In my previous post I examined Edward and Mrs. Simpson, a television series which provided (as far as I can tell) a pretty accurate picture of the disastrously short reign of Edward VIII.
One of Edward's recurring arguments in trying to make a twice-divorced woman his Queen Empress was "a king should be able to marry whom he likes." A quick survey of British history reveals this to be an argument without merit or precedent.
Indeed, one of the reason why it was socially acceptable for kings and princes to have mistresses was the fact that they often had little control over who would be their spouse. Dynastic marriages were sometimes happy, but that was besides the point. The goal was to unite royal houses (and their attendant lands) and hopefully produce an heir. To do this often required elaborate arrangements depending on the laws of succession.
Perhaps because of the English Kingdom's muddled origins, these laws were fairly fluid. For example, there was no Salic Law regarding male rulership, nor was there a requirement that heirs be of noble blood on both sides. English kings could (and did) marry commoners (the current Prince of Wales has done so).
While some accounts of the crisis emphasize Wallis Simpson's American citizenship, that was a secondary concern. Far more serious was the fact that she had two living ex-husbands, which was a violation of the Church of England's teachings regarding marriage. As the titular head of the English Church, Edward was bound to abide by its rules.
Some accounts of the crisis have to offer an explainer on this, noting that at the time this was indeed taken seriously. Obviously, that is no longer the case, and I've seen citations claiming that in 1982 the C of E said "yeah, never mind about that bit." Indeed, the last half-century has seen the various Archbishops of Canterbury pretty much rewrite scripture to legitimize all forms of sexual license, most recently deciding that "trans" individuals can have a form of re-baptism.
This is of course deeply ironic, given the number of people killed to create and then solidify its place in English society five centuries ago. There are countless plays, movies and television adaptations that recreate the life and times of Henry VIII, most of them implicitly taking the position that Rome was wrong and his creation of the Church of England was an act of intellectual independence.
The truth is, it wasn't. Contemporary events prove that by every measure, the English Reformation was an unmitigated disaster, unleashing centuries of persecution and war. Henry's serial marriages did not produce a healthy, long-lived heir. His intrigues bankrupted England, his confiscation of the monasteries undermined the social safety net and severing ties with Rome exacerbated divisions within English society that have yet to fully heal. It's funny, but even at this late date, one still sees casual bigotry on the part of the English against Catholics.
I wrote at length about how "historian" Anthony Beevor included gratuitous and nonsensical anti-Catholic tropes in his book on the Spanish Civil War, outright saying that Spanish clergy were somehow intellectually incapable of any other occupation. English period films with Catholics almost always have a scene showing self-flagellation.
American culture has incorporated a certain level of anti-Catholicism, no doubt because of its Puritan roots. It's amusing to see people claim that the separation between church and state in the Constitution was somehow motivated by fear of the Catholic Church. In fact, it was caused by the persecutions the Puritans suffered at the hands of the Church of England.
What made the union of crown and altar so dangerous (and often deadly) was that it turned religious dissent into a form of treason. Movies about Henry (and especially Elizabeth I) tend to downplay this, but both monarchs put their subjects to exquisite tortures in order to compel absolute obedience. The Tudors didn't want intellectual freedom, they wanted control.
One could argue that all of this was part of God's plan, and that the martyrs created by Henry have in turn brought about many miracles and ultimately strengthened the faith. That may be so, but I think it is still essential to fully dismantle the myth that the English Reformation was anything other than a naked power grab of breathtaking scope that brought ruin and war.
And lots of drama, which is why people still recreate it on stage and screen.