Henry VIII tore the country apart just to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. He believed that his marriage to Catherine was not valid due to her previous marriage to his brother Arthur. However, she regularly said that her marriage to Arthur was not consummated, so she and Henry were able to marry.
Alternate History: What If Catherine of Aragon Agreed to the Divorce With Henry VIII?
If Catherine of Aragon had accepted her divorce from Henry VIII would it have changed much? So much resided on that decision to fight.
Her belief that her marriage was valid led to Henry tearing the country apart religiously. He broke from Rome and caused problems that would last for the centuries. But what if Catherine of Aragon never did all that? What if Catherine of Aragon agreed to the divorce that Henry VIII wanted? What would that alternate history look like?
Catherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor Would Have Been Cared For
Henry VIII would have provided for his ex-wife and daughter had Catherine just agreed to the divorce.
Henry VIII showed his fourth wife what came from bowing to his wants and desires. Anne of Cleves was later faced with the same problem of Henry VIII wanting a divorce. She was well provided for afterwards, and the same thing may have happened to Catherine of Aragon.
As a “reward” for agreeing to Henry, he was willing to let her go to a nunnery. She could have been much happier, and even healthier. There is no confirmation over what caused her death, but cancer is suspected. While her death would have likely been at the same time, it could have been much more comfortable.
Mary Tudor would have also been provided for and cared for. Rather than helping to raise her half-sister, she would have possibly had her own properties, and may have even been married off earlier. She certainly would have been able to visit her mother, which is something all mother and daughter wanted by the time of Catherine of Aragon’s death.
The Religious Reformation Would Have Been Very Different
While the religious reformation may have still happened, it would have likely been very different without Henry's need to break from Rome.
There were many changes to religion after 1533. Henry VIII initially broke away from Rome and was focusing on radicalising the religion. With the help of Anne Boleyn and her reformist sympathisers, Henry VIII quickly brought in a number of Acts of Successions and oaths for people to sign. It led to bad blood between the Protestants and Catholics.
It could have all been handled differently. There is no point denying that the religious reformation wouldn’t have happened.
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Had the rest of history played out, eventually James VI of Scotland would have become James I of England, bringing his Presbyterian views with him. Yes, there are thoughts that he eventually converted to Catholicism, but the Scots were Protestant by 1603.
But that is jumping too far forward. There is a chance that one of Henry VIII’s children would have introduced the Protestant religion, especially Edward VI who would have been young enough for his council to lead him that way.
The difference is the move would have been very different. And with Mary being care for and respected for her religion, she may not have been as fanatical at turning the country back to Catholicism as she did in real life. There may have been a balance gained between the two religions sooner.
Thomas More and Bishop Fisher Would Have Survived
Catherine's decision ended up affecting the lives of many others around her.
There are two victims of the religious reformation that stand out for me; Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, who was later made a cardinal. The two refused to see Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the Church, but without the break from Rome that wouldn’t have been an issue. The two would have never been placed in a position to renounce their religious views.
Sure, there would have still been the need to see Anne Boleyn as queen, but the two would possibly have been happy to do that. Catherine of Aragon would have stepped down out of choice, and the pope would have agreed that she and Henry were no longer legally married. That would have meant Henry VIII was free to marry Anne Boleyn.
The two would never have been executed. They may have even continued to counsel the king.
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Would Anne Boleyn’s Reign Have Been Cut Short?
Her successor may have lived longer without the reformation lasting as long as it did.
Without Anne being the “other woman” as much as she was in real life, there is the chance that she would have kept her head, at least for a little longer. One thing for certain is that the country wouldn’t have been torn apart. Henry VIII wouldn’t have had to live with doing that and executing one of his closest friends (Thomas More).
However, there would have still been plenty of people working against the Boleyn faction, especially if they were trying to bring in the Protestant religion.
The difference is that Anne may have had the right person on her side. Thomas Cromwell may not have turned against a queen who was clearly a reformist sympathiser. That would have worked in his favour. He may have worked to keep her on the throne, at least long enough to change the religious views of the country.
Catherine of Aragon refusing to accept her marriage was coming to an end affected so much in history. If she had just accepted the divorce, so much could have changed. This would not have only affected her, but also her daughter, her successor and Thomas More. It’s interesting to see that one decision could have changed so much.