Henry VIII at the time of the Separation
of the Church of England from the Roman
In 1531 Henry took the next step and had Parliament pass an act naming him Head of the Church in England. This was phrased very carefully so as not to rule out the Pope’s authority but simply to assert the King’s right to regulate the Church in his realm, but he wanted to the people to get used to the idea that the King was Head of the Church. It was certainly a warning to Clement that the annulment had better be forthcoming. It was a sufficiently ambiguous act however as not to cause either Thomas More—the Lord Chancellor—nor Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, a defender of Papal authority—enough qualms to have them object
In March 1532 Henry had a bill introduced into the Commons that limited the payment of Church fees to Rome. Traditionally every churchman sent his first year’s salary to Rome in gratitude for Rome’s confirming his appointment. (Remember, bishops were usually elected by their cathedral chapters and abbots by their monasteries, not appointed by the Pope. Lesser prelates were appointed in a variety of ways—some by election, some by appointment by the bishop, some appointed by the Crown, some nominated by lay benefactors and confirmed by the local bishop. But all major appointments went to Rome for confirmation—and were accompanied by handsome gifts.) This act drastically reduced the amount of money that could go to Rome. Again, it was a warning to the Pope to move on the annulment. And Henry was very serious about this—he made the extraordinary move of marching into the House of Commons personally (since the 17th century the monarch is barred from the Commons but at the time—well, who was going to stop Henry?) and demanding that the house “divide” with those in favor of the bill going to one side and those opposed to the other. Henry could see who his friends were. You didn’t want to be one of those whom he noticed on the other side.
Three months later in 1532 Henry presented a document to the clergy demanding their signature. It is referred to as The Submission of the Clergy. It required three things
1. That Convocation (the assembly of the clergy) would make no new laws without royal consent
2. That the existing canons would be subject to revision by a royal commission
3. That Convocation would not meet without the King’s consent.
This is the law that ended the independence of the Church. Thomas More realized that the Rubicon had been crossed and resigned as Lord Chancellor pleading ill health. He knew that there would be no turning back now though not everyone else saw it that way.In April 1533 Parliament passed a law forbidding appeals to any foreign tribunal—including the Pope. All matters were now to be settled in England. Henry was at this time already married (albeit secretly) to Anne Boleyn who was pregnant. Henry had to get this matter of an annulment resolved and resolved quickly. That wasn’t going to happen in Rome and this bill reserved jurisdiction to an English tribunal. About five weeks later Henry’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared the marriage of Henry and Katherine to be null, freeing the way for the marriage to Anne to be recognized.
In December 1533 Parliament passed a decree declaring that the Pope had no more jurisdiction in England than any other foreign bishop. While some historians date the actual break with Rome a year or two later, from this point the English Church can be considered in schism though Parliament would still pass several more acts on the matter.
In 1534 Parliament declared that the King was supreme head of the Church in England. All revenues formerly paid to the Pope would now go to the King. Moreover, the King would confirm the election of bishops and abbots as the Pope previously had. A second act passed at the same time prohibited papal dispensations from being issued in England. The Peter’s Pence was discontinued. And the King was given the right to visit and reform religious houses. Yet another act that spring granted the King a tax of 10% of all clergy incomes. In the summer of 1534 it was mandated that the Pope’s name should be eliminated from the Mass and from all public prayers. Some historians date the break from this elimination of the Pope’s names from the public prayers—and from a theological sense this would be the breaking point, though I would argue it for the bill denying papal authority.
November 1534 saw the Act of Supremacy. Yet other historians say that it is only with this act that the Church of England is separated from Rome. The Act declared that Henry was "the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England" and that the Crown of England shall enjoy "all honors, dignities, preeminence, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity." Furthermore the King had the right to “visit, redress, reform, correct or amend all errors, heresies and enormities” that would have previously been dealt with by papal authority. The King had the right to appoint to all ecclesiastical offices. The Bill made it very clear that Parliament was recognizing this headship, not conferring it. It belonged to the King by Divine Right, not by Parliamentary consent.
At the same time Parliament passed the Treason Act declaring that anyone who denied the King any of his titles was guilty of treason. It was under this act and for denying the King’s headship of the Church that Saints John Fisher and Thomas More were executed in the summer of 1535.
There was one more Act of Parliament. In 1536 Parliament passed an Act in Restraint of Papal authority declaring that the Pope had no right in England to interpret disputed passages of scripture or otherwise exercise spiritual authority. It also made it clear to the religious orders that they must not acknowledge any authority outside the King’s, thus snapping their ties with their continental brothers and sisters. Thus we see that the break with Rome was not a sudden thing but done rather subtly and step-by-step. Meanwhile, the Mass remained as it had always been—minus the mention of the Pope’s name in the Synaxis—but still in Latin with the full ritual. Vestments and incense and holy water and fast days and all else were unchanged. The clergy were still forbidden to marry. The cults of the Virgin and the Saints remained. England was as Catholic as ever, save for the Pope.