England’s Henry VIII was not the nicest of guys, perhaps, and he was a difficult man to be married to, but on the 500th anniversary of the old boy’s ascension to the throne, Simon Heffer reminds the Daily Telegraph’s readers that they have a lot for which they should thank one of the greatest of their country’s kings:
When the Convocation of Canterbury of the Church in England agreed in March 1531 to accede to Henry’s demands about church governance that included the clergy’s recognition of him as head of the English church, it also triggered a process of such profound economic and political change that even today there is still dispute about the extent of the consequences. Let me add my three ha’porth: without the Reformation we would not have had what Seeley called “the expansion of England”, we would not have had a middle class educated and powerful enough to initiate the industrial revolution, we would not have had the empire we did, and would not have had the land and sea power that kept us free from invasion and foreign influence: not to mention the theological consequences.
Henry’s subsequent association with Protestantism was a marriage of convenience rather than offspring of the sort of earthquake of conscience that had inspired Luther. He sought to remove Rome’s authority in England so he could secure his annulment (which he had previously sought on the grounds that he had married his dead brother’s wife). The dissolution of the monasteries, which Thomas Cromwell effected for him between 1536 and 1540 . . . initiated the greatest change of land ownership in England since the [Norman] Conquest. Perhaps a quarter of land changed hands, bought by the aristocracy and by a newly emergent gentry and with the revenues going to the Crown. This would be the basis of the Crown’s wealth, and of its security. It also began a social and economic mobility unseen in England before; it sowed the seeds for the expansion of the middle class, broke feudalism and, slowly, developed freedom of thought.
How so much more than More. Thanks, Henry.