Raphael, Mark, an Italian Jewish convert, flourished at Venice at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It is said that he was a rabbi before his conversion.[ 60] He was consulted by Henry VIII on the question of the legality, according to Jewish law, of his levirate marriage to Catharine of Braganza, and was invited by him to England. Raphael accordingly arrived in London on January 28, 1531 (Calendar of State Papers, Spanish, i. 335). He decided that such marriage was legal, but suggested that the King might take another wife conjointly with the first. Later, he reviewed his opinion by pointing to the object of levirate marriage, and contending that as no children had been the result of the union, the King must have married his brother’s widow without the intention of continuing his brother’s line, and consequently the marriage was illegitimate and invalid. We have here the picture of a man whose mind as a Jew was trained in rabbinic quibbles, and as a Romanist had learned to hold the doctrine of intention.
More details are available on this high-profile and contentious case that led to the emergence of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, the birth of Queen Elizabeth 1, and would alter the course of history significantly.
The various political influences at work rendered the legitimate satisfaction of Henry’s demands extremely difficult, if not unattainable. All the applications of Henry, fortified by the opinion of the majority of the universities of Europe, were without avail on the Pope, who supported his refusals by the Mosaic code, which positively enjoined such unions in certain circumstances. In the midst of the contention such a marriage took place among the Jews of Italy, and, having so direct an application to the state of affairs in England, it was duly reported to all the courts represented in Italy.
The favoured argument of Henry, one he developed himself, was lifted from the text of Leviticus 20:21, where Scripture says, “If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness, they shall be childless.” This argument had the benefit of pitting the Word of God against the power of the pope, a dichotomy that was gaining popularity in early sixteenth century exegesis as both the Protestant movement and humanist methodology, with its emphasis on a return to the original texts, gave an argument from the Scriptures a timely and controversial tone. It was the interpretation of this text that Henry submitted to all the universities and learned scholars of Europe, its popular appeal making it the equivalent of a Renaissance media frenzy. It was a clear text with its seemingly straightforward command that a brother shall not marry his brother’s wife and thus seemed the perfect argument with which to pursue the divorce from Catharine.
Henry and his advisers immediately saw the value of Jewish evidence and the necessity of supporting their case by rabbinic opinions. The views of learned Jews, professing and converted, were collected from all parts of the Continent, and from several of them written opinions obtained. Of these, that of Mark Raphael of Venice attracted most attention, and the author was personally invited to come to England. The opinion of Raphael was apparently considered of great weight, for strenuous efforts were made by the other party to the controversy to gain his adhesion. Not only was an office in the service of the Pope offered to Raphael, but an attempt was made to bribe his uncle, Father Francis, also a converted Jew, with a cardinal’s hat.
These efforts failing, an attempt, engineered by the Spanish ambassador at Rome, was made to waylay the uncle and nephew on their journey to England. This, however, also failed, and both arrived safely in London early in 1531. The case for the divorce was then placed in all its bearings before the learned Jew, who took some time to consider his decision. Raphael’s response was as follows :
“That the Queen’s marriage ought not to be disputed or dissolved, but, nevertheless, that the King may and can very well take another wife conjointly with his first. Although the King’s marriage with the widow of his brother was a true and legitimate act, yet he does not style himself properly husband of the Queen, inasmuch as according to (Jewish) law the posterity issuing from such a union is ascribed to the first husband; and as it would be unreasonable that, in order to preserve the name and race of the deceased, the survivor should be prevented from having posterity of his own and bearing his name, the Law allows him to take another wife.”
Henry was not altogether satisfied with this decision, and told Raphael that he must devise some other means of getting him out of his difficulty. Raphael thereupon set to work again, and gave the following revised response: “It is allowable for a man to take to wife the widow of his brother, provided he do it out of his own desire and will, and with the direct intention of procuring descent to his brother’s line. Without such marked intention the marriage is forbidden by Divine Law. God said so by the mouth of Moses, and cast His malediction on all those who married without such an intention, for if they did so marry, no generation could spring forth from them, and if any it could not last long.”
Raphael deduced from the absence of any surviving male heir to Henry and Catherine that Henry could not have married with the above express intention, “and consequently his marriage is illegitimate and invalid.” Raphael retained the favour of Henry. He was attached to the court, and received many presents and favours.
Prayer: Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21). Lord, you alone know our hearts and minds, and your purposes alone will prevail. We know so little about Mark Raphael. He had just a walk-on part at this important moment in history, and in Henry VIII’s personal life. Help us to play our part in your purposes, wherever we may may be, and whatever you may call us to do, with faithfulness to your Word, integrity of character, and right judgment. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
The Canon Law of the Henry VIII Divorce Case by Phillip Campbell A Senior Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the Social Studies Department of Madonna University, Livonia, MI. Presented June 14th, 2009
RAPHAEL, MARK: (Jewish Encyclopedia)
Italian convert to Christianity; flourished at Venice at the beginning of the sixteenth century. He was a halakist of some repute, and it was said that he was a “chief rabbi” before his conversion. He was consulted by Henry VIII. on the question of the legality, according to Jewish law, of his levirate marriage to Catharine of Braganza, and was invited by him to England. Raphael accordingly arrived in London on Jan. 28, 1531 (“Calendar of State Papers, Spanish,” i. 335). He decided that such a marriage was legal, but suggested that the king might take another wife conjointly with the first. This advice not being acceptable, Raphael revised his opinion by pointing to the object of levirate marriage, and contending that as no children had been the result of the union, the king must have married his brother’s widow without the intention of continuing his brother’s line, and that consequently his marriage was illegitimate and invalid. His opinion was included in the collection presented to Parliament, and Raphael was rewarded in many ways; among others, he was granted a license to import six hundred tons of Gascon and two woads in 1532 (Gardner, “Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.” v. 485).
- Wolf, in Papers of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, p. 63;
- Kaufmann, in R. E. J. xxvii. 52, xxx. 310.