Sunday, October 25, 2015

Question from Candace - Wives cooperations with annulments

For an annulment to be finalized, at least according to Henry VIII's logic, did the woman simply have to be notified of it, or did she have to agree to it as well? I am asking because of the theory that Anne Boleyn was granted a cleaner, more merciful end at the hands of a French executioner in exchange for her cooperation in annulling the marriage two days before her execution. This suggests that she had the power to veto it and that, even as a condemned prisoner, would have been able to refuse to agree to it and leave the marriage valid and Elizabeth legitimate in the eyes of God. But Henry was able to declare his marriage to Katherine of Aragon invalid even though she refused to accept the annulment for the rest of her life, so why would he need Anne to agree to it? Of course, this is all based on an unconfirmed theory, so I could be speculating needlessly, but I would like to hear anyone else's thoughts on the matter.


PhD Historian said...

I am curious as to your source for the theory that Henry granted Anne a “cleaner, more merciful end” in exchange for agreeing to an annulment. The more common theory is that Anne requested a French swordsman because that was the method of execution she had seen used during her time at the French court, and swordsmen tended to be more accurate in their “work” than were English axemen (e.g.: the botched beheading of Mary Stuart). Leanda de Lisle (Tudor: the Family Story) dismisses this theory, however, and suggests that the choice of swordsman was Henry’s own and motivated by his own vanity. According to de Lisle’s theory, Henry had been deeply humiliated during Anne’s trial by the descriptions of his own sexual inadequacy. He therefore chose to have Anne executed by sword for its specifically masculine sexual symbolism, as well as for the sword imagery so central to the Arthurian legends that Henry so admired. From my own perspective, I must agree with de Lisle when she argues that Henry had no compassion remaining for Anne and those no desire to negotiate her consent to anything, including an annulment.

But to answer your question, under Roman Catholic canon law, a Declaration of Nullity (the proper name for an annulment) did/does not require the consent of both parties. All that is required is that one party in the marriage should present sufficient evidence to the adjudicating authority to justify a ruling of nullity. The second party need not consent, and may even oppose the action. And if the judge(s) decides the evidence is sufficient, the Declaration of Nullity can be granted despite the objections of the other party.

Thus when Henry annulled Katherine of Aragon in 1533, he did so by presenting sufficient evidence to the judges that Katherine had indeed had sexual relations with Prince Arthur, despite Katherine’s own testimony to the contrary. When that “proof” was added to the English contention that the Pope had no power to set aside the Levitical prohibition against a man marrying his brother’s widow, Henry got his Declaration of Nullity despite Katherine’s objections.

When Henry VIII ended his marriage to Anne Boleyn three years later, the English church was still operating under Roman Catholic canon law, but with English ecclesiastical authorities interpreting the law rather than authorities in the Roman Curia and law courts. Conveniently, as Supreme Head of the Church in England, Henry VIII had control over the English ecclesiastical courts, so there was never any real possibility that the annulment he requested would *not* be granted. For Henry, “ask and it shall be given.” Anne’s consent simply was not needed, either in canon law or in the practical application of that law.

Foose said...

Some of the authorities (perhaps the most detailed is Henry Ansgar Kelly's The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII) suggest that what Henry and his advisers, principally Cranmer, were seeking from Anne was not her consent to the annulment, but rather cooperation in providing information that might annul the marriage on the specific grounds desired by the king.

Kelly asserts that Cranmer was tasked with getting an admission from Anne about her relationship with Percy that would annul the marriage on the basis of pre-contract (rather than, say, the king's adultery with Mary Boleyn).