The First Act of Succession (at the time referred to only as the “Act of Succession”) was a key step in Henry’s repudiation of Catherine of Aragon: it recognized Elizabeth, his daughter with Anne Boleyn, as the true heir to the throne (until of course a son was born to this marriage!), and made Mary, his daughter with Catherine, a bastard. While the Church of England had already declared the same thing, this Act of Parliament bound the people much more directly.
It was a formidable weapon because it required every Englishman to swear an oath to recognize this Act, as well as the King’s supremacy:
And that all manner your subjects, as well spiritual as temporal … shall swear a like corporal oath, that they and every of them, without fraud or guile, to their cunning, wit, and uttermost of their powers, shall truly, firmly, and constantly observe, fulfil, maintain, defend, and keep the effects and contents contained and specified in this Act, or in any part thereof.
Those who refused – like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher – would be guilty of treason and executed. Henry wasn’t messing around!
[E]very such person and persons, of what estate, degree, or condition they be of … and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them, for every such offence shall be adjudged high traitors, and every such offence shall be adjudged high treason, and the offenders and their aiders, counsellors, maintainers, and abettors, and every of them… shall suffer pains of death, as in cases of high treason; and that also every such offender, being convicted as is aforesaid, shall lose and forfeit … all such manors, lands, tenements, rents, annuities, and hereditaments, which they had in possession as owners, or were sole seized of by or in any right, title, or means, or any other person or persons had to their use, of any estate of inheritance, at the day of such treasons and offences by them committed and done …
Interestingly, only two years later, the Act was superseded by the Second Act of Succession, passed in June 1536 and which vested the succession in Henry’s children by new wife Jane Seymour and made Elizabeth as illegitimate as Mary. Of course, since Henry did not as yet have any children by Jane Seymour, the Second Act also gave Henry “full and plenary power and authority” to choose a different successor in letters patent or through his final Will. Nor was this Henry’s final say on the matter: the Third Act of Succession, passed in July 1543, restored Mary and Elizabeth to the succession (though without removing their illegitimacy) behind Edward, Edward’s children, and any children Henry might yet have with then-wife Katherine Parr) – and of course subject to Henry’s continuing right to change his mind in letters patent or his Will…
Luminarium for the full text of the First Act of Succession
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