The Lutheran movement that broke out in Germany two years after Cardinal Wolsey's acceptance of the twofold office of papal legate and royal chancellor, found little favour in England. Here and there, at Oxford, at Cambridge, and in London, individuals were found to subscribe to portion of Luther's programme; but the great body of the people remained unmoved by the tirades of the German reformers against Rome. Henry VIII., whose attention to religion was noted as one of his characteristics by the observant Ambassador of Venice, did not hesitate to take the field against the enemies of the Holy See and more especially against Luther himself. In a work entitled Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defence of the Seven Sacraments)[2] published against Luther in 1521, he defended in no uncertain terms the rights and privileges of the Holy See, and in return for the very valuable services that he rendered to religion he was honoured by Leo X. with the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith, 1521).[3] The example of the king, and the activity of Cardinal Wolsey and of the bishops, made it impossible for the few individuals who favoured the German movement to spread their views.

Were it not for Henry's eagerness to secure a separation from his wife, Catharine of Aragon, it is highly improbable that the anti-Roman agitation would have made any considerable progress in England.[4] In 1499 Henry's wife, Catharine of Aragon, had been betrothed by proxy to his brother Prince Arthur, heir-apparent to the English throne. She arrived in England two years later, and the marriage was solemnised at St. Paul's on the 14th November, 1501. Prince Arthur was then only a boy of fifteen years of age, and of so delicate a constitution that fears were entertained by many that his wife must soon don the widow's weeds. Unfortunately these fears were speedily justified. In April 1502 the Prince fell a victim to a pestilence that raged in the district round Ludlow Castle to which he and his wife had retired. To prevent quarrels between Ferdinand and Henry VII. regarding Catharine's dowry, a marriage was arranged between Catharine and Prince Henry. The necessary dispensation for a marriage with a deceased brother's wife was granted by Julius II. (December 1503), and according to the agreement between the courts of England and of Spain, the marriage should have taken place as soon as Henry reached the age of puberty; but owing to certain political changes in Spain, and the prospect of securing a better match for the heir presumptive to the English throne, Henry VII. arranged that Prince Henry should appear before Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and lodge a formal protest against a marriage agreement that had been concluded during his minority and which he now declared to be null and void (17th June, 1505). This protest was kept secret, but for years Catharine was treated with neglect and left in doubt regarding her ultimate fate. As soon, however, as Henry was free to act for himself on the death of his father, the marriage between himself and Catharine was solemnised publicly (1509), and on the 24th June of the same year the king and queen were crowned at Westminster Abbey.

For years Henry and Catharine lived happily together as man and wife. Several children were born to them, all of whom unfortunately died in their infancy except the Princess Mary, afterwards Queen Mary of England. Even before there was any question of separation from his wife, Henry's relations with some of the ladies at court were not above suspicion. By one, Elizabeth Blount, he had a son whom he created Duke of Richmond and to whom at one time he thought of bequeathing the crown of England. In a short time Mary, the eldest sister of Anne Boleyn, succeeded to Elizabeth in the affections of the king. The fact that Catharine was some years older than her husband, that infirmity and sorrow for the death of her children had dimmed her charms, and that there could be no longer any hope for the birth of an heir to the throne, preyed on Henry's mind and made him not unwilling to rid himself of a wife, whom, however, he could not but admire even though she had forfeited his love. Were he to die there was no one to succeed him but the Princess Mary, and her right to the throne might be contested. Even though she succeeded, her marriage must inevitably create great difficulties. Were she to marry a foreign prince, he feared that England might become a province; were she to accept the hand of an English nobleman, a disputed succession ending in civil war was far from being improbable. His gloomy anticipations were shared in by many of his advisers; and Wolsey, who had set his heart on uniting the forces of England and France against the Emperor, was not unwilling to set a seal on the new French anti-imperial alliance by repudiating Henry's marriage with the Emperor's aunt, if such a dissolution could be brought about without infringing the laws of God.