This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Monday, February 6, 2012

In honor of the Queen Elizabeth II...

Sixty years ago today, Queen Elizabeth II of England got word that her father had died and that she was the new queen. In honor of that event, I am posting part of a chapter from my book, The Reformation for Armchair Theologians (2005), dealing with the birth of the first Queen Elizabeth. (Given the popularity of TV's "The Tudors," I thought something on Henry VIII, Elizabeth's father, would also be worthwhile.) It's a fairly long post, but I think you'll enjoy it.

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Henry VIII’s Character

Henry was an interesting and complex character. He was a poet, musician, and patron of humanistic scholarship. He was very well educated himself—for example, he actually wrote a theological treatise refuting Luther, for which he was given the title, “Defender of the Faith,” by the Pope. (Some people think this piece was ghost written by Thomas More, Henry’s close friend at the time. There’s no real evidence that that’s the case, and Henry was certainly capable of writing it. Just because the current royal family couldn’t write a treatise on anything doesn’t mean Henry couldn’t.) But this was only one side of Henry’s personality. There’s a technical term for the other side: he was a macho dude. He was a big, burly man who liked to show off how strong he was. To impress visiting dignitaries, Henry used to have horses brought into the throne room, which he would then wrestle to the ground. And like all macho dudes, he wanted to have sons. Lots of sons. “Big, strapping boys! Like me!” as Gaston says in Beauty and the Beast. So when Catherine got pregnant, there was much rejoicing. She gave birth to a child, and they named it Mary. She did get pregnant a few more times, but the children never came to term. Henry was sure that God was punishing him for his sins, and specifically for marrying his brother’s widow, by not giving him sons.

Like other macho dudes, Henry also had a roving eye, and as king he felt free to indulge himself. He was having an affair with one of the daughters of the Boleyn family, when his eye fell on her younger sister Ann. He decided he wanted to have an affair with her, but she refused unless he married her. This, of course, was a problem, since he was already married to Catherine.

The King’s Great Matter

The combination of disappointment at not having a son and lust for Ann was too much for Henry, and it certainly in his mind outweighed the diplomatic reasons for the marriage. So he sent his chancellor, a cardinal in the Catholic Church named Wolsey, to go to the Pope to annul the marriage on grounds of consanguinity since she was his brother’s widow. (Of course, this argument conveniently ignored the fact that Henry had received a special papal dispensation to marry Catherine in the first place.) Normally, this would not have been much of a problem, except there was an additional complication at this point. The Pope had gotten into a war with the Holy Roman Emperor, with the net result that Imperial forces had captured Rome, making Pope Clement VII the “guest” of Charles V. Clement was thus in no position to allow Henry to annul Charles’s aunt, and so Wolsey was sent home empty handed, ending his career in disgrace.

At this point, with Henry desperate to get out of his marriage, a man by the name of Thomas Cromwell came onto the scene. Cromwell presented a historical argument that the Pope had no legitimate authority over the English church. He argued that after the Romans were driven out, Christianity had reentered Britain from Ireland, whose church was not under papal authority at the time. Only with they Synod of Whitby (664) did England abandon her allegiance to the Celtic church in favor of Rome. That was a mistake, Cromwell argued, and permitted Rome to usurp the legitimate authority of the English king over the English church. That argument was good enough for Henry: he declared himself the head of the Church of England, divorced Catherine, and secretly married Ann, making the marriage public some time later. Cromwell became Lord Chancellor.

Henry was at best a reluctant Protestant. He took advantage of the change to close the monasteries and confiscate their property in the kingdom, yet in general his preference was to stay Catholic in every way possible, except with himself as head of the church. He savagely prosecuted and executed for treason anyone who expressed any doubts about his divorce, but at the same time he also executed mainstream Protestants as heretics. When he was in a reforming mood, he tended toward Lutheranism as less extreme than Reformed Protestantism, but he would inevitably lurch toward Catholicism pretty quickly, turning his back on reforms he had only recently instituted. His heart just wasn’t in it. But it wasn’t his heart that was driving his religious policy. This resulted in a wave of Protestants, known as the Henrican exiles, leaving the kingdom, typically heading toward Reformed territories on the Continent.

Second Verse, ... a Little Bit Worse

Ann got pregnant, and there was much rejoicing. She had a baby, and they named it Elizabeth. At that point, barring another pregnancy, Ann’s days were numbered. She did get pregnant, but failed to carry the child to term. So Cromwell stepped in once more. He arrested a few people, one of them a young lutenist, and tortured them into admitting to having an affair with Ann. She denied it, but her fate was pretty much sealed. Apparently, Henry offered to let her live if she agreed to an annulment; she refused, because that would have made Elizabeth illegitimate and thus ineligible for the throne. So she was condemned to be executed. Ann requested that a French headsman do the job. There were two reasons for this. First, English headsmen were not professionals—one was the town butcher, for example—and they had a very bad track record in terms of accuracy. What you don’t want to happen when you’re being beheaded is for the headsman to miss. Second, the French used swords rather than axes. This meant that you knelt with your head high, and the swordsman took your head off with a single horizontal swipe. With an axe, you put your head down on a chopping block. Ann wasn’t about to bow her head to anyone, so she decided to go with the sword instead. 

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If you want the rest of the story, you'll need to get the book. To quote  Eric Metaxas at the National Prayer Breakfast, no pressure.

For the book: http://www.amazon.com/Reformation-Armchair-Theologians-Glenn-Sunshine/dp/0664228151/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328539232&sr=8-1
For the audio book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Reformation-for-Armchair-Theologians/dp/B002V0FH5K/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1328539232&sr=8-2