I think my background in psychology is helping me understand Henry VIII during this crucial time in history. I will not bore you with the psychoanalysis but I will mention some of what I think is at play for Henry. Henry VIII certainly was a man for his times. A stated in my initial post on this subject, the way women were seen and treated played a large role in the circumstances. What really surprised me about the role in which women played not only at court but in all society at the time, which was a rigid social hierarchy, was that they too bought into the belief system that they were the inferior sex and that their place in life was divinely ordained. The truth is all saw that their station in life was divinely ordained. So if you were a man or a woman, a Pauper or a Prince, you were obligated to function in that role as a means of carrying out God’s ideal of an ordered and civilized society.
I think this did shape and form much of Henry VIII’s worldview and thinking. In the hierarchy of civil society the King was there on his throne by the Will of God. That is why, centuries later, the killing of King Charles I was such a cultural shock and a demonstration that people’s thinking was changing. With Henry at the top of the proverbial food chain he was not answerable to his subjects but to God only. It does seem that Henry did have strong religious convictions. He also saw his role as being King be the Grace of God and ultimately he was only answerable to him. This is what placed the king in a quandary.
The politics of early to mid 16th century England was that of a country still reeling from the results of the Wars of the Roses, a civil war for the throne of England. Although he had a daughter, the future Queen Mary I, he was still convinced that a woman was not strong enough to rule England. He needed sons to secure the succession and to stabilize the Tudor family on the English throne fearing that without a son the country would quickly relapse into a civil war. Henry also had quite the eye. Breaking his marriage vows and having a mistress was easily justified. Justification and denial are classic defense mechanisms which Henry employed. With women viewed as property they were there just for Henry to use as he pleased. After all, he was the King.
Although I do not blame Anne Boleyn for her execution, she certainly does seem like a victim of Henry’s authority, I do place some responsibility on her for the divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Anne was not content, like her sister, Mary Boleyn, to be Henry’s mistress. Anne did have higher ambitions. However, that does bring me to one of those unanswerable questions of history. Would Henry have divorced Catherine had Anne agreed to be his mistress? In many ways this question is unanswerable, however, my opinion is that the divorce would have happened anyway because the ultimate goal for Henry was to beget sons. Anne just provided the motivation to pursue the divorces
In the end Henry saw that his kingly duty to God and his country was to provide for a stable throne and to secure a peaceful transition of government upon his death. He was a man of his times and acted in accordance to those beliefs that many in society held at the time. This divorce can also been seen as the first step in the downward spiral of Henry VIII. Prior to that he was the embodiment of an early Renascence King. However, as he grew in power that power corrupted him to be come the bloody tyrant known to history.