Monday, February 22, 2016

Henry VIII's Deathbed Confession of Christ, and Unfulfilled Plan to Reform Religion

While Henry VIII is known for being a tyrant and committing ungodly acts during his reign, it appears that God converted him prior to death. Not only this, but Henry had a plan in place for the reformation of religion that his death kept him from fulfilling. 

Henry VIII Trusts in Christ

According to Fox's Book of Martyrs, Henry VIII, while on his deathbed, confessed his reliance on Christ, Who could pardon him for all of his sins. After this, Henry sent for the godly Archbishop Cranmer, to whom he -- while having lost his ability to speak -- signaled his trust in Christ:
Although the king was loth to hear any mention of death, yet perceiving the same to rise upon the judgment of the physicians, and feeling his own weakness, he disposed himself more quietly to hearken to the words of his exhortation, and to consider his life past; which although he much accused, "yet," said he, "is the mercy of Christ able to pardon me all my sins, though they were greater than they be." Master Denny, being glad to hear him thus to speak, required to know his pleasure, whether he would have any learned man sent for to confer withal, and to open his mind unto. To whom the king answered again, that if he had any, he would have Dr. Cranmer, who was then lying at Croydon. And therefore Master Denny, asking the king whether he would have him sent for, "I will first," said the king, "take a little sleep; and then, as I feel myself, I will advise upon the matter."
After an hour or two the king, awaking, and feeling feebleness to increase upon him, commanded Dr. Cranmer to be sent for; but before he could come, the king was speechless, and almost senseless. Notwithstanding, perceiving Dr. Cranmer to be come, he, reaching his hand to Dr. Cranmer, did hold him fast, but could utter no word unto him, and scarce was able to make any sign. Then the archbishop, exhorting him to put his trust in Christ, and to call upon his mercy, desired him, though he could not speak, yet to give some token with his eyes or with his hand, that he trusted in the Lord. Then the king, holding him with his hand, did wring his hand in his as hard as he could; and so, shortly after, departed ... [1] 
According to Diarmaid MacCulloch, Henry VIII had finally come to believe in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which his friend Cranmer had long tried to persuade him of:
Cranmer had long sought to convince the King to adopt this understanding of justification, but without success. He had one last opportunity, when he was summoned to the dying King's bedside. Cranmer exhorted Henry to put his full trust in Christ, and asked him to give him some indication if he had done so. Henry responded by squeezing his hand. MacCulloch believes this last scene has profound significance.[2]
Thus MacCulloch writes:
Quietly playing out his calling as royal chaplain, Cranmer had won a final victory over years of argument with the King on justification.  No last rites for Henry, no extreme unction:  just an evangelical statement of faith in a grip of the hand.  Thus ended the most long-lasting relationship of love that either man had ever known.[3]

Henry VIII's Plan for Reformation

Not only did Henry VIII show evidence of conversion prior to death, but he also intended to reform religion (further than he already had) and suppress the mass completely. Fox's Book of Martyrs summarizes:
And thus much touching the end of King Henry, who, if he had continued a few months longer, (all those obits and masses, which appear in his will made before he went to Boulogne, notwithstanding,) most certain it is, and to be signified to all posterity, that his full purpose was to have repurged the estate of the church, and to have gone through with the same, so that he would not have left one mass in all England. For the more certain intelligence whereof, two things I have to lead me: the one is, the assured report and testimony of Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, hearing the king declare the same out of his own mouth, both to himself and to Monsieur d'Annebault, lord admiral of the French, ambassador, in the month of August, a little before his death, as above may appear more at large. The other cause which leadeth me thereunto is also of equal credit, grounded upon the declaration of the king's own mouth after that time, more near unto his death, unto Bruno, ambassador of John Frederic, duke of Saxony: unto the which ambassador of Saxony the king gave this answer openly, that if the quarrel of the duke of Saxony were nothing else against the emperor, but for religion, he should stand to it strongly, and he would take his part, willing him not to doubt or fear. And so with this answer he dismissed the ambassador unto the duke, openly in the hearing of these four sufficient witnesses, as the Lord Seymour, earl of Hereford, Lord Lisle, then admiral, the earl of Bedford, lord privy seal, the Lord Paget.[4]

Even though Henry VIII died prior to seeing Reformation, his son, the godly Edward VI -- with the encouragement of Cranmer and the assistance of Edward Seymour -- would see to this task. For more info, see:

A godly Ruler's Inauguration: The Coronation of Edward VI

The Royal Injunctions of Edward VI 

Edward VI Criminalizes the Promotion of Freewill Theology

Iconoclasm during Edward Seymour's Protectorate 


[1] John Fox, Fox's Book of Martyrs: The Acts and Monuments of the Church, Volume 2, ed. John Cumming (London: George Virtue, Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row, 1844), 748.
[2]  Rudolph Heinze in  Rudolph Heinze and Arthur Pollard, "Thomas Cranmer: A Life -- Two Reviews" (, 353. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from
[3] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer (London: Yale 
University Press 1996), 361. Cited in Ibid., 353, 354.
[4] Fox, Fox's Book of Martyrs, 749, 750.

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