The troubled marriage case of Henry VIII

Petition of the Lords of England to pope Clemens VII
asking for the annulment of the marriage of King Henry VIII with Catherine of Aragon.

Vatican Secret Archives - A.A., Arm. I-XVIII 4098A

Special Italian/English edition by the Vatican Secrets Archives. World premiere held at the Vatican on 23 June, 2009, before the highest Vatican authorities, the world ambassadors at the Holy See, teaching professors of the Pontifical Universities and eminent representatives of military, political and civil organizations.


Preface to the work - His Excellency Monsignor Sergio Pagano, Bishop of Celene – Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives.

Marital love, succession to the throne, the hope for a male heir as a guarantee of safe posterity, genuine or sometimes calculated religious deference, compliance with the human weakness and pride of blood, the merits of Tudor princes and the corruption of their court, the slavish devotion and, on the other side, the respectable conduct of nobles and clergymen, the impudent ambitions of a lady and the bitter disappointment of a proud queen, all these elements are entwined in a setting, worthy of Shakespeare (who actually described those facts in a historical drama), which was the background to king Henry VIII’s “Great Matter”, i.e. the sovereign’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and the feverish attempts to achieve a sought-after new marriage with Anne Boleyn, who, he hoped, would finally give him a male descendant that his legitimate wife was no longer able to produce.

Since 1530, the Vatican Secret Archives have been preserving the document which, in some ways, can be regarded, though not as the most important, at least as the most impressive and representative of the English sovereign’s dogged determination throughout that intricate and much debated affair (A.A., Arm. I-XVIII 4098A).

It is the address of the peers of England to Clement VII, dating 13 July 1530, to persuade the pontiff to acknowledge the nullity of Henry’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon, according to what the subscribers believed to be right canonical reasons, otherwise long discussed in England and among the legates and diplomats in Rome, and with the authoritative opinions of the universities in Cambridge, Orléans, Oxford, Angers, Bologna, Bourges, Padua and Paris.

As much as 83 noteworthy personalities signed the plea ( a large parchment document in a nice cursive style) and almost each of them (with rare exceptions) added their seal or the seal at their disposals to such a binding document, whether the subscribers agreed with the reasons to be explained to the pope pro parte Henrici or they were forced to accept the content of the letter (as some of them undoubtedly were) by the violent reaction of the sovereign; , at that point he was weary enough to make jurists and clergymen study the law codes and to run a difficult relationship with the Holy See since April 1527, ( a crucial year for Clement VII, victim of the imperial troops during the terrible Sack of Rome) and he was resolved, whether the “Supreme See” liked it or not, to get married with Anne Boleyn whom he had fallen in love with during the February 1526 carnival feastings.


Numbered exemplars, certified by the Vatican Secret Archives
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La nostra "Supplica"

Divortium quoad vinculum

It is well known that other documents, less imposing but equally (or rather more) important, preceded and followed our “Plea”, from both English and Roman sides, and, despite all political efforts and the moral struggles in conceiving and writing it, we could say that, after all, the letter was greatly fruitless.

The pope assessed that, neither in our document nor in the previous ones, any reasonable solution to the controversy about the divorce (in the sense of divortium quoad vinculum) could be found, he suspended the Causa Anglica and warned the king (on January 5, 1531) not to proceed with a new marriage; by then, the king was deaf to the all the arguments presented by Rome, or, in some way, he was too convinced of his own reasons, and on January 25th 1533 he married Anne Boleyn.

Clement VII couldn’t but declare the marriage invalid and to issue an excommunication against Henry on July 11th of that same year, whose effects would however be suspended until the next September, to allow the king, in case of his desirable reconsideration of the matter, to leave Anne and to reconcile himself with his real and legitimate wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Clement VII had just the time to declare invalid the marriage between Henry and Anne Boleyn on 23 March 1534, before the end, on 25 September 1534, of his over ten-year long pontificate, saddened by a succession of political and religious difficulties. The following year, other (and now brutal) deaths took place in England: the executions of cardinal John Fisher (22 June 1535) and of Thomas More, Henry’s incorruptible and trustworthy Chancellor until 1532, who had resigned to be true to his moral principles and had been jailed inside the Tower of London and then sentenced to death, like a new John Baptist, by his king who wanted to stop his reprimands against the dissolute “affair” with Anne Boleyn and the invalid marriage – and also his silence which actually had sounded like an open disagreement.
Paul III Farnese, pope Medici’s successor, issued a new excommunication against Henry VIII on August 30 of that year.

Early in 1536, Catherine of Aragon, unfortunate and admirable queen, passed away (on January 7), long consumed and nearly banned from the court and the world.

What followed in England was a chapter of accidents for the hot-tempered king: Anne Boleyn failed (or, as we should say, the nature made her fail) in the main purpose which Henry had married her for: she was never able to give him a male heir and she unfortunately underwent two abortions. She was put to death at the Green Tower on 19 May 1596, a victim of right the same court plots she had so much relied on; Henry was then forced to a new marriage, and his new wife, Jane Seymour, could finally give him the long desired male heir, Edward, born on 12 October 1537, though she then died of delivery.

Henry after many vicissitudes and three new marriages, finally died in 1547. His persistence on the matrimonial case had brought about a break with Rome (the Anglican Church, precisely) which is still unhealed today. The calculated designs of Henry VIII to put a male successor on the throne of England, for a clear nemesis of history, overturned into the events which followed his death: his successor, Edward VI, who had ascended to the throne in 1547, died of tuberculosis a few years later, in 1553, and the crown finally passed to a woman, the queen Mary.

Riproduzione dei documenti

Fac-simile conforme in tutti i gli aspetti originali

This was the background of the document whose reproduction, perfectly corresponding in all details to the original, has been rightly achieved for the prize and solemnity suggested by its imposing set of seals, bound to the document with a ribbon, sewn like an embroidery on the parchment document. The reproduction has been included as the Number IV in the collection «Exemplaria Praetiosa Archivi Vaticani».

The purposes for this special “edition” are the same I had a chance to express upon the publication of the Number I of the «Exemplaria»: the achievement of high quality facsimile editions, complete with historical commentary volumes (written by the Vatican Secret Archives’ Officials), of documents which are conserved at the Vatican Secret Archives, is aimed to promote their diffusion among history lovers and collectors and partly to finance with the sale proceeds (as formerly with all proceeds of the “Exemplaria” sales) the substantial and costly restorations of the Vatican Secret Archives’ boundless documentation.

A commentary volume by Dr. Marco Maiorino (historical, paleographic, diplomatic introduction and chronology) and Dr. Luca Becchetti (sphragistics and heraldry notes) comes with the facsimile reproduction of our document. The reader will be able (apart from my opinion) to value the painstaking care with which, after years of researches and application, the document has been finally presented, published and illustrated. Here, one can find some original information in regard to the writing, manufacturing and transfer to Rome of the original plea, even when compared with the extensive bibliography, published so far, especially in England.

In addition, Scrinium, with the fiduciary and exclusive mandate of this Prefecture, is in charge with the diffusion and assignation of all the “Exemplaria Praetiosa” to public and private collectors and to lovers of historical relics.

Technical Features

The document, faithfully reproduced on parchment-like paper in its original size cm 91.5 x 45.8 (plica cm 18) bears 83 subscriptions (plus one erased), in 13 vertical columns marked by a silk ribbon holding 81 seals in tin caskets and 4 empty holders. The seals are reproduced in wax of different shades of red obtained by using natural dyes.

Case: The replica of the Petition is housed inside a walnut wood case, covered in hand-carved and finely decorated goat leather. Size: cm 82.5 x 56. Commentary volume (available in Italian and English) with scholarly texts cm 29 x 45, in luxury art edition, hand-made pure cotton paper from Amatruda paper-mill in Amalfi.

Wood cover plates wrapped in white silk, external leather case "concia vegetale" with impression of the work title "Causa Anglica". Limited run 200 numbered items, personally certified by the Vatican Secret Archives' Prefect.

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