Henry's actions in assuming for himself the mantle of ecclesiastical authority were tinged with self-interest. He had sought in vain for papal approval for his divorce from Catalina of Aragon, and when it became clear that approval would not be forthcoming, Henry took matters into his own hands.

The Act of Supremacy must be seen as part of a broader policy, though, one aimed at increasing the power of the English monarch and decreasing the influence of Rome. To give him his due, Henry was probably sincere in his belief that the Church of England was riddled with poor administration and had long since lost the right to act as an independent body.

At the same time, however, Henry had his eye on the wealth of the church, particularly the property of the monasteries. His lifestyle, and his desire for military glory had left Henry in a precarious financial position; he needed money, the church had lots of it, so the solution was obvious - take control of the church and its assets. This he did by asserting his legal right to act as head of the Church of England.

One important point to note is that the Act effectively made it treasonable to support the authority of the Pope over the Church of England. By tying the church and monarch so closely together, support for Catholicism became not simply a statement of personal religious conviction, but a repudiation of the authority of the monarch, and as such, an act of treason punishable by death.

Original Text:

Albeit, the King's Majesty justly and rightfully is and oweth to be the supreme head of the Church of England, and so is recognised by the clergy of this realm in their Convocations; yet nevertheless for corroboration and confirmation thereof, and for increase of virtue in Christ's religion within this realm of England, and to repress and extirp all errors, heresies and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same, Be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia, and shall have and enjoy annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm as well the title and style thereof, as all honours, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits and commodities, to the said dignity of supreme head of the same Church belonging and appertaining. And that our said sovereign lord, his heirs and successors kings of this realm, shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offences, contempts and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may lawfully be reformed, repressed, ordered, redressed corrected, restrained or amended, most to the pleasure of Almighty God, the increase of virtue in Christ's religion, and for the conservation of the peace, unity and tranquillity of this realm: any usage, custom, foreign laws, foreign authority, prescription or any other thing or things to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.

From: Statutes of the Realm, III; spelling modernized


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