Document of Pope Clement VII, Signed as Cardinal de’ Medici
The artifact featured here is a document signed prior to Pope Clement VII’s pontificate as Cardinal de’Medici. It is dated 1520 and is an untranslated letter.
King Henry VIII broke off relations with Pope Clement VII when he wouldn’t give Henry permission to marry Ann Boleyn.
Information from the History.com Website about This Topic
On January 5, 1531, Pope Clement VII sent a letter to King Henry VIII of England forbidding him to remarry under penalty of excommunication. Henry, who was looking for a way out of his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, ignored the pope’s warning. He went on to marry Anne Boleyn (and five subsequent wives), leading to his excommunication and one of the most significant schisms in the history of Christianity.
Catherine was the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the aunt of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, in addition to being the widow of Henry’s brother, Arthur. Increasingly concerned by his failure to produce a legitimate heir—although he publicly acknowledged an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy—Henry searched for a way to end his marriage in a manner consistent with his Catholic faith. This was necessary for political reasons, as a monarch violating Catholic doctrine risked disgrace and condemnation by the pope. Henry was also by all accounts a fairly devout Catholic. He was a known opponent of the Protestant Reformation that was taking shape on the continent, earning the title of Defender of the Faith from Pope Leo X for a treatise he wrote attacking Martin Luther.
Henry sent emissaries to the pope in hopes of having his marriage annulled, and even prevailed upon Clement to establish an ecclesiastical court in England to rule on the matter. Clement, however, had no intention of nullifying the marriage. In addition to his doctrinal objections, he was more or less a prisoner of Charles V at the time, and he was powerless to stand in the way of Charles’ insistence that the marriage stand. Already infatuated with Anne Boleyn, who was known to have taken a keen interest in Luther and the Reformation, Henry had exhausted his options for remarrying within the church and decided excommunication was a fair price to pay for independence from the pope and the potential of fathering an heir.