The Connections Between Church and Politics in England in A Man For All Seasons
In the second half of the fifteenth century, England appears as a country being in full recovery after a period of historical events such as ‘The 100 Years War’ (1339-1453) or the War of the ‘Two Roses’ (1455-1485). Regarding the political control from this period, the highest position is occupied by Henry VII (1485-1509), who had a stabilizing role in society, using his crown to consolidate the kingdom, the period of his reign being one of relative peace. From a religious point of view, following the Great Schism of 1054, England had a Catholic religion, being under the leadership of the papal authority in Rome. For several centuries, the papal authority has imposed itself quite enough in front of England, but since the sixteenth century the Roman church courts have lost almost all authority in England. In 1509, following the death of his second son and Elisabeth of York, Henry VIII, the entire peace atmosphere in England was destroyed, the religious factor being the one that will occup a primordial place, and which will stand at the bottom of future conflicts. Thus, Henry VIII, a complex personality who was born at Placentia Palace in Greenwich on June 28, 1491, at the age of 17 and ten months, on 21 April 1509 became King of England. In the same year he will marry Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the king of Spain, Ferdinand II of Aragon and his brother Arthur’s wife, Prince of Wales, since she remained a widow after his death.
The movie ‘A man for all seasons’ presents the story of Thomas More, who stood up to King Henry VIII when the King rejected the Roman Catholic Church to get a divorce and remarriage. Thus, the whole film is centered on highlighting the relations between the political world and the church at that time. Also, the personality of King Henry VIII is being pursued, more precisely his attitude towards the other important representatives of state who do not want to fulfill his wish. The King’s discontent to his marriage can be seen quite clearly by invoking a quote from Leviticus, Chapter 18, verse 16: ‘Thou shalt no uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife!’ (00:37:52-00:37:55). Henry’s decision to divorce by his wife, Catherine, is a decisive one, based on two essential reasons: the lack of a boy to follow him to the throne and his unconditional love for Anne Boleyn. In order to get the divorce, in the film can be identified two stages in the actions of the king. Because in the first part of his reign, the king did not directly exercise his power, but left himself at the hands of the cardinal, first it can be seen that he used a series of pressures on the pope, indirectly exercised by Cardinal Wolsey, afterwards, one can notice the direct action of the king by applying extreme measures.
In this case, the movie begins with the moment when Cardinal Wolsey writes a letter to Thomas More, who at that time was a member of the King’s High Council, asking him to come to Hampton Court as soon as possible. The cardinal called Thomas More to him, because he was the only one who opposed him to the Council that day, and now he tried to persuade him to support him in getting the king’s divorce. However, Thomas More, being a just man who respects the church very much and who he acts for the honor of his own conscience, does not accept to support the king in his divorce despite the cardinal’s arguments to convince him. Among the most important arguments of the cardinal is mentioned that according to which the king needs a son, and his wife is sterile as a brick, and in this case without an heir there could get to a change of dynasty that could cause the appearance to dynastic wars again, or to some bloody barons who to devastate the country from one chap to another. Thomas More’s refusal to support him on Cardinal in the pressures on the pope is highlighted quite clearly by statements such as: ‘When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country on the shorter route to chaos” (00:14:34-00:14:41), ‘The church has its church property” (00:13:26)
From now on, in order for divorce to be accepted, all attention is directed to Thomas More’s conviction to accept this. A first step in his conviction is represents by Wolsey’s death and his appointment as Lord Chancellor in his place by the King through the Duke of Norfolk: “I am straightly charged by the king himself, here openly to declare how much all England is beholden to his man.And now worthy he is to have the highest room in the realm. And how dearly the king’s grace doth love and trust him not only for much good council, deliberate council, but for better council yet that which is privy to the king’s person. This same Sir Thomas More, here made before you all to be Lord Cancellar of the Realm”(00:28:11-00:28:55). Despite the hope that if he occupies an important position in the state, Thomas will be more easily convinced; this, in fact, remains as firm in his decision, fact which will enrage the King and he will resort to series of direct actions in his favor. The King needed Thomas because he was an honest, very faithful man and especially because he always showed his respect for the people and the king. Respect for the King is illustrated in this quite clear film when, alongside his wife, Lady Alice and his daughter, Margaret, say the evening prayer, saying the words: ‘Bless our lord, the King!'(00:07:23). Also the faith in God is highlighted quite well when he refuses to his daughter, Margaret, marrying Will Roper because he was a heretic, a lutheran passionate. Because the king has not managed to resolve anything by pressure, he acts on his own to obtain his divorce by applying extreme measures.
A first step is the parliamentary approval of the Act of Supremacy, whereby the King became the Supreme Leader of the Church of England, a statute which is submitted to the Lords for acceptance: “His Majesty acknowledges your humble admission of many grievous errors for which he accepts the manumission of £ 100,000 in token. Mindful for the well-beingof the realm and the quietness of his subjects, His Majesty requires that you do now straighly renounce your pretended allegiance to the See of the Rome and admit the statute passed through parliament acknowledging the king’s good title Supreme Head of the Church in England”(00:55:38-00:56:11). By this title, the King opposes the Rome Pope very clearly, despite the fact that in June 1521, through his book ‘Defense of the 7 Prayers,’ which was against Martin Luther, he received from the Pope the title of ‘Defender of the Faith’. So, through this title, the schism between Rome and the Church of England is triggered, which has led Thomas More to resign from his position that he occupied in the state: “This isn’t reformation. This is war against the Church. Our King has declared war on the Pope, because the Pope will not declare that our Queen is not his wife”(00:58:13-00:58:20), the Pope “ is also the descendant of the St. Peter, our only link with Christ”(00:58:59).
The second measure of the king is the endorsement of the Act of Succession through which it was to be established a oath related to marriage,more exactly which it cancels the first marriage and which it deprives the children from this marriage to their rights to the crown. In this case, everyone swore to observe this act, except Thomas More, who categorically refuses to take this oath: “God made the angels to show him splendor. As he made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But man, he made to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind”(01:24:57-01:25:10). The price of this denial is first paid by closing him in a tower and then by executing of this. Because he remained silent all the time, he avoided expressing his views, the final accusationsthat are brought to him, it refers to the fact that he would have denied and he would deprived the King Henry of the title of Supreme Chief of the Church in England. Thomas More’s silence is interpreted on the principle that silence means approval. Thus, in the case of the relations between the political world and the church from that time, one can see an absolute control of the state in front of the church. The church reached to be deprived of any right of expression, its opinion being imposed, namely what the king said, the church was needed to accept. An example in this case may be the moment when Henry announces the Lords of the law that gave him the title of Supreme Leader of the Church in England.
On the other hand,at a more in-depth analysis of this film, it can reach a parallel look between the personality of King Henry VIII and of the lawyer Thomas More. Between the two can identify some similar elements, among which the intelligence of the two. An example that can highlight the king’s intellectual abilities is his discussion with Margaret, the daughter of Thomas More when he speaks to her in another language to see how she is learned. In the same order, Thomas More turns out to be a learned man with superior intellectual abilities, as evidenced by the answers he gives in various situations, such as in the discussion with Cardinal Wolsey, or when he presents his arguments before the seventh commission investigating his case. On the other hand, we could say that the two have similar characters regarding their firm decisions. Thus, Henry tries different ways to get Catherine’s wife’s divorce, but he will not be defeated until he manage to obtain this thing and to marry Anne Boleyn, and Thomas More, being a perfect believer, does not give up until the last moment when he pays with the price of his life, to respect the church, and does not change his opinion irrespective of the situation and the consequences of which he is conscious.
As for the differences between the two, the most important is represented by the denial of the Epicop of Rome. As far as Henry is concerned, at first it can be noticed that he was a believer, he was against Luther’s reform, fact evidenced though the book, ‘Defense of the Seven Prayers,’ which will bring him the title of the Defender of the Faith, but then he gets up against the church just to obtain his divorce. Instead, Thomas More’s faith is an incontestable one. From the beginning to the moment of his execution, Thomas More remained devoted to the Church, preferring to die with consciousness rather than losing faith. This decision, to keep our only connection to Christ, had consequences for his family, who reached into poverty, but despite this, the close ones there were alongside with him. The title of the film can be interpreted as a direct reference to the actions of King Henry, which had an effect for eternity, namely, this breaking by the obedience of the papacy from Rome, led to a decentralization of the state, that it has hardly been rebuilt.
So, the background of this film represents a part from England’s history, more precisely it is about the period of time when England was under the leadership of King Henry VIII. At this period of time, the most important moment is represented by the schism between the Church of England and Rome, the reason being the king’s divorce of his wife, Chaterina de Aragon and the acceptance of the new marriage with Anne Boylen. To fulfill his desire, the king raises the state against the church, which can be remarked in the film from the very beginning though Cardinal Wolsey’s reply: “There is much in the Church which needs reformation”(00:14:14), “but necessary to get us an heir”(00:14:21). In this case, the King being a supreme authority, the whole people obeys and they accepts this divorce, except for lawyer Thomas More, who does not want to give up his own consciousness in order to achieve the wishes of the state. This wise decision of Thomas More, who accepts with a clear conscious the sentence of execution, there is in contrast with the personality of the other representatives of the state and of the church. Both the state and the church are corrupted by the influence of the king, all who at first had faith in God and the church, finally they sustaining the king and agreeing with the denial of the Pope from Rome.
The rupture of the Church of England of the Church of Rome led to the creation of a total chaos in England, and all those who turned against the church had an end to life quite cruel. Thus, Cardinal Cromwell, who condemned Thomas More to death by bringing unfounded evidence, he was beheaded to five years after More’s death, for high treason. He had the same punishment as Thomas More. The Duke of Norfolk, Count Marshal of England, who at first seemed to be Thomas’s boyfriend, and then because he had joined Cromwel and he participated in More’s punishment,he shoul need to have an end of life like his facts,but before him the king paid, he died of syphilis the night before. As for church representatives, the archbishop, who accepted the King’s title as the Supreme Leader of the Church in England, who it allowed him to obtain the divorce, was burned at the stake. Thomas More, even though he always was on the side of the church and in the proper service of the king, after his execution, his head remained stuck in the Traitors’ Gate for a month, after which, only then, it could be taken by Margaret’s daughter.
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