HENRY VIII may have been painted as a monster of history, but his break with Rome had more to do with Papal politics than his own lustful loins, according to a North- East historian.

Dr Catherine Fletcher, from Durham University, makes the claim in a new book, the first major account of Henry’s “Great Matter” in 40 years, based on her rediscovery of key diplomatic files that have lain forgotten for centuries.

Following a chance meeting during an Italian research trip, Dr Fletcher gained unprecedented access to hundreds of historic documents held by descendants of Gregorio Casali, Henry’s ambassador to Rome.

The book reveals England’s break from the Roman Catholic Church, following Henry’s divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was more about Pope Clement VII’s personal loyalties than his moral convictions.

Dr Fletcher said: “Henry spends two or more years having very serious negotiations with Rome, until it becomes apparent the Pope is going to side with Catherine – for reasons of his own family interests.

“Clement isn’t turning Henry down on some major religious principle. The Pope was a Renaissance monarch.

If Henry had had an army on the ground, it might have been very different.

“It’s made me think a very different way about Henry.

From Rome, you don’t see a Tudor tyrant. You see a midranking northern monarch.

Sometimes he has influence, often he doesn’t.

“Henry didn’t want to break with Rome. He resisted it for a long time.

“I’ve been able to show that the typical story of Henry’s divorce: that he got bored with his elderly Catholic wife and fancied this younger woman, Anne Boleyn, and so broke with Rome on some flight of fancy – it’s not as simple as that. It wasn’t just some sexual whim.”

Casali was England’s ambassador to Rome from 1525 to 1533. His descendants live around Piacenza, northern Italy.

Dr Fletcher’s book, Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador, is available now, published by Bodley Head, priced £20.