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Excommunication of Henry VIII
Question from Charles on 3/31/2003:

Dear Matthew,

I sent this question a couple of weeks ago, don't know if you got it, so here it is again.

The papal bull which excommunicated the English queen Elizabeth I ('Regnans in Excelsis' of 1570) is well known and can be found in lots of places on the net such as here

But I have been searching on the net for the bull which excommunicated Henry VIII and I can’t find it. Then I came across this - Cranmer granted the annulment, and in 1533 Henry married Anne Boleyn. The pope drew up a bull of excommunicating of Henry, but it was never issued.

But then on the Catholic Encyclopaedia there is this -

Clement VII, who had previously sent to Henry more than one monition upon his desertion of Catherine, issued a Bull of excommunication on 11 July 1533, declaring, also, his divorce and remarriage null.

Then I have read elsewhere that he was excommunicated by Paul III in 1538.

Can you please confirm when Henry was excommunicated and what was the name of the bull and do you know where I can find the text of the bull, preferably on the net but if not in a book.

Thanks v much


Answer by Matthew Bunson on 4/9/2003:

My apologies, but I did not receive your question. In July 1533, Pope Clement VII threatened English King Henry VIII with ex-communication if he did not resume his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The date that the pope gave to Henry was September of that year. For the English at the royal court, the decree all but marked the formal excommunication of the king as it was clear that Henry had no intention of abandoning his schemes with Anne Boleyn. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, subsequently annulled the marriage in May 1533. The pope still did not issue the bull as he remained hopeful of an eventual solution to the problem and that Henry might at last come to his senses. This, of course, never happened, and Clement died the next year in September. It is a testament to the patience of the Holy See that Pope Paul III, pontiff since October 1534, waited until 1538 to issue the bull. Significantly, he did not promulgate a new one but merely issued the longstanding one first drafted by Clement in 1533. I believe that some of the confusion may stem from this fact. The excommunication was issued because of Henry’s demolition of the Church in England and his determination to execute anyone who stood in his way.

Speaking personally, I have not read the bull of excommunication, although a copy should exist in the Vatican Archives. The reasons for its lack of publicity at the tiem stems perhaps in part from the political situation, especially when compared to the circumstances surrounding Regnans in Excelsis. By 1570, the English Reformation had destroyed the ecclesiastical structure in England, and Elizabeth was able to use the bull as a cudgel against her Catholic enemies and as a propaganda device. In 1538, Henry’s political situation was far more precarious, and he long considered the threat of excommunication to be a serious one as it isolated him from the Holy Roman Emperor and from the King of France, both of whom remained in the Catholic camp. The Protestant states were still unsettled, so the scale of potential enemies was considerable. As it turned out, Henry broke definitively from the Church, and the oppressive years for the Catholics in England only grew worse.


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