ENGLISH nobles threatened "extreme remedies" against the Roman Catholic Church unless the Pope annulled Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a letter contained in an exhibition of historic documents from the Vatican secret archives revealed yesterday.
The 3ft-wide parchment letter, complete with 81 wax seals and red silk ribbons, was one of the highlights of the exhibition, which chronicles more than 1,200 years of the Vatican's dealings with kings and conquerors.
The letter was sent on Henry VIII's orders to Pope Clement VII in 1530 and was signed by members of the English parliament, as well as bishops, abbots and the archbishops of York and Canterbury.
They urged the Pope to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine so that he could marry one of her ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, in the hope of producing a longed-for male heir.
"If the Pope is unwilling, we are left to find a remedy elsewhere. Some remedies are extreme, but a sick man seeks relief in any way he can find," the lords wrote in a barely veiled threat.
Henry had fallen in love with Boleyn in 1526 and was desperate for his marriage to Catherine to be annulled -- a struggle against the Vatican that he referred to as his "great matter".
Henry married Boleyn in 1533 but Clement VII declared the union invalid and five years later the king was excommunicated by Clement's successor, Paul III.
The confrontation led to a split with the Catholic Church and the start of the English reformation.
The elaborate letter was consigned to the secret archives, in a palazzo at the heart of the Vatican, but mysteriously went missing in the late 19th century. It was rediscovered in 1926 -- hidden in a small chest beneath a wooden chair.
One of the largest and most unusual documents in the exhibition, in Rome's Capitoline Museums, is a 180ft-long parchment scroll from the trials of the Knights Templar in Paris in 1309-1311.
It contains the depositions of 231 knights from the order of warrior monks, who were accused by the church and King Philip IV of France of heresy, idolatry and sodomy.
The latter charge was based on accusations of sexual "obscenities" during secret initiation rites.
More than 50 knights were executed and Pope Clement V dissolved the order by apostolic decree in 1312.
Many of the documents are written in ornate Latin script but there are other languages too, including Arabic, Persian and Chippewa -- the language of a Native American tribe that wrote to the Vatican on a piece of birch bark in the 19th century.
The collection also includes the world's oldest document written in Mongolian. (© Daily Telegraph, London)