An interdisciplinary examination of the personal religion of Henry VIII.

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Lee, Frank
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Middle Tennessee State University
Two distinct strands are discernible in the personality of Henry VIII, King of England 1509-1547. Popular stereotype views the King as a blood swollen, uxorious devil who let nothing and no one stand in the way of his autocratic will. At the same time the historical records present the picture of a devout individual who attended Mass daily, listened attentively to sermons, quoted the Bible, argued theology and was acclaimed Defender of the Faith by Pope Leo X.
Accepting the King's religion as an honest expression of faith and not a facade, the writer proposed to examine the religious behavior of Henry VIII from the perspective of contemporary psychological theory. The dissertation was a project in the newly developing field of psychohistory, bringing together insights from the fields of religious studies, the behavioral sciences and history. The purpose was neither to condemn nor to glorify, but to understand one of history's controversial characters.
After consideration of the meaning of "behavior" as a social science concept, and an inquiry into the origin and development of religious behavior, the writer examined an early psychoanalytic view that the "much married" behavior of Henry reflected an unresolved Oedipus complex. Henry's own statement of religion was examined in his treatise against Martin Luther, followed by a probe into the motivations involved in the long sought annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Henry's claim to have been driven by conscience was taken at face value with extended consideration of the meaning of conscience both from a psychological and a Biblical point of view. The final chapter attempted a psychological profile of Henry VIII in light of Abraham Maslow's "Authoritarian Character Structure" concept studied and amplified by T. W. Adorno and his associates. Applications to contemporary society, especially in relation to religious behavior, were offered. A basic premise of the study was that religion may be viewed as a form of behavior explainable on the same basis as other kinds of behavior. Hence religion can be removed from the sphere of the sacred and untouchable to a down-to-earth fact of life which can and must be critically evaluated.