It was to be 100 years before the Protestants really showed their strength – by cutting off the head of the king in the Civil War.Were it not for the annulment, as John Stuart Mill put it in his essay On Liberty, this country would almost certainly have followed the example of the majority of the Continent.
Protestantism was imposed – through coercion, spying and disenfranchisement – by a cadre of political opportunists during just three decades of Henry's and then his daughter Elizabeth's reign.
Public resistance to Elizabeth's dismantling of the Catholic parish system persisted until the 1570s.
Henry continued to regard himself to be a Catholic but by doing this he began to move the Church in the direction of Protestantism.
From that point onward, the Church of England claimed itself to be both Catholic and Reformed (as distinct from just Protestant) a character which many proclaim to be its continuing compromising genius to this day.
In 1490, he became a household page to John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England.
Archbishop Morton was a Renaissance man and inspired Thomas to pursue his own education.
It marks, said Professor David Starkey in Rome yesterday, the most important event in English history.
"This is the moment at which England ceases to be a normal European Catholic country and goes off on this strange path," he said, "that leads it to the Atlantic, to the New World, to Protestantism, to Euro-scepticism." Why did Henry want a divorce in the first place? To cement an alliance with Europe's most powerful country, Spain, Henry's father, Henry VII, had arranged a marriage between Henry's elder brother Arthur and the daughter of the Spanish monarchs, Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. But by the end of the 1520s, Henry's wife, Catherine of Aragon, was in her forties and he was desperate for a son to secure the Tudor dynasty.
Henry declared that the Pope no longer had authority in England and in 1534, Parliament passed an act that stated that Henry VIII was now the Head of "The Church of England". Then followed the Dissolution of the Monasteries, under which all the lands and possessions of Britain's religious orders were purloined by the king and his apparatchiks. That was the myth peddled by the English establishment for centuries.
The propaganda was that a corrupt and decaying Catholicism was replaced by a more morally pure and progressive Protestantism. They are led by Cambridge University's Eamon Duffy whose scholarly masterpiece, The Stripping of the Altars, was a meticulous study of the accounts, wills, primers, memoirs, rood screens, stained glass, joke-books and graffiti of the period. It showed beyond doubt that medieval Catholicism was in fact flourishing and much loved by the ordinary English people for whom it offered social and spiritual sustenance. "Very few people were remotely interested in ideas from Germany," said David Starkey.
John would have four wives during his life, but they each died, leaving John as a widower.