When it comes to state violence, official justifications have always been paramount. Throughout history, savvy administrations have paid close attention to their messaging around the use of force and how it is perceived. This is not a modern phenomenon. William the Conqueror went to great lengths to dress up his invasion of Britain as a righteous act to punish a perjurer.

And so it was with the Tudor Reformation – a violent act that required an explanation.

King Henry VIII was short of money. And he urgently needed a new wife. The English Church had money, and the Pope was blocking his annulment. So it was a simple calculation: crush the infrastructure of the Church in England and appropriate its money. He was, though, rightly aware that this would not look very good. Only 12 years earlier, Pope Leo X had awarded him the title “Defender of the Faith” for his valiant support of the Church.

His course of action was, he knew, rather mercenary and lacking in a higher purpose, so his administration duly came up with a suitable story: he was – by the grace of God – saving the country.

The history books therefore dutifully tell us that Henry passed the Act in Restraint of Appeals in 1533, and the country was grateful to be free of the “dead hand” of Rome. Thus liberated, and buoyed up with a unique and divine potential, plucky England went on to become a green and pleasant land, discover the New World, pioneer the Industrial Revolution and bring enlightenment to swathes of the gloomy globe.

It will come as no surprise that this version of events is a bit simplistic in its rush to drown Henry in adulation.

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