Monday, 27 April 2009

Prince Charles’ private audience with the Pope and the appeal for Henry VIII’s divorce

by Kathryn Hadley

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall’s private audience with Pope Benedict XVI, this morning, was ‘historic’ in two respects. In the build-up to their meeting at the Vatican, there was raving speculation about whether or not the Pope would give Prince Charles a copy of a historic document relating to the divorce of Henry VIII as a gift.

Last Monday, the publishing house linked to the Vatican, Scrinium, confirmed that it hoped to present Prince Charles with a copy of the 1530 appeal by English peers for the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. However, Rev Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, thereafter denied the Vatican’s plans to present Prince Charles with the document. He provided no indication as to what the alternative present would be. The 1530 appeal is hugely significant insofar as it was a catalyst for the separation of the Church of England from the Church of Rome. Following Pope Clement VII’s refusal to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII passed the First Act of Supremacy in 1534 which proclaimed him ‘supreme head on earth of the Church in England’.

In the words of the official guide to the Vatican archives:
‘Whatever the remote cause of the Anglican schism, there is no doubt that the
most immediate and determining cause was Henry VIII’s wish to get rid of his
legitimate wife, Catherine of Aragon’.

Beyond the speculation surrounding the gift of this historic document, Prince Charles’ visit is historic in itself. Prince Charles is the first senior member of the Royal Family to marry a divorcee since King Edward VIII’s marriage to Wallis Simpson in 1936. It is also the Prince of Wales’ first meeting with a Pope since his divorce in 1996. He had previously held a private audience with Pope Jean Paul II in April 1985 accompanied by Princess Diana. This morning's audience follows talks between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace last month to change the rules of British succession, including the ban on Catholic royals.

At the end of today’s meeting, Pope Benedict VXI presented the couple with a set of papal medals and an etching of St Peter’s Basilica. In exchange Prince Charles gave the Pope a set of desert plates with hand-painted flowers from his estate in Highgrove as well as a signed photograph of himself and his wife. There appears to have been no mention of the 1530 appeal.

For more information on Henry VIII, visit our Henry VIII focus page.

For the latest on Henry VIII, read Who was Henry VIII? in our April issue, in which Suzannah Lipscomb looks beyond contemporary stereotypes surrounding the monarch to reveal the truth behind Henry VIII's reign.


Luke said...

When Prince Charles met with the Pope he should have asked him about God’s laws on marriage, divorce and remarriage.

Divorce + Remarriage = Adultery

Anonymous said...

Why does Prince Charles want this historic document so badly? I'd prefer Henry's letters to Anne Boleyn! I bet the Pope was really impressed with the signed photo!

Claire (

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