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The King and the Church

April 22, 2011

by Mr. Doerr


Of all the cool things that you can find studying history, I think one of the coolest is the how just a few Spanish folks helped change the entire face of religion.  Now there’s tons and tons of cool historical stories like this…  The story about how Da Vinci influenced the church, the mysteries of Egypt, and even stories about hidden treasures lost in our own capital, but this one is about Spain.  If I told you Spain changed the world, would you believe me?  If I told you Spain gave us most modern Christian churches, would you believe that?  If I told you that one king created an entire religion, would you believe that?

I’m sure a lot of you have heard the story about Henry VIII, the king of England back in the late 1400s and early 1500s.  You know, the guy the killed a lot of his wives because they wouldn’t cooperate and have a boy baby to be the heir to H8’s throne.  Well, a lot of his jerkishness was because of stuff going on down in Spain.

Remember, before the 1490s there was no Spain – instead there were a bunch of little kingdoms throughout the Iberian Peninsula.  The two biggest were Castile and Aragon. Together they made up about 75% of Iberia.  It was common back in those days to smoosh two kingdoms together by having a prince or king marry a princess or queen from a neighboring country.  This made the nation more powerful, bigger, richer, and all sorts of good things.  So, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon hooked up, uniting their kingdoms and becoming Spain.  Suddenly, Spain became one of the biggest and most powerful countries on Earth.  Before long, they were sending out dudes like De Gama, Magellan, and Columbus to find more stuff for Spain to own, and pushed the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula, making all of Spain a Catholic territory once again.

Now this is where we start to play the 6 degrees of European monarchs game.  To stay a world power, Ferdinand and Isabella relied on the other Christians kingdoms for support.  One of those was England.  England was more powerful at the time and it was a good idea for Spain to gain their allegiance.  You know how kings and queens did that back in the olden times – send someone powerful and important to marry someone else powerful and important from somewhere else – basically, being born into royalty in the Age of Discovery was like being born into  So Ferdinand and Isabella decided to ship off their daughter, Catherine of Aragon, to marry the young handsome King of England, Henry VIII, to unite England and Spain into one super-duper powerhouse country.

Now as all of this is going on just a few years after 1492, so that one dude, Columbus had just sailed the ocean blue.  The riches and new territory that CC found led the Portuguese to set sail to find new places and stuff too, so soon the French started their explorations, and the English were getting ready to get in on things too.  You would think my story about how Spain influenced the world would start with Columbus, but it doesn’t!  You know all he did was hop in a boat and look for India, and when he found the wrong place he was either too stubborn or too stupid to realize it, so he started calling the people he met Indians.  Now towns are named after him, we get a day off of school for his birthday, and he’s a hero of history for finding the wrong place, but who are we to judge?  The coolest things I ever found was a half eaten sandwich in my couch.

This is what HBO thinks Catherine looked like.

Okay, back to the story.  Now once Henry and Catherine were married, Spain began to change power to its prince, Charles V.  He was Catherine’s nephew and also became the first Holy Roman Emperor.  What’s a Holy Roman Emperor – well, he was in charge of the second phase of the Roman Empire.  It’s a pretty powerful job, but not as cool as being Roman Emperor was waaaaaaaaaaaay back in the day.  Think of it like this – Julius Caesar was the original Star Wars movie.  Charles V was The Phantom Menace: cool, popular, really good, but not quite the same as the original.

Anyway, Charles V, being the HRE controlled the Catholic church and all its allies, meaning he was supreme commander over all the Catholic countries – England, Italy, Spain… Charles was a ruthless leader and even threatened to destroy the pope if he ever felt his popeyness was about to do anything against Chuck Five.

So, we have a very Catholic Europe that is exploring the world, right?  Everything seems well and good.  Henry the VIII and Catherine stayed married for 24 years.  During this time they were trying to have a son to become heir to the throne, but things were not working. Catherine and H8 did have two sons, but both died in infancy.  Only their daughter Mary survived to adulthood.  Henry blamed Catherine for their lack of a son.  He figured she was unable to give birth to a healthy boy, so he wrote a letter to Pope Clement VII and asked if the church would please, please, please allow Henry to divorce Catherine and remarry someone who was better at brewing up baby boys.

The Catholic church did not believe in divorce.  Really, divorce was not an option at all, but Henry being powerful and Clement being a pushover, this might have been a possibility, except that the fact that the pope wasn’t really running the show – Charles V was calling the shots.  No way in the world was Charles going to allow Henry to divorce his beautiful cousin and strip her of her title, so the pope denied Henry’s request.

You know how some rulers get cool nicknames... Richard the Lionheart, Alexander the Great, William the Bloody. This guy should be Charlie the dude with the mis-shapen head.

Henry was not happy.  Very not happy.  Let’s just say that if this had happened to Henry VIII in 2011, he would have lit up his Twitter with a bunch of mad tweets about stupid popes and what a jerk the HRE is… History was about to change just because the King of England was still 500 years away from having a Facebook wall to vent on, so he did what no one was expecting, he created his own new church – The Church of England.  This would leave behind all those other countries that had been BFFs with England just because they were all Catholic together, but he did it anyway.

H8 was about to find out that the best thing about making your own church is that you get to make all the rules too.  I think you can guess what rule he made first.  He made divorce legal and left his wife of 24 years. Suddenly, everyone was mad at Henry – the Catholic Church, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain… it was a pretty long list.  Charles V even tried declaring war on Rome and imprisoning the pope, but nothing could prevent Henry from doing what Henry wanted.

Henry went on to remarry several times and never produced a male heir that made it to adulthood.  However, with one of his later wives, Anne Boleyn, Henry did give England a very famous daughter, Elizabeth.  Fast forward a few years and Henry’s dead and gone (so are most of his wives, because being beheaded tends to make it difficult to keep living), and his first daughter, the one he had with Catherine, is Queen of England.  And who, of all the princes in all the world, did she marry???  She married Phillip II, the King of Spain.  Guess who Phil 2’s dad was.  Yup, that’s right, Charles V.

So, even though his dad Charles V and her dad Henry VIII wound up as mortal enemies, Phillip and Mary still got married.  Mary’s mission as Queen of England, to bring Catholicism back to her country.  Mary and Phillip never had children, and Mary died young.  Since there were no kids, the throne was passed on to Mary’s half sister, Elizabeth. Phillip, who was still King of Spain, but no longer King of England, tried to convince Elizabeth to marry him, but she refused.  Not one to handle rejection well, Phillip II worked very hard to convince the English people to restore a Catholic to the English throne.  He was hoping for another Mary – Mary, Queen of Scots (who was also Queen of France by marriage), but Elizabeth had Mary arrested and eventually executed.  Phillip started a big huge war between Spain the country he was king of, and England, the country he was no longer king of in an effort to give the throne rightfully back to a Catholic.

We made this cuz none of it made sense to us until we drew a picture. Hope it helps. Click on the pic for a larger version.

As time went on England and Spain engaged in a long war against one another called the Anglo-Spanish war. Phillip and Elizabeth both lived long lives, and Elizabeth never produced an heir, so the throne went to the next person in line – James I, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots – and finally, a Catholic was back on the throne in England.

It is interesting how a single marriage between two people caused the change of a religion, and it’s funny to see how much English history was affected by a few folks from Spain.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Andra permalink
    April 22, 2011 8:23 pm

    this is a comment on the family tree

    wow. just wow.

    • April 22, 2011 8:34 pm

      You think that’s “wow”? You should follow it a little further. See what happened to the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of Joanna the Mad and Phillip. Something called the Habsburg jaw.

  2. Joshua Bouie permalink
    April 25, 2011 6:38 pm

    I find it funny how Spain and England want to unite at first but end up hating each other to the core. Thats one messed up family

    • April 25, 2011 6:59 pm

      It certainly is. Makes any fight you get into with your sister seem pretty tame by comparison.


  1. Henry VIII | Minooka TAP

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