Sunday, November 16, 2008

Question from Kelly - Henry VII v. Henry VIII

People referred to King Henry VIII as a god because he was so handsome and 'godly'. So when he finally had a son they assumed he would be as 'godly' as his father. Did they ever say anything about King Henry VII?


Foose said...

I think there might be a misunderstanding of the word "godly" -- it means, basically, "pious," but during Henry VIII's reign it became a popular adjective utilized by the evangelical (Protestant) faction to describe an ardent supporter of the Reformed religion. If Henry VIII was referred to as "godly," (most likely during the 1530s, when he appeared to take a favorable view of various evangelical doctrines -- largely because they supported his own political objectives), it signified not that he was like a god, which would have been blasphemy, but that the king embraced Protestant views -- the rejection of images, pilgrimages and Purgatory, while supporting the publication of the Bible in English and the abolition of the Pope's authority. The king ultimately reverted to more orthodox Catholic practice, but the word "godly" was often used to describe the group around his last wife, Katherine Parr.

If Henry VII was ever referred to as "godly" (and I can't recall any reference to it; the more usual adjectives are "devout" or "pious), it wouldn't have had the same connotation, as he lived before the Reformation.

Foose said...

Just a quick follow-up: Edward VI, Henry VIII's son and successor, presided over one of the most radical Protestant regimes in Europe and was regarded by the Protestant movement as a most "godly" prince. The program of religious Reform inaugurated by his advisors was quite extreme; every week, almost, the learned divines competed with one another to find that one time-honored religious custom or tradition had no basis in Scripture and must therefore be purged. Altars were ripped out of churches; images were smashed; priests married and discarded their vestments; and the Sacraments were cut from 7 to 2 (baptism and communion, the only ones found in the New Testament; penance, marriage, holy orders, confirmation and extreme unction (anointing of the sick) were regarded as Popish accretions of later centuries).

This program aroused a lot of opposition (London had a big Protestant population, but the rest of the country was fairly traditional in its religion). To give this radicalism greater legitimacy and the suggestion of continuity from the previous reign, I think Henry VIII's reputation and legacy were somewhat "whitewashed" from a Protestant point of view to make him seem more evangelically inclined than he actually was toward the end of his life, so that Edward might be seen to be carrying on the great work that his "godly" father had initiated. To be fair, Henry did authorize the Bible in English, which was a momentous step in England's Reformation, abolished the Pope's authority in England and destroyed the monasteries; but he died as a Catholic in practice, believing in seven sacraments and asking for masses for his soul.