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An Examination of the significance for the Reformation in England of Anne Boleyn

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The lives of Henry's Consorts have been related as if each of the six was an isolated phenomenon that had by chance attracted the desire of a lascivious despot, and in her turn had been deposed when his eye had fallen, equally fortuitously, upon another woman who pleased his errant fancy better. This view I believe to be a superficial and misleading one. I regard Henry himself not as the far-seeing statesman he is so often depicted for us... but rather as a weak, vain, boastful man, the plaything of his passions, which were artfully made use of by rival parties to forward religious and political ends in the struggle of giants that ended in the Reformation.
Martin Hume

Anne Boleyn

The quotation above sums up the way in which popular history has presented Anne Boleyn and Henry's role and challenges it but also seems to advance an alternative view that reduces Anne to something of a cipher for her powerful family's political and religious beliefs. I chose to look at the impact of Anne Boleyn on the English reformation.

I argue that that it was Henry's divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn that provided the impetus for break with Rome. I will consider the role of a Boleyn faction in pressing Henry towards Reformation and will consider the legacy of Anne's marriage to Henry - including the daughter Elizabeth who was committed to ensuring that Protestantism remained the established religion.

King Henry VIII

Haigh argued that, Henry was not interested in reform before he sought a divorce from Catherine (for instance, he was happy to support the church's persecution of heretics (Haigh,1993:88)) Indeed, in 1521, Wolsey persuaded Henry to "write" a response to Luther that was refutation of Luther's teachings. (Haigh, 1993:57)

However, Haigh argued, a chance combination of circumstances led Henry to move against the Church. "Wolsey had been disgraced and a Parliament called at time when the king wanted churchmen intimidated" (Haigh, 1993:89) because of Henry's increasing desire for a divorce, driven by his desire to marry Anne and his anxiety to beget a male heir.


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