Act Concerning Peter's Pence and Dispensations

Act Concerning Peter's Pence and Dispensations

The Act Concerning Peter's Pence and Dispensationsshort title Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 – ("25 Henry VIII, c. 21") was passed by the Reformation Parliament in the early part of 1534 and outlawed the payment of Peter's Pence and other payments to Rome.


Peter's Pence was originally an annual tribute of one penny from each householder owning a land of a certain value to the Pope and had been collected in England since the reign of King Alfred. In the twelfth century it was fixed at an annual sum of £200 for the whole realm. It was not the largest payment to Rome but it is argued by Stanford Lehmberg that it was deliberately mentioned in the Act because it was theoretically paid by laymen and thus might have seemed more intolerable than payments affecting clerics only. [Stanford E. Lehmberg, "The Reformation Parliament, 1529-1536" (Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 191.]

The Act abolished Peter's Pence and all other payments to Rome and accorded to the Archbishop of Canterbury the power to issue dispensations formerly given by the Pope. The fees which might have been charged for the dispensations were set and required the Royal Assent, confirmed by the Great Seal of the Realm, in matters for which the usual fee was over £4.

Act's preamble

The Act's preamble is noteworthy because it is written in the form of a petition from the Commons to the King and is one of the first mentions of a "papal usurpation" and because it reasserts the theory that England has "no superior under God, but only your Grace". It also claims that the authority of the King's "imperial crown" is diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions" of the Pope.


On the 12 March 1534 the Commons passed the Bill and were possibly responsible, argues Lehmberg, for the clauses which claimed that the Act should not be read as a decline from the "very articles of the catholic faith of Christendom". [Ibid, p. 192.] A clause in the Bill gave the Crown the power to conduct visitations of monasteries which had been exempt from the Archbishop's jurisdiction and forbid English clergy from visiting religious assemblies abroad.

When the Bill came to the Upper House some clauses were added in the second and third reading. The Bill was passed on the 20 March after the fourth reading and after the Commons assented to the new clauses immediately. One the final day of the session, however, one more clause was added: the King would have the power at any period before the 24 June to abrogate the complete Act or just a section of it as he so wished. Lehmberg puts forth the idea that Henry VIII still wanted some leverage in bargaining with the Pope after the French King recently attempted to reconcile Henry with Pope Clement VII. [Ibid.] The final clause was never used as the French mission did not succeed.



*Stanford E. Lehmberg, "The Reformation Parliament, 1529 - 1536" (Cambridge University Press, 1970).

External links

*UK-SLD|1517821|the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533

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