The First Fairy Tale
Dale K. Brown
"HENRY THE VIII"
Though Martin Luther had died, the movement he engineered refused to. England in particular became a prickly thorn in the Papal Rump; not because the English were zealously drawn to Protestantism out of some religious fervor. They weren't. It was a matter of economical, political, and sexual practicality.
Economical, because the Catholic Church had, over the years, laid claim to real estate holdings amounting to roughly one third of the English realm. The Abbot of St. Albans and Bishop of Winchester, for example, controlled more real-estate and revenue than all the nobility put together. That being the case, the king saw no harm in challenging the church's claims to these holdings.
Politically, because the abuses of the church, such as corruption, worldliness, and the power to exercise the rule of absolute law over kings, noblemen, and the peasantry alike, did little to endear Church and State to one another.
And sexually; well, there was this little matter of Henry the VIII, who maintained quite verbally that "Kings of England had no superiors" in England, or anywhere else for that matter. King Henry, however, did have a problem; his wife. She was, in the good king's view, old and ugly. Moreover, she was getting older and uglier every day and she was still alive, that was the problem. Because as long as she was, and as long as they were Catholic, he was stuck with her.
He'd asked for a divorce but got turned down by the pope. Ordinarily, the new pope, Clement VII, would have granted the king a divorce on general principals. The rich and famous usually had no trouble from religious quarters in these matters. But this case was far from ordinary. King Henry was married to his own sister-in-law, her royal highness, Queen Catherine, and she had every intention of remaining Queen Catherine, Henry's over-active libido not withstanding.
Because of their former close relationship, he'd had to get a special papal dispensation to marry her in the first place. So for Pope Clement to now grant Henry a dissolution based on the king's sudden realization that marrying his brother's wife was an affront to man and God, well, first he'd have to admit the papacy had erred in its original findings which, in and of itself, was a theological impossibility. Moreover, Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, Emperor of Spain, who, at this time, was acting as Lord Protectorate of the pope and much of Christendom besides. Pope Clement was not about to risk incurring the wrath of his defender and benefactor and Charles V was adamantly determined that Aunty Catherine remain Queen of England.
Not wishing to offend either of these special interest groups, Pope Clement did the politically correct thing; when in doubt, stall! He appointed a commission to study the matter. No doubt they'd be studying still were it not for shrill protests from an enraged King Henry.
After two years further study, a cardinal named Campeggio was dispatched to England with secret instructions to inquire diligently but resolve nothing, which he did to the satisfaction of the pope, the appeasement of Charles, and the mounting wrath of the King. Several more years of ecumenical wrangling did little to mollify that wrath. Finally, the English Parliament was called in to session and asked to determine just who, Pope or King, was the supreme law of the land. It didn't take the House of Lords long to realize that, if they declared the pope "persona non grata," they could then declare vast papal holdings "ours free and cleara." So, before the pontiff could say, "Ave Moreia" Parliament, in 1534, declared the Crown to be the legitimate head of the English Church.
Henry could write his own ticket; which he promptly did. He wrote a one way ticket for the old "ball and chain." And the ink was scarcely dry on the royal divorce decree before Henry married an obviously pregnant, but radiantly happy, Anne Boleyn. The Queen wasn't the only thing new in Henry's life, though. He had a fresh perspective on religion.
He'd come to realize that, as king, he derived his powers from none other than God Almighty. This insight was not a unique one. Kings all the way back to Constantine had wondered just what it was that set them apart from, and above other men. The answer, obviously, was God! And this was a comforting revelation; to know that among the called and chosen, you were a bit more called and a lot more chosen! It was a handy tool in ending arguments, too. "God told me I could" silenced the most vociferous critics; after all, there was no sense arguing with God, even by proxy.
The divine right of kings to rule was but one facet of Henry's new found faith. Other intuitions would follow.
If he ruled at the express pleasure of the Lord, then it only stood to reason that he was as much a Vicar of Christ as the pope. Even more so actually, because he was the legitimate King of England to boot...and the pontiff? Why hell, he was just the pope...of nowhere in particular at the moment. Certainly not of England; Henry and his counselors were seeing to that.
They began by granting his holiness prompt relief from many of his weightier burdens, such as ownership and administration of English papal lands. They graciously allowed him to retire from the tedious practice of English law and, rather overtly, removed him as supreme head of religious affairs in the realm. The once dominant force in Christian life was left with three, and only three, sacraments to administer: Baptism, Holy Communion, and Penance.
As far as the fun loving Henry was concerned, they could go damned easy on the penance! Sackcloth and ashes were not his cup of tea. It one could pay penance while making out with a new queen every few years or so, fine; if not, snatch your shadow and don't let the drawbridge whack you on the fanny! By the time he died on January 27, 1547, he'd done as much as anyone, even Luther whom he despised and once called a raving heretic, to further the cause of Protestantism.
Throughout the next few centuries, a continuing tug-of-war ensued for the hearts, minds, total devotion, not to mention the loot of, everybody. Defenders of the faith on both sides dispossessed, tortured, and slaughtered each other by the thousands for the love of God and in furtherance of his great name. But there were other forces at work, some as dark and equally sinister as the competing faiths themselves, while others were a natural result of a human's need to know just what it was that made things work.
With the invention of new technologies, exploration of the unknown became semi-respectable. Since God no longer required the earth to remain flat, it became round and pirates of many nations and diverse faiths set off to discover just how round it was. They didn't expect to find what they did and when they found America, they weren't sure what they had!
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