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Anne Boleyn, William Tyndale and Henry VIII

Posted By on October 2, 2013

William TyndaleThe 2nd October 1528 saw the publication of English reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale’s “The Obedience of the Christian Man” (full title: “The Obedience of a Christen man, and how Christen rulers ought to govern, wherein also (if thou mark diligently) thou shalt find eyes to perceive the crafty convience of all jugglers”) in Antwerp. What has this book got to do with Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII? Well, it is thought to be the text that helped Henry VIII to realise that Kings were accountable only to God, and not to the Pope.

George Wyatt, grandson of Thomas Wyatt the Poet, and 17th century clergyman and historian John Strype tell the same story to explain how this heretical book found its way into the hands of King Henry VIII. According to them, in around 1529 Anne Boleyn lent Anne Gainsford, one of her ladies, Tyndale’s “Obedience” to read. Anne Gainsford’s suitor, George Zouch, “plucked” it from his sweetheart and then it got taken off him by Dr Sampson, Dean of the Chapel Royal, who saw Zouch reading it in the chapel.

Sampson, along with other clergyman, had been commanded by Cardinal Wolsey to keep an eye out for heretical books, so he took the book straight to Wolsey. In the meantime, Anne Boleyn had asked her lady if she could have the book back. Her lady was distraught that she could not give the book back to her mistress, but Anne was not angry or upset, she simply commented, “Well, it shall be the dearest Book that ever the Dean or Cardinal took away.” Anne then went to the King to ask him to intervene with Wolsey to get the book returned. When the book was returned to her, Anne took it to the King and “besought his Grace most tenderly to read it.” Wyatt writes of how she had marked matters “worthy of the King’s knowledge” with her fingernail and Strype describes how the King was “delighted” with the book and remarked that “This Book is for me and all Kings to read.”

Strype goes on to say:

“And in a little Time the King by the Help of this virtuous Lady, by the Means aforefaid, had his Eyes opened to the Truth, to search the Truth , to advance God’s Religion and Glory, to abhor the Pope’s Doctrine, his Lies, his Pomp and Pride, to deliver his Subjects out of the Egyptian Darkness, the Babylonian Bonds, that the Pope had brought him and his Subjects under. And so contemning the Threats of all the World, the Power of Princes, Rebellions of his Subjects at Home, and the raging of so many and mighty Potentates abroad; set forward a Reformation in Religion, beginning with the Triple Crowned Head at first, and so came down to the Members, Bishops, Abbots, Priors, and such like.”

Although Tyndale ended up being executed as a heretic during Henry VIII’s reign, his book was instrumental in helping Henry VIII see how he could have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, while also limiting the power of the papacy in England. The steps Henry VIII took as a result of reading “Obedience” sparked off the English Reformation. However, Tyndale’s message regarding how “God has appointed the kings, princes, and other secular leaders as his representatives on earth” – and kings, therefore, being the highest authority in the land – and his challenge of the Pope’s ” temporal authority over king and emperor” was just one small part of the book. Other subjects include:

  • The supremacy of God’s word over everything else
  • The importance of God’s word being made available to the laity in English
  • The importance of teaching scripture rather than focusing on ecclesiastical law
  • Instructions for how to live and what “obedience” means in daily life
  • The abuses of the Church

If you want to read what Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII read, then you can read Tyndale’s book online – click here. Anne Boleyn also owned a copy of William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament, which can still be purchased at bookstores today. You can read more about Tyndale in my article The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England: A Review and Rundown.

Notes and Sources

  • Wyatt, George. The Life of Anne Boleigne. This appears in The Life of Cardinal Wolsey: Volume II by George Cavendish.
  • Strype, John (1721). Ecclesiastical memorials relating chiefly to religion and the reformation of it, and the emergencies of the Church of England, under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary the First, Volume I, p112-113. This can be read at http://archive.org/stream/ecclesiastical01stry#page/n141/mode/2up
  • Tyndale, William (1528) The Obedience of a Christian Man
  • The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England, BBC documentary presented by Melvyn Bragg and aired in June 2013

21 thoughts on “Anne Boleyn, William Tyndale and Henry VIII”

  1. Sonetka says:

    An impressive character — not least because he appears to have been totally incapable of flattery (exhibit A being his telling Henry to put away Anne and go back to Catherine!)

  2. miladyblue says:

    Can anyone explain WHY, exactly, it was considered “sinful” to have the Bible printed in the native language of the people in the area? I know this was a HUGE issue during the Reformation, but I have never seen a coherent explanation as to why it would be such a problem.

    After all, how would you be able to truly lead the regular folk on the righteous path (or however you want to express it) if they can’t understand what is being said. Most folks did not read, write, speak or even understand Latin during the Medieval period.

    1. Claire says:

      It was believed that only priests could interpret the Bible for their “flock”, that they had the education and responsibility (plus the help of the Holy Spirit) etc. to understand the Word of God and therefore share it with the people. During the Reformation this idea was challenged by those who believed that the Holy Spirit allowed everyone to understand and interpret God’s Word for themselves. Obviously, there was the whole issue of literacy anyway, with many of the population not knowing how to read and so finding it very useful to have the Bible shared with them by a priest.
      Reformers like Tyndale were the first to produce Bibles in the vernacular for the masses, but the Catholic Church had done it in the past, e.g. St Jerome translating the Bible into Latin when Latin was the language used.

      1. miladyblue says:

        THANK YOU CLAIRE, for clarifying (oh, dear, a pun?) this so well for me!

        LOL, I kind of wonder if Protestant clergy are all that thrilled NOW with the advent of literacy, and the Bible written in the language of the people reading it. I spent 6 years in church school (Lutheran) and I know I gave more than one pastor migraines, arguing about what Jesus REALLY meant when He said whatever it was we were discussing in religion classes.

        I take comfort in the fact that none of those pastors had (or will ever have) the power to burn me at the stake, or turn me in to the King’s justice to be beheaded, like Anne and her co-defendants.

    2. Harry says:

      Presenting the Word of God in people’s native language, as was eventually done in England, provided for those people who were lieterate a knowledge to teach, read and inwardly digest (Book of Common Prayer) and even question the papal interpretation of such. It also provided a good source for those wanting to learn to read. The Papacy did not want the Bible to be re-interpreted knowing it would severely effect thier power to control the masses (people). The powers in Rome knew that once questioning began into thier interpretation of God’s Holy Word, they were afraid they would be able to provide suitable answers (since Rome had been abusing its power via ex-cathedra) Rome knew things would never be the same and they were right, they never again would be.

    3. dbr says:

      Totally for power. The catholics did not want the people to learn they were being taught to worship roman gods, which is why the catholics murdered all christians, because they would lose the money, castles, silks, women, slaves, and gold they got from constatine giving them their power start. Constatine took a set of violent apostates to the mountain and said I will give you this if you worship me and they said hell yes.
      Also didnt want the people turning into christians or to see how wrong the way the catholics leaders were living and how much stuff they were making up for more control money and power.
      Information equals freedom and so slave masters hate education

      1. Kathleen D says:

        I’m not sure what you are saying here dbr, as Catholics ARE Christians.

  3. BanditQueen says:

    I have not read Tyndale’s book but am aware of some of its contents. To be honest the only reasons that I believe Henry even read it was that he was curious as to what his arguments with the papacy where; that Anne said it had something that he would find useful in it and that he was looking for arguments that supported his own need for the divorce and now for the supremacy. It led him to see that he could be the replacement for the papal authority and emperor in his own land and increase his own power. Henry also was a skilled theologian and enjoyed religious debate; this book played to that need for debate and curious need to find out the opinions of others. It also played to the scholar in Henry and enabled him to find an argument that would further his own view of the divorce and reform in England. He did not agree with much of the book I would think but he certainly took from him what he needed to convince him how and to throw of papal authority in England.

  4. TudorRose says:

    T’was a special book. Still is today. The “Reformation” book. This was just one of the many a things that shaped as well as changed a nation after the break with Rome.

  5. Dorika says:

    I suspect Henry was interested in Tyndale’s arguments about the authority of the pope and kings, that is why he read the book. King Henry became like a pope to his own people.
    Catholics had their own version of supremacy and who should be the head of the church which was for them the Pope. While Protestants had their own version and for them a ruler or king can have the supremacy and be head of the church.
    However, the truth is in the Bible
    Ephesians 5:22-24
    Wives be subjects to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself been the savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also should the wives to their husbands.
    Ephesian 1:22
    And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.
    Colossians 1:17-18
    He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.
    There are a lot of verses in the Bible about who should be head and who should hold the supremacy title, that is Jesus Christ.
    We people are all sinners and are answerable to God not a Pope or King.
    GOD BLESS.

  6. When Jesus told them to proclaim the gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth, I am sure that he meant that they were to do it in the language of the people they were proclaiming it to. The problem that the church saw, and worried about, is that, as Henry said, “every herdsman and shepherd is now reading the bible,” and they then decide what it means. Now we have 225,000 denominations. Jesus was the head of the church, the firstborn, but He prayed, before He died, “that they may be one, Father, as I in thee and thou in me, that they may be one iin us. He prayed for Christian unity, and that they might be known for their love for one another. All the killing, in the name of Christ, is anathema to Him, I would think. God is love. I think that God likes diversity because He created a lot of it, but not hatred of other people. Paul says that there one body, the body of Christ. The eyes don’t need to be in one church, the ears in the other, the knee in a third, and the foot in a fourth. All of this division weakens the strength of the body of Christ. We need to be one body, with many ministries, and many callings, but one Lord.

  7. BanditQueen says:

    I find it very interesting that with the rise of Anne Boleyn. Tyndale finds some form of protection and even favour back in England and his book makes its way into the royal library and the royal bedroom. In 1526 his Bible is published and finds its way to the royal court when Anne married Henry VIII, albeit under the name of Matthews Bible. With Coverdale, Tyndale has his New Testament brought into England and it finds an outlet at the royal household of Anne Boleyn. Anne is meant to have kept a copy of his New Testament in her household for all to read. There is also some debate about Tyndale in the next couple of years. It is also an interesting co-incidence or is it God incidence that the fall and hunt down for Tyndale happens in 1536 after the death and fall of Anne Boleyn. Are the two things linked?

    Did Tyndale have some degree of protection from persecution while Anne was in the ascendancy and Cranmer and Cromwell in favour of his Bible being allowed into England and was this lost when Henry turned from Anne Boleyn? It is a very strange thing that almost as soon as Anne is arrested and within a few months in 1536 that Tyndale is betrayed by a fellow Englishman that he trusted with his secrets and had taken into his confidence. It is after the fall of Ann that Tyndale that England co-operates in the hunting and the arrest and of course trial and execution of Tyndale in October 1536. Henry suddenly loses all interest in Tyndale as a useful person and author and gives orders for him to be hunted down as an enemy and tried for heresy. His books are burnt and his Bible is no longer an acceptable thing to have in England. Within 5 months of the death of Anne Boleyn William Tyndale was arrested in Belgium and executed after a trial for heresy. Yes, I find it very interesting and feel that he lost a patron in Anne and his protection from being hunted down and executed.

    The Bible did live on although of course in a different guise. Under the fake name of Matthews and with the help of someone called Coverdale the Bible was published because Thomas Cromwell took an interest in having an official Bible in English published. He made a case to King Henry and the part translation of Tyndale was absorbed into the Great Bible published in 1539. So the life of Tyndale and his work was not all in vain afterall. The Bible of course was not available to all as it would have been abused. 8000 were printed for the parish churches and others were limited to certain educated people. Rules were tightened as it was being misused in the tavens and inns and not treated with respect; was being argued over and the reasons it was held back in the first place came true. Women could only own one if they were over 30 and of the gentle classes; the working class could not own one, and only the educated classes could buy one. The King wanted uniformity and unity and that included the way the Bible was written and used.

    It has never been officially illegal to publish the Bible in English. That is a mistake many people make. It was not allowed to publish willy nilly without license and permission and all versions had to have inspections to make sure they did not harbour heretical errors. This was what the church authoriteis feared; it being misused. There were actually many Bibles in private use in English and there were chained Bibles for instruction as well as to enable translation into Latin so as people could understand it. In addition people were not going mad to have the Bible in English in 1526 as most people were not interested in it being read in the first place. The priest would interpret the Bible for them and most people were happy with this traditional way of doing things. When Tyndale asked about the permission to translate the Bible he was refused on the basis that he would introduce errors and this was correct as Tyndale was a heretic and his beliefs were against the church and the sacraments. But he could have gone to a higher authority to ask for leave to publish and to translate and may have been given it as long as it was within the University. in the University the Bible was debated and translated and so were many other books and academic classics by scholars who also enjoyed royal favour. Unfortunately for Tyndale Cuthbert Tunsdale was not in favour of him and he also made an enemy of Thomas More for many reasons. It was not a good start. He was fortunate that he was able to go abroad and make his translation and that he found favour in the Court through Anne Boleyn’s family and friends. He was also fortunate that Henry VIII had his own agenda for life and wanted texts to put his own case for the divorce and his new monarchy. Tyndale’s books did this and he found himself a patron at the English court. He was unfortunate that Anne then after her failure to provide a son and heir fell from favour with her family and he lost his royal support. His own demise and that of his books followed after this.

    1. The Romish Church had so many heresies and beliefs contrary to the Bible that it was NOT in their interest for the Bible to be made available to the people. Matthews, Coverdale and the Great Bible where not coverups. Rogers published under the pseudonym Matthews and was a worker with Tyndale as was Myles Coverdale. The Great Bible was sanctioned by Henry VIII and he ordered it placed on every pulpit (Tyndale had prayed for this) Bible translation culminated in the production of the King James Bible translated by genuine Christians working under conviction. (modern translations are based on Egyptian and Romish texts by academics claiming age as the qualifying feature rather than witness.) I hold that Henry only had confidence to overthrow Papal power by virtue of the fact that so many Englishman had believed Christ at the preaching initiated by John Wyclif and his Lollards in 1360’s. Otherwise Henry’s throne being tenuous following the Wars of the Roses ended by his father Henry VII. England supported the change. Quote of Cardinal Wolsey “every fifth man in England is a Lollard”

      1. Banditqueen says:

        The Catholic Church was not contrary to scripture and the King James was based on the best Greek and Hebrew texts available at the time. However, it also incorporated much of the earlier English Bibles including the Coverdale/Matthew which are actually the same thing and flawed as they emphasised Tyndale’s own interpretation as well as translation. Sixteen scholars prepared the King James and went back to the sources. Although a lot of Tyndale was retained, it was also revised and corrected. By the way they also incorporated the Catholic English versions published before the King James. Ironically the King James came about because James vi and I didn’t like the Geneva Bible as the notes emphasised disobedience to Kings who were Tyrants.

        The Great Bible was the real achievement of the 1530s but even then Henry had to restrict it’s use afterwards due to its misuse which was what the Church said would happen in the first place. The Church didn’t forbid the translation of the Bible into other languages, it forbade heretical translations. Bibles were actually available for private devotion and to teach in schools. More people understood Latin than some modern scholars admit. Modern translations are better because they have come from older and more accurate texts discovered since 1611 and as the Bible wasn’t written in sixteenth century English, it’s wrong to force people to read it today in that style of English. The King James is riddled with errors which was why it was corrected. It was actually corrected over and over very soon after it was issued. We have better translations but the language of the old Bibles cannot be matched for beauty and poetry. However, numerous people prefer more modern translations and if someone understands better then why shouldn’t they use which one they are comfortable with? Yes, the Great Bible and it’s successors are a great achievement, but that doesn’t mean they were perfect. Scholars have shown that they are not perfect and I have studied these texts for decades so I understand the history and the debate very well.

        The most interesting thing about the arrest of Tyndale is not how or that it happened but that his fall and lack of freedom comes in parallel to the decline and then the fall of Anne Boleyn. Although not a Lutheran, Anne was interested in reform, she was interested in theology and she was influenced by the French Evangelicals. She owned, as did many people from her class, a French Bible, but also two Books of Hours and she still followed much of the sacramental life of the Church. She knew people who could bring books from the Continent and she was indirectly involved in the illegal trade of heretical books. Tyndale disapproved of Henry’s annulment as being contrary to scripture, writing a treatise against it and after the execution of Anne Boleyn Henry sent his agents into the Holy Roman Empire to capture, imprison and eventually hand him over for execution. Obviously nobody should have been executed for this, but it is interesting it was after the fall of Anne Boleyn that it happened.

    2. Guy says:

      William Tyndale’s work is of the greatest significance to English history. 85% of the KJV Bible is his work. The Great Bible, possibly 92% of his work – unified the English Language considerably more than did Shakespeare. A fact that our entertainment culture overlooks. He is without doubt a great Christian man, an outstanding scholar of Greek, Hebrew and English. His contribution to England should have him placed among the ‘greats’ of our history.

  8. This book of Tyndale was read about 1500 years from the Jubilee of Jesus at Luke 4′ 1529-29=1500!
    For the literate population it was symbolic of a release from Catholic domination and a new beginning of Christian education.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Nonsense. Catholic Christianity introduced education to ordinary people in the first place and built schools in order to do just that. The Catholic Church was effective at every level of society and the majority of people believed in her teaching and didn’t want to be “liberated” or have the Reformation forced on them as it was here. Many ordinary people were actually literate and it’s a complete myth that they weren’t.

  9. 1500 years from.Jesus Jubilee.of 29 C.E..at Luke 4

  10. Banditqueen says:

    Thanks for the link. I think it is important to read these texts even if you don’t agree with the use or misuse of them to understand the author better. Anne Boleyn may have been a patron of William Tyndale and Henry Viii obviously found this book supportive of the cause for an independent English kingship and Church, but it is very ironic that Tyndale also disapproved of his divorce and wrote so. I will have a good read of the main sources. Cheers and thanks for a tremendous article.

  11. Maryann Pitman says:

    For many centuries, very few could read and/or write. Keeping the Mass in Latin, meant that wherever Mass was celebrated, one heard the same thing. Universality mattered to the Church. Keeping the Bible in Latin meant universality as well. It also meant less dissension as more people became literate. Translations would have to be vetted for error, and the more translations, the greater effort required. Rome may well have feared translations which could be well off the mark. The advent of the printing press meant that works critical of Rome were bound to proliferate, and schism became inevitable. The Popes, like any other power, sought to pass on their successors, a wholly united kingdom-in this case, of souls. While they certainly did wrong, they did so in the belief they were doing right. And I see, despite the passage of centuries, that tolerance is still in rather short supply.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      May I ask on what evidence do you say very few people could read and write? Many people may not have been able to get to grips with the more scholarly texts, but it is a myth that most people could not read and write. Education at a general level was available in every parish and there are texts that have been found in the poorer areas which were made by ordinary people. Why does this myth still exist?

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