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Henry VIII, John Lewis, Monarchy and David Starkey

Posted in David Starkey, England, History, monarchy, Politics by Tony C on April 25, 2007

The annual Kingston Reading Festival is a month of lectures and readings from local authors, writers and journalists which kicked off at John Lewis last night with Dr David Starkey giving a fascinating, insightful and at times humorous assessment of how Henry VIII is possibly the most significant individual in English, if not European history.

Here’s some of the salient bits as I remember.

  • When Henry VIII came the throne England was staunchly Catholic, probably the most devout Catholic county in Europe.  This is likely due to the fact that is was the furthest from Rome.
  • Henry himself was a devout and committed Catholic.
  • The Monarchy and the Church until quite recently were hand in glove, the Queen after all is still the Supreme Governor of the Church of England although this isn’t quiet the gig it used to be.
  • In Henry’s time the Monarch was therefore was not only the head of the church but the Executive leader too.  England was therefore by definition a totalitarian state.
  • Significant points in history more often than not turn on the smallest of events.  In this case a chance meeting between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
  • In the 1500s the Pope wasn’t adverse to granting divorces especially to the ‘great and the good’ who supported and defended the faith.  The timing of the request by Henry to divorce Catherine of Aragon was appalling as the Pope was busy trying to see off the French and he wasn’t in the mood or position to grant anything.
  • Once a divorce wasn’t forthcoming Henry did what any devout does when they don’t get they want, they examine the texts for reasons they should get what they want.  One justification Henry came up with was based around the supremacy of a Monarch over the Pope, the bible after all has lots things to say about Kings and how great they are but the bible doesn’t contain one reference to a Pope of any kind.  Henry concluded that Popes weren’t actually Gods idea therefore can’t tell a King what to do.

Must go and read the book.