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Replica of letter on Henry VIII divorce unveiled

VATICAN CITY — Officials on Tuesday unveiled a replica of a 1530 parchment sent by members of England's House of Lords to Pope Clement VII to support the divorce of King Henry VIII.

The 3-foot-by-6.5 foot (1-meter-by-2-meter) parchment with more than 80 original red wax seals of the signatories is considered a crucial document in the king's battle to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. At the time, Henry VIII was obsessed with producing a male heir to the throne.

The Vatican's refusal to annul the marriage led the king to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England. He then married Anne Boleyn.

"It is an event of enormous magnitude, the most important event in English history," David Starkey, a British historian and Tudor family expert, said in an interview with Associated Press Television News. "This is the moment at which England ceases to be a normal European Catholic country and goes off on this strange path that leads it to the Atlantic, to the new world, to Protestantism, to Euro-skepticism."

In the letter, written in Latin, the lords urge the pope to annul the marriage to help give the kingdom an heir and prevent a bloody fight between successors.

Henry "will surely guarantee stability to the kingdom if he will be able to entrust its government to a male heir," the letter says, according to translated excerpts provided by the Scrinium publishing house.

The noblemen also foreshadow the coming schism by threatening that should the pope "neglect the needs of the English, they would feel authorized to solve the issue on their own and find remedies elsewhere."

Officials said that while the original document will remain in the Vatican Secret Archives, they plan to put the copy on display.