Defender of the Faith

Father Rowland fumbled through the passage to the dimly lit chapel in the Palace of Whitehall.  Inside, a small group was already standing by: a single altar server, several members of the Court, and the King and his betrothed.

“Your majesty,” Father Rowland whispered and bowed.

The King simply nodded his recognition.

The priest saw that all things were prepared for the celebration of the Nuptial Mass and just before he was to begin, he turned deferentially back to the King.

“Sire,” he uttered shakily, “since it touches upon us all, I think it important that the license be read before we proceed… and, since excommunication is no slight matter and since your previous, shall we call it, invalid marriage has not yet been publicly annulled, well… I trust you have the Pontifical Brief?”

The witnesses held their breath and the bride to be glanced sideways at her fiancé as if observing the storm about to erupt from a long calm.  But the King surprised those present with a cool response.

“Father, it aches my soul that you should give such little credit to my character.  I assuredly have the Pope’s signature upon the permission to wed; it’s just that I’ve concealed it in a very secret place.  If I were seen wandering the early hours to go and retrieve it, word might spread among the conspirators that something was afoot.  This must remain a secret for now... I’ll show it to you later…”

In reality, there was no ecclesiastical permission and King Henry VIII had already given up on obtaining it.  His marriage to Anne Boleyn was enacted that day but it wasn’t until five months afterward, May 23, 1533 that his divorce from Catherine, and subsequently the divorce of England from the Church of Rome, was made public.


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