Vatican Releases Henry VIII Annulment Letter to Pope

Scholars will be able to take a closer look at an important letter from Henry VIII to Pope Clement VII now that the Vatican has announced the release from its Secret Archives. The New York Times Arts Beat blog reports that the Vatican plans to sell facsimiles of the document next month. According to the Vatican Web site, the letter is dated July 13, 1530 and includes 85 seals and signatures of the Peers of England in solidarity with the king.

At the time, Henry was seeking an annulment from Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. After Henry began annulment proceedings in England, Clement thought this inappropriate and moved the case to Rome. The pope knew this was a sensitive issue, and so he took his sweet time before announcing his decision. Meanwhile, Henry was growing impatient.

The Vatican clarifies that this particular letter is "not a plea for the annulment." It was simply a request for Clement to hurry up with his decision. Although the Peers clarify that they'll agree with the pope no matter what he decides, Henry was fully expecting the pope to grant him the annulment. After all, England had always supported the Church -- even through the Protestant Reformation -- why would the pope deny Henry's request? Henry was in for a big surprise when Clement ultimately decided against allowing an annulment. Instead, Henry established the Church of England and placed himself in charge. This time, when he asked himself for annulment, he got a more favorable answer.

If you're interested in owning your own copy of the letter, take note: The Vatican will sell only about 199 facsimiles of the document, accompanied by related scholarly texts, for $68,000 each.

More Papist stuff: How the Papacy Works How did an attempt to blind a pope establish the Holy Roman Empire? How the Crusades Worked