THE EXCOMMUNICATION OF KING HENRY VIII
On December 17, 1538, Pope Paul III proclaimed the excommunication of King Henry VIII of England. Henry's role in initiating the English Reformation is well-known, along with his many infamous remarriages that originally sparked the schism. Despite this it is interesting to note that his formal (and final) excommunication wasn't a direct consequence to the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and the subsequent union with Anne Boleyn, as many believe. While Pope Clement VII had declared both his divorce from Catherine and his marriage to Anne null as early as July 1533, in fact, his successor, Paul III, excommunicated the king only on August 30, 1535; this sentence, however, was soon suspended in hope Henry would return to Catherine and stop any further religious reform.
The matter was thus left unresolved for three more years, well after Catherine's death in January 1536, Anne's execution in the following May, and the death of Jane Seymour in January 1537. The final straw for the pope, in fact, was Henry's attack on religious shrines in England, which culminated in September 1538 with the attack on the shrine of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury. The loss of one of Europe's most popular pilgrimage destinations could no longer go unpunished and, in the following December, Pope Paul III issued the final Bull of Excommunication.
"Henry VIII as David", illumination from the "The Psalter of Henry VIII", ms. Royal 2 A XVI, f. 63v, c. 1540-1541, British Library, London.