Everyone knew there could not be a Queen of England alone on the throne. The last Queen Regnant of England was arguably Margaret the She Wolf of France or if you chose to disregard Margaret then Matilda of England. Both had periods of rule riddled with strife and open warfare. These were not pleasant memories for the people of England or their king Henry VIII
Henry had a big problem. He had just moved heaven and earth to get rid of one wife, Katherine of Aragon, because she had not given him an heir. The only child that survived their union was a living daughter, Mary. In desperation, Henry had put aside Katherine, sundering the fabric of English life in the process, and had taken as a new bride. Anne Boleyn had the promise in her dark eyes of many sons. She had only managed to give him a daughter and a miscarried son. This did not save her from the swordsman, and Anne Boleyn made way for Jane Seymour, who surely would give him a legitimate heir.
But what to do with the two girls? Henry had already made passed the First Act of Succession, which removed Mary from the succession in favor of her half sister Elizabeth. However, Henry was not about to leave England to another daughter. The Second Act of Succession was put in place and repealed the First Act of Succession. It made both girls illegitimate and removed from the line of succession. Anyone who said otherwise, would be charged with treason. Succession was granted only to the children of Henry’s new wife, Jane Seymour, and if she failed in her duty, any subsequent wives.
Since that left no legitimate heir to inherit the throne of England, it left a power vacuum that Henry sought to fill with the power to nominate his successor as he wished by his Will. This was unprecedented. Meddling with or impeding the ascension the heir that Henry nominated was high treason.
The Second Act of Succession also made treason saying that the King’s previous marriages to Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn were valid or that the
King’s new marriage to Jane Seymour was invalid. Ever sensitive, Henry also made it treason to criticize the execution of Thomas More for refusing to sign the oath for the First Act of Succession. A bit of an embarrassment now that Anne Boleyn had gone to the swordsman as well.
As with before, an Oath had to be signed to uphold the act. The hardest submission to this was by Mary. She had to sign an Oath that had to have burned her very soul. ‘I do freely [and] frankly….[ac]knowledge that the marriage, heretofore had between his Majesty, and my mother, the late Princess Dowager, was, by God’s law and Man’s law, incestuous and unlawful.’ With a pen stroke, she betrayed everything she stood for, and from the luxury of hindsight, I’m not sure she ever forgave herself.
The passing of the act did not affect her half sister as profoundly as at the time of its passage was only two years old. Its influence did reach her as she got older and she was affirmed time and again as a bastard.
The Third Act of Succession was passed much later to bring his daughters back into succession after their brother Edward, Jane Seymour’s son. However, Henry never gave up the the power granted him in the Second Act to nominate heirs through his Will. He used his Will as a whip to hold over his possible heirs and make them dance to his tune.