replaced by Thomas Cromwell.



The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, gives Henry a divorce after the pope, Clement VII’s, refusal to do so.

Henry marries Anne Boleyn ,and their daughter (later Elizabeth I) is born.



The Act of Supremacy makes Henry the head of the Church of England (replacing the pope).



Thomas More is executed.


1536Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

The Dissolution of the Monasteries begins when...

Thomas Cromwell (pictured right c1532) 

  • confiscates the monastries. 
  • sells their land, gold and silver. 
  • expels 15,000 monks into the outside world.

Henry crushes a Catholic rebellion in Northern England (the Pilgrimage of Grace).

Catherine of Aragon dies.

Anne Boleyn is executed.


Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics


Edward VI (pictured right);

  • becomes king (on Henry’s death).
  • allows Cranmer to introduce Protestantism.




  • becomes queen on Edward’s death.
  • re-introduces Roman Catholicism.
  • executes leading Protestants (including Cranmer in 1556).




  • becomes queen.
  • re-introduces Protestantism.


Key people involved


Henry VIII 

King of England.


Catherine of Aragon

Henry's first wife.


Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

Anne Boleyn 

Henry's second wife (pictured right in c1534).


Cardinal Wolsey 

Henry’s chief minister (known as the Lord Chancellor), 1515-29

He was sacked for not getting the divorce.


Thomas More  

Wolsey’s successor but executed for not supporting Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.


Thomas Cromwell

Replaced More as Lord Chancellor in 1532.

A ruthless but brilliant administrator who got:

  • Henry the divorce.
  • the church’s money (through the Dissolution of the Monasteries).


Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

Thomas Cranmer (pictured right in 1545)   

Archbishop of Canterbury (1533-56) who:

  • approved Henry's divorce.
  • wrote the Book of Common Prayer (in 1549).
  • introduced Protestantism under Edward VI.


Clement VII

The pope who refused to let Henry re-marry (under pressure from Catherine’s nephew, Charles V)


Why did Henry divorce Catherine and split with Rome?


1. He wanted a male heir

Catherine gave birth to five children and only one survived (later Queen Mary).


Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

2. Theology

Henry claimed (quoting Leviticus 20:21) that it was unlawful to marry your brother’s widow (Catherine had been married to Arthur, Henry’s brother, pictured right).

The verse in Leviticus says:

“If a man shall take his brother's wife it is an unclean thing... they shall be childless”.

So, Henry said, the marriage should be annulled.


Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

3. Catherine’s powerful allies

Catherine’s nephew, Charles V (pictured right in 1532), was the most powerful man in Europe, who:

a) invaded Rome in 1527.

b) imprisoned the pope, Clement VII.

This made it impossible for the pope to give Henry an annulment under Leviticus 20:21 (see point 2).


4. Henry’s character

He was brutal in pursuit of what he wanted (e.g. a male heir).

To win popularity, he executed his father’s money grabbing and deeply unpopular ministers

  • Richard Empson.
  • Edmund Dudley. Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

He also executed:

  • Anne Boleyn, when she wouldn’t give him a son.
  • Thomas More, his chief minister (for not supporting Henry’s divorce) - pictured right in 1527.



5. Catholicism weakened by ProtestantismHenry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

Henry’s split with Rome was made easier by the birth of the anti-Catholic Protestant Church in the Reformation.

The Reformation began in 1517 with an attack by Martin Luther, a German monk (pictured right), on:

  • the pope’s power (Luther said the Bible was much more important).
  • the Catholic Church’s extravagance and financial rackets (particularly paying indulgences to shorten people’s time in purgatory before going to heaven).


6. Anne BoleynHenry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

She first met Henry at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520, a fabulous jamboree in France to promote the friendship between:

  • Henry, and
  • the king of France, Francis I (pictured right c1530).

Anne was:

  • clever and ambitious.
  • refused to become Henry’s mistress.
  • was determined to be queen.


Results of Henry's divorce


1. Split with Rome

Although Henry kept the English church Roman Catholic, he replaced the pope as its head (just like the present British queen is today).

This enabled Thomas Cranmer to create a Protestant church under Henry’s successor, Edward VI.


2. The Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-40)

This gave Henry more money by confiscating the monasteries’ land and possessions like gold and silver.


3. Catholic unrest and retaliation

Most English people didn’t want the split with Rome. Catherine was much liked and the Dissolution of the Monasteries was unpopular.

So Henry had to brutally crush a Catholic rebellion in Northern England in 1536 (the Pilgrimage of Grace).

In 1549 there was another unsuccessful uprising against the new Protestant church in the South West of England (the Prayer Book Rebellion).Henry VIII’s Divorce - Leadership and Ethics

When Queen Mary (pictured right in 1554) re-introduced Roman Catholicism, her persecution against Protestants was brutal.

She became known as ‘Bloody Mary’, executing 280 Protestants including Thomas Cranmer.


Key quotes

In this world I will confess myself to be the king's true wife, and in the next they will know how unreasonably I am afflicted.

- Catherine of Aragon, 1532


I will not give them up to a person who is the scandal of Christendom and a disgrace to you,

Catherine of Aragon (talking about Henry’s request to give her jewels to Anne Boleyn).


They made me put to death the most faithful servant I ever had,

- Henry VIII (talking about Thomas Cromwell shortly after his execution).


I die the king's faithful servant, but God's first.

- Thomas More.

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