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Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament

by John Patrick Coby

A royal divorce; a religious revolution; the beginnings of political modernity.

This game transforms students into English lords and commoners during the tumultuous years of 1529 to 1536. The king has summoned Parliament in the hope that it somehow will find the means to invalidate his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, thus freeing him to marry his new love, Lady Anne Boleyn. Matters of state also apply, because Henry has no male heir to carry on the Tudor line. But will Parliament be content with solving the king’s marital and dynastic problems? For some in Parliament wish to use the royal divorce to disempower the English church, to sever its ties to papal Rome, and to change it doctrinally from Catholicism to Lutheranism. Others, however, oppose the divorce, oppose secular supremacy and independence from Rome, and oppose this heretical creed filtering in from the continent. The king himself is ambivalent about the reformation unleashed by his divorce campaign, and so the conservatives are loosed to prosecute reformers as heretics, while the reformers are loosed to prosecute conservatives as traitors.

At issue in the game is the clash of four contending ideas: traditionalist Christianity, reformist Protestantism, Renaissance humanism, and Machiavellian statecraft. Depending on the outcome of this contest, the modern nation-state will, or will not, be born.



European History; Medieval History; Political Science and Government; Religion; Western Civ/History

16th Century; Early Modern Period

In a Few Words
Intense, devious, action-packed


Notable Roles

Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher

Themes and Issues  
Royal divorce, religious reformation, statecraft, political modernity

Player Interactions 
Factional, Competitive, Collaborative, Aggressive, Coalition-Building

Sample Class Titles
FYS, Reacting to the Past; Early Modern Political Theory

Published Level 5 game (what's that mean?

Money, Secret voting, Rolling Dice, Differentiated Voting, Name cards, poker chips, crown, gavel, bundle of sticks (faggot), scarf, and die.

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
This game is very demanding on the instructor, and is tightly structured but with many moving parts. Chaos abounds, but unseen controls keep the game on the rails.

Primary Source Highlights

Marsilius, Luther, More, Erasmus, Machiavelli

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability 
This game is recommended for classes with 12-28 students. Classes with more than 28 students will require doubling up students in the same role (with some instructions provided in the game materials).

Class Time  
For this game, 1 to 6 setup sessions and 5 to 13 game sessions are recommended. 

The full game is big (seven weeks, 13 game sessions), but shortened agendas and syllabi are provided for games of five weeks, four weeks, and three weeks.

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. Henry VIII may pair well with:

You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include traditional paper/research/thesis-driven writing. All roles are required to give formal speeches. 


Confirmed instructors who are not yet members can access basic instructor materials. Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading. 


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content. The Henry VIII Gamebook is published by the Reacting Consortium Press.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4755-5

EBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4756-2

Available wherever books are sold.

Role Sheets 

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

Updated Summer 2022. .docx file.

Updated Summer 2022. .docx file.

Instructor's Manual

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.   

Updated Summer 2022. .docx file.


John Patrick Coby

John Patrick Coby is the Esther Booth Wiley 1934 Professor of Government at Smith College in Massachusetts, where he teaches courses in political theory and American political thought. He is the author of six books and numerous journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews. Included among his books are Socrates and the Sophistic Enlightenment: A Commentary on Plato’s Protagoras; Machiavelli’s Romans: Liberty and Greatness in the Discourses on Livy; and, in the Reacting to the Past Series, The Constitutional Convention of 1787: Constructing the American Republic. At Smith he is the recipient of three teaching prizes: the Smith College Faculty Teaching Award, the Sherrerd Prize for Distinguished Teaching, and the Board of Trustees Honored Professor Award.


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


French Revolution
Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791

Wrestling with the Reformation: Augsburg, 1530

The Trial of Galileo: Aristotelianism, the "New Cosmology," and the Catholic Church, 1616-1633


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