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The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Religion

This is a guide to the six wives of King Henry VIII of England and is created for those in the Medieval and Renaissance Studies (MERS) minor at Brandeis University. It follows the learning objectives of the minor.


Journal Articles

Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation in England: The Contemporary Evidence by Eric Ives

Eric Ives, author of the Anne Boleyn biography cited in the "biography" tab, uses primary sources to discuss Anne Boleyn's role in the Protestant Reformation in England. Anne's association with the movement began with the Great Matter, in which Henry VIII wanted to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry and hopefully beget a son with Anne Boleyn. Protestants who favored this change favored Anne Boleyn as queen while Catholics in court favored Catherine of Aragon to remain queen and for Anne to be labeled a heretic for her Protestant beliefs. Regardless of which faction someone preferred, Anne was inextricably linked with this movement. Ives argues that Anne probably viewed her role differently, more as a reform-minded Catholic or something in between the two factions. Regardless, her presumed role in the Reformation not only influenced perceptions of her but perceptions of Protestantism and Anglicanism in England.

A woman's place?: Learning and the wives of Henry VIII by Maria Dowling

This article by Maria Dowling discusses how Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, and Catherine Parr's educational backgrounds influenced their religious beliefs and the educations of the next generation of English monarchs. Catherine of Aragon studied under Erasmus and had a largely humanist and Latin background and was personally involved in daughter Mary's education. Anne Boleyn was raised in the French court and thus a Francophile understanding of humanism and a sympathy towards the Protestant cause. Catherine Parr was a published author for her religious treatises, "Prayers or Meditations, wherein the mind is stirred patiently to suffer all afflictions" and "The Lamentation of a Sinner", the latter of which was a more radically Protestant text. Dowling dismisses the other three wives as either near simpletons or uninterested in religious education, though I think this is an oversimplification of their positions. A lack of historical evidence does not necessarily mean that these women did not have opinions. It is equally likely that they did not express their positions publicly or in writing for fear of retribution (proven when Henry accused Catherine Parr of heresy for speaking her mind on the subject).