Funny enough, while the pope story is a fish tale, an official leader of a church did make fish fasting the law for purely practical reasons. For that story — and the lust our headline promised — we turn to a monarch known for his carnal cravings: Henry VIII.
By the time Henry ascended the throne in 1509, fish dominated the menu for a good part of the year. As one 15th century English schoolboy lamented in his notebook: “Though wyll not beleve how werey I am off fysshe, and how moch I desir to that flesch were cum in ageyn.”
But after Henry became smitten with Anne Boleyn, English fish-eating took a nosedive.
You see, Henry was desperate with desire for Anne — but Anne wanted a wedding ring. The problem was, Henry already had a wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the pope refused to annul that decades’ long marriage. So Henry broke off from the Roman Catholic Church, declared himself the head of the Church of England and divorced Catherine so he could marry Anne.
Suddenly, eating fish became political. Fish was seen as a ” ‘popish flesh’ that lost favour as fast as Anglicism took root,” as Kate Colquhoun recounts in her book Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking.
Fishermen were hurting. So much so that when Henry’s young son, Edward VI, took over in 1547, fast days were reinstated by law — “for worldly and civil policy, to spare flesh, and use fish, for the benefit of the commonwealth, where many be fishers, and use the trade of living.” –NPR, “Lust, lies and empire: The fishy tale behind eating fish on Friday”