Martin Luther

On this day in history, 3rd January 1521, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem excommunicating Reformer, German priest and professor of theology Martin Luther from the Catholic Church.

The Pope had asked Luther to retract his Ninety-Five Theses (full name: The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences or Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum), which Luther had published in 1517, but Luther refused. Luther was then called by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, to renounce or defend his religious stance at the Diet of Worms. He did not back down and Charles V issued the Edict of Worms on 25th May 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw and heretic:-

“For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, where upon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work.”

Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses

You can read the English translation of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses from Project Wittenberg – click here – but, in short, Luther was

  • Attacking the sale of indulgences and the fact that Christians were being led to believe that the purchase of indulgences would give them absolution when salvation was actually available free through Christ, by faith and repentance
  • Explaining true repentance – That it should be a way of life, rather than something that could be earned by confessing to a priest
  • Explaining that the Pope could not remit any guilt and that his powers were limited
  • Declaring that the penitential canons of Church applied only to the living and could not be extended into purgatory
  • Declaring that it was better to give to the poor and needy than to spend money on indulgences which could not give salvation
  • Explaining that salvation could only be obtained from God himself by true repentance
  • Stating that “St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor” and that “the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure”
  • Declaring that the true treasure of the Church was the Holy Gospel of God
  • Explaining that indulgences were against Christ’s teaching which said that the first shall be last
  • Stating that papal pardons “are not able to remove the very least of venial sins”
  • Declaring that it was blasphemous to consider the cross with papal arms on it as of equal worth of Christ’s cross
  • Declaring that money should not be wasted on prayers for the dead when they don’t need them
  • Asking why the wealthy Pope did not use his own money to build his Church rather than that of poor believers
  • Asking the Pope to reply to his points

Martin Luther is viewed as the main catalyst of the Reformation because his writings, which included The 95 Theses, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, On the Freedom of a Christian and On the Bondage of the Will, were circulated widely around Europe and had a major impact. He is known for his doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith”, the idea that salvation and redemption were only attainable through faith in Christ and by God’s grace. Luther said “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification, is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”

Anne Boleyn – More Lutheran than Luther Himself?

Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, described the Boleyns as “More Lutheran than Luther himself” but to say that Anne Boleyn was Lutheran is not at all accurate. As Eric Ives points out “Anne’s particular religious affinity was…with the Christian humanists of France”, with men like the reformer Jacques Lefevre, and that her religious stance was “reformist, Bible-based, humanist, francophile, committed”. It would be more accurate to describe her beliefs as ‘evangelical’ rather than ‘Lutheran’ or ‘Protestant’ and Ives explains that “Her attitude would be characteristic of all shades of English evangelical reform for at least a decade more: real spiritual experience, yes; the priority of faith, yes; access to the Bible, yes; reform of abuses and superstition, yes; but heretical views on the miracle of the altar, no.”

Her support of the ‘New Religion’ can be seen in:-

  • Her links with and support of known reformers like Edward Fox, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Shaxton and William Betts
  • Her books – Out of the 9 books that we know Anne owned, 7 are religious and 6 are reformist in nature
  • Her choice of Nicolas Bourbon, a French reformer and scholar, as tutor for her ward Henry Carey
  • Her links with Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” with its religious symbolism and messages
  • The way she insisted that Henry VIII should read Tyndale’s “The Obedience of a Christian Man”
  • Her influence in the elections of reformist bishops
  • Her patronage and use of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible and the way she encouraged her ladies to read it
  • The way she rescued reformist ‘refugees’ like Nicolas Bourbon
  • Her relationships with Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer
  • Her family’s links with Continental Reformers
  • Her close relationship with her brother, George, who was a zealous reformer

but it is just not possible to described her as Protestant or Lutheran when the English Reformation was in its infancy. Had she survived the coup of 1536 then I am sure that Anne’s beliefs would have developed into what we would call a Protestant.

You can read in detail about Anne Boleyn’s religious beliefs in the following posts:-

and my next talk for The Anne Boleyn Fellowship, which takes place on the 26th January, is on The Boleyns and Religion. See for more information on The Anne Boleyn Fellowship.

Notes and Sources

  • Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences by Dr. Martin Luther, 1517, Project Wittenberg
  • Martin Luther, Wikipedia page
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, Chapters 18 and 19
  • Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation in England, Eric Ives
  • A Frenchman at the Court of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives

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15 thoughts on “Martin Luther and Anne Boleyn”
  1. Claire,

    Happy belated New Year.
    I just want to thank you for all of the hard work and research that you put into this site. I realize that all history is taught through the interpretation of the teachers and a lot of it is taught through the filter of the times. But you seemed determined to bring your readers this small piece of history no matter where it takes you and them. If you “suddenly” discovered a long-lost diary of one of the particulars that (after proving to be genuine) gave information contrary to your beliefs, I think you would present it, honestly. That is refreshing-it shows that you seem not to be held to doctrine. Since discovering this site (two yrs, now), I have read as much as I can about Anne B. from current authors and am now finding writings from previous decades to study and compare. Sometmes the hunt is as much fun as the discovery.
    So than you, again (and your husband for supporting you in your endeavors) and I look forward to more information from this site in the New Year.

    1. Happy New Year to you too and thank you for your very kind words! You’re right in saying that if I did discover that Anne was guilty in some way that I would share it. As much as I am fascinated with her, I certainly don’¡t put her on a pedestal and really don’t like the way that some paint her as a martyr or some kind of feminist icon, that’s not the Anne I believe in. She had her flaws and that makes her all the more human and fascinating in my opinion.

      It is very interesting reading what others from other times have thought of Anne so have fun doing that.

      Thanks again for your New Year wishes and thanks for your support xx

      1. Claire,So good to here you again Happy New Yearto you and yours.I agree with your believes on Anne, we all have our flaws, can’t change what the good Lord gave us,all in all I think Anne was put in a situation that she was forced to be. I tier of people thinking she was this selfserveing women,thats not the case. When will the book be done?? Will it be leather bound?? Warmest Regards This New Year

        1. Happy New Year to you, Baroness! I’m tweaking the book proposal for the agent at the moment and when he’s 100% happy with it he will take it to the publishers he has in mind. Once I get a contract – fingers and toes crossed! – I’ll start writing it so there’s still some way to go. The research and planning is done but the book is not. It won’t be leather bound.

  2. Claire, I second RX Phan in wishing you a belated Happy New Year and thanking you for this site!

    I rather wonder if Chapuys’ label of “More Lutheran than Luther himself” could have come from his desire to slander her as much as possible, especially since Charles V condemned Luther as he did. Chapuys HAD to know the difference between what Professor Ives calls the “reformist, Bible-based, humanist, francophile, committed” and the Lutheran sects. Unless he was lumping ALL of the reformist groups together into one heretical stew.

    Of course, considering the fierce rivalry between the Spanish and the French, it is should not be surprising that Chapuys disliked the French educated and cultured Anne as thoroughly as he did, even leaving out his devotion to Katharine of Aragon and Princess (The Lady) Mary. Had an Englishwoman, or even a Spaniard, with no connections to the Continental powers, particularly the French, “come between” Henry and Katharine, I wonder if Chapuys would have been so venomous toward her.

    1. Thank you, happy new year to you too!
      I wonder if the comment came as a result of Chapuys’s annoyance with the fact that whenever he was entertained by George Boleyn George always turned the conversation round to religion and, yes, you’re probably correct in saying that he lumped anyone with the slightest reformist view into one heretical group.

  3. Anne’s religious views may have changed but I don’t think that she would have reached a stage where she would be what we would call a protestant. Anne’s daughter Elizabeth never became one despite being Queen of a country that was much more open to reformist practice. Many of her court were far more radical than she was and often urged her to give up the more traditional trappings and customs of the state religion. Since Luther and the many of the germans didn’t support Henry’s annulment from Catherine this would have made Anne even less likely to embrace their faith.

  4. Wish there was an e-mail link on this page, not everyone is on Facebook. Enjoy all of these articles. I have always been an Anne Boleyn admirer and thought she never deserved the lies told about her so Henry could kill her.. I hope Henry had nightmares about Anne after he killed her.

  5. Happy New Year Claire and looking forward to another great year with the group.

    Thanks so much for this posting on Martin Luther as well as Anne’s beliefs. I think for the longest, as I’ve read one Tudor author after another, yes, you would think that Anne was a devout Lutheran, when — as you so aptly put it — the Protestant/Reformer movement was still only in its’ infancy. (Luther nailed the Thesis to the doors in 1517 and that was roughly 10 years or thereabouts before the King’s Great Matter kicked into full steam and I’m guessing Anne became more influential. That’s not a lot of time). In fact, I remember reading in one Tudor book that Anne “converted” from her Lutheran beliefs to Catholicism prior to her execution, which I thought odd since I was given the impression (from the same book) that Catholicism had been banned in England. I’m so thankful that in reading your commentary, I’ve been educated on a subject I thought I knew quite well.

    Every time I read one of Chapuys’ comments about Anne, I chuckle. I admire both Katherine and Anne and understand (or try to) their reasons for what they did; not putting either on a pedestal but trying to imagine the thinking of their age, their upbringing, etc. But Chapuys is often like a 16th century National Enquirer/Sun correspondent: there may be a bit of truth somewhere in there, but sometimes it seems like juicy gossip and biased opinions, and of course he WAS the Spanish ambassador. Years ago when I first started reading about the Tudors, I thought him reliable. Now, well, maybe not so much.

    Anyway, I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us Claire. It seems like the subject is still ripe for conversation, even after all these centuries.

  6. I second what RXPhan said–love your approach, as well you know! And Tim’s contributions, too. I’ll miss the webtalk on the 26th as I’ll be doing a reading but will get it ASAP from the Fellowship page. Looking forward to it, as usual. A question for it–do you think George’s (and Anne’s) liberal leanings contributed to their downfall, even though Cromwell was an evangelical, too? I think Anne was more liberal than Henry in this regard. And he did’nt like women to be opinionated–at least not in later life (ie, Catherine Parr) Just wondered.
    Good luck with the book propsal–I can’t imagine anyone turning it down! 🙂

  7. Yes, and Luther was under the protection of Frederick, Duke of Saxony, which ultimately ended up in 1530 with “The Augsburg Confession.” These 28 beliefs are still at the heart of the Lutheran Church today. Thank goodness for Gutenburg (sp?) and his invention of the printing press in 1456, otherwise history would have turned out much differently, as one can imagine.

    What a great piece, Claire! Thank you! WilesWales

  8. Great website! This has been such a help.
    I’m wondering what you think about Anne being involved in the translation of the Bible to King James?

  9. Hey! Just wanted to say thank you for helping me out so much on my school project. I’m a sophmore in high school, and we’re doing a mock Martin Luther trial. I’m supposed to play the part of Anne Boleyn as a defense witness, and I had no idea what to do until I came upon this website. Great job. 😀

  10. Just read this post too as a result of yesterday’s post. Fantastic, thankyou again Claire 🙂 What an intense journey she had but amazing yet 🙂 PS Mark Boleyn who would put the ‘much cleaner’ versions of The Tudors wives stories up on youtube, his videos have recently been taken out, due to copyright laws :/ But yes, no way does The Tudors focus on Anne Boleyn’s passion for Christianity. I am still blown away that it included Anne Boleyn and her brother in allowing the Bible to be translated into English so that everyone may have access to it.

  11. wow! i remember reading that pope innocent iii first sold indulgences as a way to help fund the fourth crusade. my old hist prof. claims that the pilgrims who believed in predestination (some were going into heaven and some weren’t despite doing everything deemed by their prudish society as moral) used that as a justification for the extermination of the native americans. “if i’m not going into heaven,THOSE people certainly aren’t.” that could explain why in south america, mexico, central america, ect’s population’s composed of mostly mestizos (mixed ancestry between indigenous and european) and many are indigenious. in the us, there are far fewer and 25% live in poverty. wikipedia says 52m indigenous exist and only 2.9m in the us.

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