Henry VIII created a situation whereby religion and succession became closely entwined. In order to ensure his marriage and heirs by Anne Boleyn were recognised as legitimate, he required an Oath of Succession, which was then shortly followed by an Oath of Supremacy, which essentially required the acknowledgement that Henry had the authority, as head of the Church of England, to make his marriage to Katherine of Aragon null and void. With Henry’s subsequent marital machinations, the succession changed several times, eventually including both his daughters who had previously been excluded. Henry’s children had their own ideas about succession and religion, passing legislation and requiring oaths entrenching their positions.
Below are the transcripts of these oaths and acts which fundamentally shaped the history of England.
Oath of Succession, 1533/4
Ye shall swear to bear faith, truth, and obedience alonely to the king’s majesty, and to his heirs of his body of his most dear and entirely beloved lawful wife Queen Anne, begotten and to be begotten, and further to the heirs of our said sovereign lord according to the limitation in the statute made for surety of his succession in the crown of this realm, mentioned and contained, and not to any other within this realm, for foreign authority or potentate: and in case any oath be made, or has been made, by you, to any person or persons, that then ye [are] to repute the same as vain and annihilate; and that, to your cunning, wit, and uttermost of your power, without guile, fraud, or other undue means, you shall observe, keep, maintain, and defend the said Act of Accession, and all the whole effects and contents thereof, and all other Acts and statutes made in confirmation, or for the execution of the same, or of anything therein contained; and this ye shall do against all manner of persons, of what estate, dignity, degree, or condition soever they be, and in no wise do or attempt, nor to your power suffer to be done or attempted, directly or indirectly, any thing or things privily or apartly to the let, hindrance, damage, or derogation thereof, or of any part of the same, by any manner of means, or for any manner of pretence; so help you God, all saints, and the holy Evangelists.
Act of Supremacy 1534
Albeit the king’s Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England, and so is recognized by the clergy of this realm in their convocations, yet nevertheless, for corroboration and confirmation thereof, and for increase of virtue in Christ’s religion within this realm of England, and to repress and extirpate all errors, heresies, and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same, be it enacted, by authority of this present Parliament, that the king, our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England, called Anglicans Ecclesia; and shall have and enjoy, annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm, as well the title and style thereof, as all honors, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity of the supreme head of the same Church belonging and appertaining; and that our said sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, record, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offenses, contempts and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may lawfully be reformed, repressed, ordered, redressed, corrected, restrained, or amended, most to the pleasure of Almighty God, the increase of virtue in Christ’s religion, and for the conservation of the peace, unity, and tranquility of this realm; any usage, foreign land, foreign authority, prescription, or any other thing or things to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.
Oath of Supremacy, 1535
I (state you name) do utterly testifie and declare in my Conscience, that the Kings Highnesse is the onely Supreame Governour of this Realme, and all other his Highnesse Dominions and Countries, as well in all Spirituall or Ecclesiasticall things or causes, as Temporall: And that no forraine Prince, Person, Prelate, State or Potentate, hath or ought to have any Jurisdiction, Power, Superiorities, Preeminence or Authority Ecclesiasticall or Spirituall within this Realme. And therefore, I do utterly renounce and forsake all Jurisdictions, Powers, Superiorities, or Authorities; and do promise that from henchforth I shall beare faith and true Allegiance to the Kings Highnesse, his Heires and lawfull Successors: and to my power shall assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Priviledges, Preheminences and Authorities granted or belonging to the Kings Highnesse, his Heires and Successors or united and annexed to the Imperial Crowne of the Realme: so helpe me God: and by the Contents of this Booke.
Edward VI’s Device for the Succession
My deuise for the Succession.
1. For lakke of issu (masle inserted above the line, but afterwards erased) of my body (to the issu (masle above the line) cumming of thissu femal, as i haue after declared inserted, but erased). To the L Franceses heires masles, (For lakke of erased) (if she have any inserted) such issu (befor my death inserted) to the L’ Janes (and her inserted) heires masles, To the L Katerins heires masles, To the L Maries heires masles, To the heires masles of the daughters wich she2 shal haue hereafter. Then to the L Margets heires masles. For lakke of such issu, To th’eires masles of the L Janes daughters. To th’eires masles of the L Katerins daughters, and so forth til yow come to the L Margets (daughters inserted) heires masles.
2. If after my death theire3 masle be entred into 18 yere old, then he to have the hole rule and gouernauce therof.
3. But if he be under 18, then his mother to be gouuernres til he entre 18 yere old, But to doe nothing w’out th’auise (and agremet inserted) of 6 parcel of a counsel to be pointed by my last will to the nombre of 20.
4. If the mother die befor th’eire entre into 18 the realme to be gouuerned by the cousel Prouided that after he be 14 yere al great matters of importaunce be opened to him.
5. If i died w’out issu, and there were none heire masle, then the L Fraunces to be (reget altered to) gouuernres. For lakke of her, the her eldest daughters,4 and for lakke of them the L Marget to be gouuernres after as is aforsaid, til sume heire masle be borne, and then the mother of that child to be gouuernres.
6. And if during the rule of the gouuernres ther die 4 of the counsel, then shal she by her letters cal an asseble of the counsel w’in on month folowing and chose 4 more, wherin she shal haue thre uoices. But after her death the 16 shal chose emong themselfes til th’eire come to (18 erased) 14 yeare olde, and then he by ther aduice shal chose them
Repeal of Act of Supremacy 1555
Whereas, since the twentieth year53 of King Henry VIII of famous memory, father unto your Majesty, … much false and erroneous doctrine hath been taught, preached and written … , by reason whereof as well the spiritualty as the temporalty of your Highness’s realms and dominions have swerved from the obedience of the See Apostolic and declined from the unity of Christ’s church, and so have continued until …, your Majesty being … raised up by God and set in the seat royal over us …, the Pope’s Holiness and the See Apostolic sent hither … the most reverent father in God, the lord Cardinal Pole, legate de latere,54 to call us home again into the right way …; and we … , seeing by the goodness of God our own errors, have acknowledged the same unto the said most reverend father, and by him have been … received and embraced into the unity and bosom of Christ’s church … , upon our humble submission and promise … to repeal and abrogate such acts and statutes as had been made in Parliament since the said twentieth year of the said King Henry VIII against the supremacy of the See Apostolic… [therefore, such legislation is repealed] .
And finally, where certain acts and statutes have been made in the time of the late schism concerning the lands and hereditaments of archbishoprics and bishoprics, the suppression and dissolution of monasteries, abbeys, priories, chantries, colleges, and all other the goods and chattels of religious houses; since the which time the right and dominion of certain lands and hereditaments, goods and chattels, belonging to the same be dispersed abroad and corne to the hands and possessions of divers and sundry persons who by gift, purchase, exchange, and other means, according to the order of the laws and statutes of this realm for the time being, have the same; for the avoiding of all scruples that might grow by any the occasions aforesaid or by any other ways or means whatsoever, [we ask that] it may please your Majesties to be intercessors and mediators to the said most reverend father … that all such causes and quarrels as by pretence of the said schism or by any other occasion or mean whatsoever might be moved, by the Pope’s Holiness or See Apostolic or by any other jurisdiction ecclesiastical, may be utterly removed and taken away; so as all persons having sufficient conveyance of the said lands and hereditaments, goods and chattels, … may without scruple of conscience enjoy them …
Excerpts from the Act of Supremacy 1559
An acte restoring to the crown the ancient jurisdiction over the state ecclesiastical and spiritual and abolishing all foreign power repugnant to the same. Most humbly beseech your most excellent majesty your faithful and obedient subjects, the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons in this your present parliament assembled, that, where in time of the reign of your most dear father of worthy memory, King Henry VIII, divers good laws and statutes were made and established, as well for the utter extinguishment and putting away of all usurped and foreign powers and authorities out of this your realm and other your highness’s dominions and countries, as also for the restoring and uniting to the imperial crown of this realm the ancient jurisdictions, authorities, superiorities, and pre-eniinences to the same of right belonging and appertaining; by reason whereof we, your most humble and obedient subjects, from the five-and-twentieth year of the reign of your said dear father, were continually kept in good order, and were disburdened of divers great and intolerable charges and exactions before that time unlawfully taken and exacted by such foreign power and authority as before that was usurped, until such time as all the said good laws . . . in the first and second years of the reigns of the late King Philip and Queen Mary . . . were . . repealed . . . ;’ by reason of which act of repeal your said humble subjects were eftsoons brought under an usurped foreign power and authority… may from the last day of this session of parliament, by authority of this present parliament, be repealed, and shall from thenceforth be utterly void and of none effect . . .
And for the better observation and maintenance of this act, may it please your highness that it may be further enacted by the authority aforesaid that all and every Archbishop, Bishop, and all and every other ecclesiastical person and other ecclesiastical officer and minister, of what estate, dignity, pre-eminence, or degree soever he or they be or shall be, and all and every temporal judge, justicer, mayor, and other lay or temporal officer and minister, and every other person having your highness’s fee or wages within this realm or any your highness’s dominions shall make, take, and receive a corporal oath upon the Evangelist, before such person or persons as shall please your highness, your heirs or successors, under the great seal of England to assign and name to accept and take the same, according to the tenor and effect hereafter following, that is to say- (see Oath of Supremacy 1559 below)
And for the more sure observation of this act and the utter extinguishment of all foreign and usurped power and authority, may it please your highness that it may be further enacted by the authority aforesaid that, if any person or persons dwelling or inhabiting within this your realm or in any other your highness’s realms or dominions . . . , shall by writing, printing, teaching, preaching, express words, deeds, or act, advisedly, maliciously, and directly affirm, hold, stand with, set forth, maintain, or defend the authority, preeminence, power, or jurisdiction, spiritual or ecclesiastical, of any foreign prince, prelate, person, state, or potentate whatsoever, heretofore claimed, used, or usurped within this realm or any dominion or country being within or under the power, dominion, or obeisance of your highness, or shall advisedly, maliciously, or directly put in ure or execute anything for the extolling, advancement, setting forth, maintenance, or defence of any such pretended or usurped jurisdiction, power, pre-eminence, or authority, or any part thereof, that then every such person and persons so doing and offending, their abettors, aiders, procurers, and counsellors, being thereof lawfully convicted and attainted according to the due order and course of the common laws of this realm [shall suffer specified penalties, culminating in punishment for high treason on the third offence] . . . .
Oath of Supremacy, 1559
I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the Queen’s Highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other her Highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the Queen’s Highness, her heirs and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges and authorities granted or belonging to the Queen’s Highness, her heirs or successors, or united or annexed to the imperial crown of this realm. So help me God, and by the contents of this Book.