Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vatican Reveals Letter on Henry VIII’s Papal Plea

Published: May 12, 2009

The Vatican has opened its secret archives, the repository of centuries worth of documents pertaining to the Holy See, to let the world get a closer look at a document presaging England’s split from the Church of Rome. Dated July 13, 1530, and addressed to Pope Clement VII, the letter, right, asks for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and includes the seals of dozens of peers of England who concurred with the request. A reproduction of the document will go on sale next month for about $68,000 from the Venice-based publisher Scrinium, which plans a limited run of 199 copies. A second, more damaged copy of the document is in England, at the National Archives in Kew. The reproduction and accompanying scholarly texts will allow for closer perusal of “the cause of Henry VIII,” Monsignor Sergio Pagano, the Vatican archive’s prefect, told journalists on Tuesday. It will be officially presented in June, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Henry’s coronation, but the timing is a coincidence, Monsignor Pagano said. “We do not celebrate kings, only popes.”


[ex Anglia], 1530 July 13th

Parchment, mm 950x458; open envelope on which (dark red) ribbons are sewn, bearing 85 seals of just as many signers of the document. The seals, in red wax, nearly all navette-shaped, are contained in tin caskets.
ASV, A. A., Arm. I‑XVIII, 4098 A (XC); detail of the seals (XCI)

Whatever the remote cause of the Anglican schism, there is no doubt that the most immediate and determining cause was Henry VIII’s (1509-1547) wish to get rid of his legitimate wife, Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and aunt of the future emperor Charles V, in order to get married with Anne Boleyn, lady-in-waiting, who wanted to belong to him only as a wife. The sovereign did not hide his intentions and was ready to take any decision in order to achieve his aim. In fact, in 1527, Henry VIII undertook some initiatives with the local archbishops and with the papal legate, Cardinal Wolsey, so that the cause of nullity of the sovereign’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon (who had given birth to 6 children, of whom only Mary Tudor survived) was dealt with in England, where it was easy for the King to exercise his pressure. This was by no means allowed by the Pontiff, who moved the trial of the case to Rome.

Due to the delicate implications the case implied, both for its juridical nature and for the ecclesiastic policy, Clement VII took time before pronouncing a sentence. And during this difficult situation the King and his ministers never ceased to put pressure on Rome, so that the issue could be quickly resolved. Also the Peers of England, all together, acted in favour of the sovereign and with the present document – in an intentionally solemn form – in 1530 asked the Pope to put an end to their long wait and to that of the entire English Nation.

Their request has an urging nature, and is definitely not a plea for the annulment, which they take for granted, considering the favourable opinion already given by the English, French and Italian scholars, as well as the benevolence always shown by the King towards the Holy See (from line 5: Sufficere sane alioquin debuisset causae ipsius iusticia eruditissimorum virorum calculis passim probata celeberimarum academiarum suffragiis iudicata ab Anglis, a Gallis, ab Italis prout quisque apud eos ceteros eruditione antecellit pronunciata et diffinita ut Sanctitas Vestra, etiam nemine petente et reclamantibus quibuscumque, suo ore suaque auctoritate aliorum sentencias confirmaret, presertim cum causae diffinicio eum regem, illud regnum respiciat, quod de Sede illa Apostolica tam multis nominibus benemeritum sit). At the end of the text, the Peers declare their intention to agree with the Pontiff whatever his sentence may be (third last line: Interim vero Deum Optimum Maximum, quem ipsam esse veritatem certissimo testimonio cognoscimus, comprecabimur, ut Sanctitatis Vestre consilia ita informare atque dirigere dignetur, ut quod sanctum, iustum ac verum est a Vestre Sanctitatis auctoritate obtinentes, ab omni alia assequende veritatis molestia liberemur). It is well-know that the Pope then declared legitimate Henry VIII’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and therefore indissoluble, and how the sovereign, hindered from carrying out his plans, got married again and declared the separation of the Church of England from the Church of Rome (the Anglican schism).

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