Henry VIII's blinkered patriarchal vision (and, to be fair, English history to that point) meant that, unlike Katherine his wife, Henry could not envisage their only surviving child, Mary, as a ruling queen. All their other children had died within a few hours, days or weeks of birth or had been born dead, and Katherine was in her forties. So, on grounds he knew were untrue – the suggestion that Katherine's marriage to his brother Arthur had been consummated – Henry sought one. The Pope refused – but Henry needed to be right. With a hefty dose of self-delusion, he used a partial reading of scripture to justify separating from his wife of twenty years. It took schism from the Roman Catholic Church to make it a reality.
The whole country was pulled into saying black was white. The Act of Succession of 1534 included an oath that every man (only men) was required to swear. They were to state that they regarded Mary 'but as a bastard' and that Anne Boleyn was Henry's lawful wife and the rightful Queen of England 'without any scrupulosity of conscience'. Henry wanted complicity even in his subjects' thoughts. The Treasons Act of the same year made it high treason to call the king a 'heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown'. Those who failed to agree with Henry's perspective – Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher chief among them – were executed.
Part of the reason was that Henry became very attached to his position as Supreme Head of the Church. He reckoned himself a theologian. In 1536, he wrote the first doctrinal statement of the Church of England. Henry’s theological position, in the all-to-play-for years of the 1530s, was his own idiosyncratic hodge-podge of contemporary Catholicism and Protestantism. He hated Martin Luther’s idea that a person could be made right with God without having earned it, but he also denied the reality of purgatory (though he left funds for his own soul to be prayed for after death, just in case). Later in life the king would annotate religious texts composed by his bishops and be compared in his commissioned tapestries and psalter to the Old Testament patriarchs Abraham and David, and the New Testament saint Paul. He was depicted on the frontispiece of the Great Bible as first under God. A rebellion that sought to challenge his supremacy was put down with extreme force.
In other words, Henry’s preoccupation with preeminent masculinity can be seen even here: he thought his personal faith should determine the religious practice of the whole kingdom. Those who did not agree on a point of doctrine – like John Lambert, who held that the bread and wine of the Mass were symbols of, not literally, Christ’s body and blood – were executed. Henry personally presided over Lambert’s trial. On one day in 1540, on the king’s orders, three Protestants were burned as heretics, and three Catholics were hanged as traitors.