The ongoing legacy of Queen Catherine of Aragon's divorce from Henry VIII

Whilst the first weeks of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's marriage seems to be going smoothly so far as one can tell, today marks the day of the end of another Queen Catherine's marriage, which had huge historical consequences.

Today is the day in 1533 that Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was finally divorced and ceased to be Queen of England.

Whilst often remembered as being sidelined by Henry in part because there was more attractive alternative, as well as for reasons of needing a male heir, Catherine was considered a great beauty, as well as being the first female ambassador Europe had known and an effective regent in England in Henry's absence.

William Shakespeare described her as "The Queen of Earthly Queens".

Nevertheless Henry became determined to divorce her. But Pope Clement VII would not grant a divorce, in part because Rome was at that time under the control of Catherine's nephew, Emperor Charles V.

Henry VIII divorce letter Catherine Aragon
Henry VIII's letter initiating divorce from Catherine of Aragon

Henry ultimately decided to place his own concerns ahead of the Pope's religious authority, and split the Church, creating himself head of the new Anglican church. This was one of the defining moments of the Reformation, albeit one of which some such as Martin Luther strongly disapproved, and changed the course of history.

Amazingly, the letter representing Henry's first attempt at securing his divorce is currently available on the private market. This is a letter to Cardinal Benedetto de Accolti, the Bishop of Ravenna. Henry sends a recommendation for his envoy Thomas Boleyn (a striking choice as he was Anne Boleyn's father) to represent him in discussions with Charles V (attempts to contact the Pope directly having proved a dead end).

It carries a clear signature and is dated January 18 1529.


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