Henry wished to marry Anne Boleyn. Catherine was aging before her time, was too bleak to content the bounding energy of the king, and gave birth to a row of offspring of whom all but Mary were stillborn or died in infancy. He could have satisfied his physical desires with a mistress. But higher motives entered Henry’s formidable mind and sublimated the issue for him. Catherine had been contracted to Henry’s elder brother, Arthur. She had, therefore, been ineligible as Henry’s bride and had been permitted to marry him only after papal dispensation. It was possible that the sickly children and the absence of a male heir proved that God’s blessing did not rest upon a marriage which was forbidden by God’s law. And, with the memory of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty apparently so insecure, it was necessary, for the unity and prosperity of England, that a male and legitimate heir should be begotten by the king. Catherine, he now began to believe, had never been his wife. He turned to the church to declare the fact and to sanctify his marriage with Anne Boleyn.
Pope Clement VII, a diligent and unsuccessful politician, was too weak or prudent to refuse outright. He kept postponing the decision. In favorable circumstances, he might have been quick enough to declare what the king wanted. But Henry and Wolsey were asking of him a doctrinal and a practical impossibility. They were asking him to declare that the papal dispensation permitting Henry to marry Catherine had been invalid. A pope could not declare that the act of a predecessor was invalid without, thereby, enfeebling his own authority. And, among the vicissitudes of Italian politics, the armies of the Emperor, Charles V, who was nephew to Catherine of Aragon, sacked Rome in 1527 and captured the pope. Clement could not gratify Henry VIII by mortally offending Charles V.
In the summer of 1529, the king, in despair of persuading the pope to yield, dismissed Wolsey and the policy of persuasion and turned to a policy of menace. The princes of north Germany had successfully excluded the power of the pope from their dominions. He talked of following this example. He summoned the Parliament of 1529 and allowed the lay and anti-clerical lawyers, released from Wolsey’s domination, to draft a series of bills for reforming the ecclesiastical administration.
From: The Reformation by Owen Chadwick; 3rd edition; The Pelican History of the Church, Volume 3 (Baltimore: Penguin Books, Inc., 1972), pp. 99-100. First edition published in 1964.