A partial defence of Henry VIII

In the synthetic debate about so called Henry VIII clauses in the EU Withdrawal Bill all seem agreed that Henry was a tyrant who ruled without reference to Parliament. Ignorance of history is clearly one of the pre requisites for the opposition to implementing the referendum. Whilst Henry during his reign did make decisions using royal prerogative that we would find unacceptable today, what is remarkable about his decision to reduce and then remove the power of Pope over English taxpayers and churchgoers was how he preceded at every step by Act of Parliament. He escalated the conflict when the Pope did not respond to the opening pressures, designed to allow England to stay in the Catholic Church whilst securing some independence for the secular government. It was a failed lengthy negotiation leading to schism.

Wanting Rome to consent to his divorce, he widened the disagreement by bringing in issues over dealing with the crimes of the clergy and having to pay taxes to Rome. Public opinion was ready to submit clerics to the same criminal law as everyone else, and willing to send less tax to the Papal see. To bring this about MPs sympathetic to the King proposed and promoted the 1529 Act to remove legal privileges of the clergy, the 1532 First Act of Annates to reduce the annates tax to the Curia, the 1533 Act in restraint of appeals to cancel the power of the Roman court over English courts, the 1534 Act concerning Peters pence to cancel another Papal tax and finally the 1534 Act of Supremacy to create the King as Head of the Church in England.

Today we are proceeding also by a series of Acts of Parliament for the things that matter and where we wish to change current practice and EU law. The EU Withdrawal Bill or continuity bill, will be followed by primary legislation on customs, trade, fishing and farming, and migration. The secondary legislation will not take the form of royal proclamations by-passing Parliament, but will be Parliamentary regulations subject to debate and vote where Parliament wants that.


  1. Bryan Harris
    September 11, 2017

    As always the remoaners find something normal and turn it against us all – we should stop compromising and stop being nice to these traitors – they certainly do not behave like decent people…..

    …but doesn’t the Church of Rome in the 1500’s have great similarities to the EU – demanding obedience and our money.

    Clearly King Henry was a true Brexiteer, and we should celebrate that!

    1. sm
      September 11, 2017

      Henry needed a papal dispensation to divorce Katherine of Aragon, which he couldn’t get because of the usual political power game being played throughout Europe. Therefore the only route open to him was to refute ultimate pontifical power.

      However, it is usually forgotten that he remained a Catholic.

      1. Ed Mahony
        September 11, 2017

        ‘However, it is usually forgotten that he remained a Catholic’

        – For the ‘Protestant’ monarchs of Europe it was largely about power not doctrine.
        – For less than 1% of the country, the reformation was about doctrine.
        – The vast majority of people didn’t care about Protestantism (in fact, were ignorant what it was about). It was imposed on them for reasons of power, not doctrine, by their monarchs (using both force and propaganda). Many people would have preferred to remain Catholic but were too scared and poor to keep the faith.

  2. alte fritz
    September 11, 2017

    This is probably the first of Mr Redwood’s posts with which I have disagreed in every particular, apart from the final paragraph.

    I hope that in those days I would have had the courage to support the Pilgrimage of Grace, but even now would not wish the fate of those pilgrims on the Remoaners.

  3. ComradeOgilvy
    September 11, 2017

    Why are you defending a long dead king? Shouldn’t you be distancing the government from him rather than the reverse?

    1. NickC
      September 11, 2017

      Comrade, Are you sure that JR is defending a long dead king? That’s not how I read it.

      1. ComradeOgilvy
        September 11, 2017

        The title certainly implies that 🙂

        I read it as an explanation of how Henry used parliament to implement his own “Brexit” rather than the royal prerogative, and thus downplay the Henry VIII clauses this time around with regard to Brexit.

        That is a distraction technique though. The issue here is not Brexit itself, it is parliamentary scrutiny. Doesn’t matter how/where the clauses are introduced.

        1. NickC
          September 12, 2017

          “Scrutiny” is a weasel word. No EU Regulation was passed into UK law after due process by the UK Parliament. We had no choice but to obey each new EU imposed law, except for the ultimate choice of leaving the EU. Which is what we have now done.

          Transferring EU Regulations and Decisions directly into UK statute changes neither the laws nor their intent. It is an exercise to provide legal continuity. You cannot complain about that, unless you complained about the EU’s impositions in the first place.

  4. Bert Young
    September 11, 2017

    Henry got what he planned for ( except a male heir ). The Court in his day ruled supreme often at the expense of the lower classes . The lesson today is to be part Henry and the ordinary person ; outside dominance should not impinge on the will of the public and our leaders must respect that and not abuse their positions .

  5. Michael
    September 11, 2017

    The powers that would be given to the Government by the Great Repeal Bill as currently drafted are a shade too wide for comfort. It is to be hoped that some pruning will be done at committee stage so that the Bill achieves it’s objectives without overreaching.

    Incidentally Henry V111 did more harm than good in his passionate desire for a male heir.

    1. NickC
      September 11, 2017

      Michael, The EU Withdrawal Bill is effectively a new version of the ECA, enabling UK businesses, institutions and courts to continue to access EU law en bloc after we leave the EU. The purpose is to ensure legal continuity in the quickest way possible without having to re-write thousands of laws.

      The way I would do it is to create a repository of EU law (Regulations and Decisions, because Directives are already in UK law). Then create a list of all the EU institutions cross referenced to the equivalent UK institution with the instruction to use the substitutions. Some EU law may need more extensive revision but simplicity and speed are of the essence.

  6. Epikouros
    September 11, 2017

    History has a way of repeating itself. The reasons for the rise and fall of the Western Roman empire is in many ways being mirrored in the rise and now decline of the modern West having reached the stage where immigrants and leadership have became a serious hindrance instead of being a help. A precursor to its eventual demise. Brexit is following the pattern that Henry VIII took of removing England/Britain from the grasping clutches of Rome a pan Europe institution and it’s pernicious laws and greed for our taxes.

    1. Epikouros
      September 11, 2017

      Not to forget divorce was also a topic of the split with Rome and as far as I am aware the settlement figure was of little import to Henry. It cost him nothing or just keeping Katherine locked up out of sight until her death.

      1. sm
        September 11, 2017

        Hmm, Henry’s divorce was the PRIMARY cause of the split from Rome, and from that flowed the opportunity to close the monasteries. One should not forget that Queen Katherine was the aunt of the Spanish King Charles V, who was also the Holy Roman Emperor, and thus the most powerful ruler in Europe, which was why the Pope was so reluctant to issue an annulment…….

  7. Dave Andrews
    September 11, 2017

    The comparison between the Catholic Church and the EU is apt. Both are run by a hierarchy with little democratic accountability, demand the unquestioning obedience of their subjects to the dogma and are expected to be adored with blind faith.
    Perhaps this is no accident when you consider that the EU flag is no more than a Catholic image minus the Virgin Mary. With 28 member countries there should be that many stars, so why are there only 12?

    1. Ed Mahony
      September 11, 2017

      ‘Patriotism is a Catholic virtue’

      – Let’s not forget that for 900 years until the Reformation, England was Catholic.
      – That the Catholic Church gave us Oxford, Cambridge, the monarchy, the Houses of Parliament, our legal system, Eton, Winchester, grammar schools, guilds, patrons for the arts, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and so on.
      – And it was Catholic Europe that gave us capitalism (not Protestant Europe) – from Florence with its famous banks.
      – And it is precisely Catholicism today that is trying to defend our country from things such as gay marriage, abortion, and things like that. 150 years ago, most Conservatives in the UK, would have been aghast and forsaken their British citizenship if gay marriage, abortion and things like that had been introduced into the United Kingdom.

  8. Denis Cooper
    September 11, 2017

    I think the first time I came across the term “Henry VIII powers” was in connection with the Metric Martyrs case, back in 2002:


    “Metric martyrs lose their fight”

    “A High Court judge confirmed that the specific rights and obligations created by European law were incorporated into our own legal system by the European Communities Act 1972 and now “rank supreme”.”

    “Mr Shrimpton’s first complaint related to a “Henry VIII clause”, a provision in a statute which allows a minister to amend the Act itself. However, Lord Justice Laws rejected the claim that a Henry VIII clause allowing the abolition of imperial measures was inconsistent with European law.”

    “Lord Justice Laws acknowledged that constitutional lawyers “have expressed a wary suspicion of Henry VIII clauses, because they transfer legislative power to the executive branch of government”. However, he concluded that Parliament could delegate the power to amend primary legislation and had done so in this case.”

    “Mr Huhne said the Weights and Measures Act 1985 allowing the use of either metric or imperial measures was amended by a House of Commons statutory instrument in 1994.

    This applied the EU directive of November 1989 in England and Wales, making a failure to use metric scales an offence from Jan 1, 2000.

    Mr Huhne described it as “a sneaky way of avoiding full debate because the Conservative minister at the time, Francis Maude, wanted to avoid a political row”.”

  9. graham1946
    September 11, 2017

    I can’t really see what all the fuss is about. Henry VII powers are really no different to a government majority. Labour think it wrong for a Minister to be able to change laws on his own say so, but are quite content with the ‘Parliamentary Procedure’ whereby the Government (Ministers say so) tells their lobby fodder how they must vote. Labour members themselves are subject to a three line whip on this vote. What is democratic about that? You couldn’t make it up – only a politician could fail to see the irony.

    1. acorn
      September 11, 2017

      In addition, what is the point of having two days of debate for this brexit bill? Is there any evidence that the vote at the end, will be any different to a vote that could have been taken straight after Davis had introduced the bill and sat down ?

      With the HoC costing over £250,000 per sitting hour, it is not only two centuries out of date, it is poor value for money as well.

  10. Denis Cooper
    September 11, 2017

    I came across this paper:


    “Why Henry VIII clauses should be consigned to the dustbin of history”

    “Henry VIII clauses are not new but they have grown exponentially in recent times.”

    “After the death of Henry VIII, such clauses fell into disuse and it was 1888 before they seem to have re-emerged in the United Kingdom.”

    “A 1932 Report of the Donoughmore Committee found that between 1888 and 1929
    only nine Acts of Parliament contained such clauses.”

    “Thereafter, there were none until the Second World War, but they then returned in
    growing numbers. Concerns were more frequently expressed in the 1970s and 1980s.
    Controversy reached a height during the passage of the Deregulation and Contracting
    Out Act 1994 which contained a number of such clauses. More recently, as many as
    several hundred such clauses have been passed in a single Parliamentary session.”

    “It would be wrong to deny a Henry VIII clause any value. Such a clause can, for example, be useful where the Act in question may conflict with a large number of local Acts that may not be easily identifiable in the beginning, to allow either the old or the new Acts to be amended as necessary. But there are two clear dangers that widespread use of such clauses pose … ”

    Labour has had its many years in government with plenty of opportunities to install better procedural defences against the potential abuse of such clauses by ministers but has never bothered to do so, in fact they have been just as willing to churn them out, and now all of a sudden has become such a desperate concern that maybe we should stay in the EU rather than give ministers the power to get some Acts tweaked on leaving.

    1. sm
      September 11, 2017

      Denis, I don’t know how you manage to dig up such fascinating pieces of illumination, but I really appreciate them, please keep on doing it!

      1. Denis Cooper
        September 12, 2017

        I have a good friend called “google”!

    2. acorn
      September 11, 2017

      So basically Denis, you are blaming the Labour Party for not doing what the voting population of the UK failed to do themselves.

      A voting population, too thick to understand that they are being screwed every which way; and, too …….lazy to get out on the streets and change the rules of the game.

      Frankly, I don’t know Denis. if you are hunting with the hounds or running with the hares?

      1. Denis Cooper
        September 12, 2017

        How could the voting population change the procedures for the passage of secondary legislation except through their elected legislators?

  11. Newmania
    September 11, 2017

    Parliament has been denied any say on the important questions such as whether we stay in the single market, or to what extent we wish to elevate ethnic purity over prosperity as a Policy objective. Debates on such minor matters as are allowed to our representatives are not “synthetic” they are “proxy” .
    Henry the 8th stands at the beginning a long period in which England developed an idea of itself as against Catholic Europe, not unreasonably , and the cultural shadow of Protestant Parliament and Catholic absolutism has seemed to me to inform the Brexit disaster .
    Protestantism is not English though, it is German, Europe is not Catholic indeed they have had the odd squabble on the subject ( 30 years of slaughter in fact) ……The Church of England is not a low church it is a compromise . Henry the 8th would have found our wish to be excluded form the deliberations of our neighbours, powerless and despised , quite extraordinary.

    Reply More lies. The Commons both debated and voted on the issue of whether we should stay in the single market, and rejected that idea by a large majority. Parliament for the last year has talked about little else other than Brexit, trade, the single market and the rest, endlessly exploring the different versions of the Remain agenda.

    1. Nerwmania
      September 11, 2017

      Point taken , I was mistaken , this leaves scope for some future student to face a question such as this:
      ” A majority of MPs knew, and had said that leaving the single market was a a very bad thing. Explain the systemic weaknesses of a system in which they were nonethless obliged to collude in this historic act of self harm.”

    2. NickC
      September 11, 2017

      Newmania, No, Henry VIII did not stand “at the beginning [of] a long period in which England developed an idea of itself …”. that was Alfred the Great 600 years before.

      John Wycliffe (Wycliffe’s English bible 1384) influenced Jan Hus who influenced Martin Luther so, no, it is false to say that Protestantism was not English.

      The question of the EU’s single market and customs union was answered in the Referendum: we could either remain in them or leave them. We chose to leave, under the conditions set by Parliament.

    3. Ed Mahony
      September 11, 2017

      ‘Protestantism is not English though, it is German’

      – It’s actually more French than German in the sense that the Frenchman Calvin was far more removed from Catholicism, in doctrine, than Luther (and the ‘Great Defender’ of Catholicism during the Reformation was an Englishman—Sir Thomas More).

      – Also, like to remind you that whilst Protestant England was a monarchy in Tudor times, Catholic Venice and Catholic Genoa were republics (and Catholic Florence just before) (although not necessarily for the same reasons as republics later on in history, not forgetting, though, that Venice and Genoa share much with us in terms of being maritime powers, and Florence for its banking industry).

      We need to be careful i think, about comparing one historical movement with another.


      1. Ed Mahony
        September 12, 2017

        And the most important proto Protestant group before the Reformation were the Waldensians from Italy.

        Also, ironically, the Europeans from Northern Europe were far more Catholic than the Europeans from the south on the most important point of doctrine that kicked of the Reformation – indulgences.

        Northerners were obsessed by purgatory (Southerners were far more relaxed about it). Northerners focused on indulgences as a way of purging themselves so as to avoid or reduce time spent in purgatory. We know how obsessed they were by purgatory by Chaucer’s brilliant and masterful account of this in the Pardoner’s Tale (where unscrupulous characters, such as the Pardoner, were using indulgences to manipulate the vulnerable out of their money).

        If the Pope at the time hadn’t spent so much time gallivanting around on his horse, hunting, the whole Reformation COULD have been avoided (although there have always been and, no doubt, always will be objectors, from the Christian tradition, to Catholicism).

      2. Newmania
        September 12, 2017

        Well the reformation was certainly German and whilst I suppose Lollardy and all that might have had some distant influence Luther was ore obviously influenced by Erasmus and humanism which is certainly not English in origin .The Reconnaissance hit us late , but then as we seem intent on a descent into dark ages tribal totems , we should not be surprised .
        My point was that the dimly remembered cultural English opposition to Catholic Europe has somehow forgotten that Protestantism is a European movement.

    4. Anonymous
      September 11, 2017

      Ethnic purity.

      Yet again trying to nullify a vote with smear.

  12. Kevin Lohse
    September 11, 2017

    Does one of the Henry VIII clauses concern arrangements to hand the wool staple city of Calais back into British control? Good Queen Bess would rest easy if it were so.

  13. nigel seymour
    September 11, 2017

    Kate Hoey last week – best speech I heard from Thursday’s debate and possibly best assessment of where we are with Brexit and how the UK should come together leading up to March 2019 departure. What a lovely thought ‘The UK is leaving the EU’

  14. Martin
    September 11, 2017

    Henry VIII – would he have permitted Mr Rees-Mogg to sit in his parliament given his affection for the papacy?

    Should the 1829 Act be repealed to prevent such influences?

  15. Simon Coleman
    September 13, 2017

    Oh really…the very fact that we’re talking about Henry VIII in relation to 21st century legislation shows that Parliament is under threat from new executive powers (delegated but still real). 1000 new statutory instruments, Henry VIII powers and the bribery of a bunch of Northern Irish MPs who are about as close to mainstream UK politics as…well, Henry VIII…these are the agents needed to force through Brexit. And the government is trying to seize control of the committee selection process as well. This new democratic post-Brexit Britain – can’t wait!
    PS – And if there is a mandate for May’s hard Brexit, then prove it.

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