William Tyndale, Anne Boleyn and a book for “all Kings to read”

I’m so sorry that I haven’t been around much recently, life has just got in the way!

I just wanted to share with you my latest “On this day in Tudor history” video, which is based on an article I wrote on this very site a few years ago, because it is about a book that Anne Boleyn owned, a text that she ended up sharing with King Henry VIII.

I do these talks on a daily basis on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society YouTube channel, and I also do regular “Questions about Anne Boleyn” videos, and there are 60-second history videos, Tudor cooking videos, and all sorts of other Tudor goodies for you to enjoy there, so please do consider subscribing to my channel – click here to go to it now.

On this day in Tudor history, 2nd October 1528, reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale’s book “The Obedience of a Christian Man” was published in Antwerp.

A copy of this book owned by Anne Boleyn ended up being a catalyst of the English Reformation when it was confiscated from the suitor of one of Anne’s ladies as a heretical book. Henry VIII ended up reading it and proclaiming that “This Book is for me and all Kings to read.” It set him on his path to the break with Rome and saw him marrying Anne Boleyn as his second wife.

Find out the full story in this talk:

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14 thoughts on “William Tyndale, Anne Boleyn and a book for “all Kings to read””
  1. Welcome back Claire. Hope all is well.
    Today I find the idea of banning books a bit absurd and certainly offensive but knowing now the impact that little book had on someone in authority and with the personality of King Henry I understand the fear at that time. Who could have known that it would be the catalyst to so much change that is still in effect today. Thank you.

    1. I agree, Michael, but some books turned upside down centuries of University thinking as well as that of Church scholars. It was like going into Harvard or Oxford and Cambridge today and saying all of your mathematics and physical sciences are wrong. The Universe doesn’t work that way, any more and all the things you believe every day are wrong. I and only a handful of people know this and we can’t prove it, of course, oh, but you are wrong. Can you just imagine the shock?

      We live in a world dominated by the media. We know of a 1000 different ideas and things going on all at the same time and we are lucky that we live in countries where censorship isn’t too much enforced. We are literally bombarded with just about anything and everything and we are used to sifting through a load of electronic data and information, so we are used to accepting when new theories and discoveries and ideas are discovered or promoted by “scientists”, usually without scrutinizing the validity of their claims ourselves, because some experts say it is so. That unfortunately is the other end of the spectrum, too much information, too many pieces of nonsense, we don’t know what to believe any more. We have become data absorbing robots. We don’t say something should be censored because we don’t believe anything is harmful, but maybe we should. We have become zombified to the amount of experts who declare such and such is bad for us, the new theories of the universe are x, this drug is the best thing to cure you of everything, we don’t open up our minds any more and ask questions. We probably accept and tolerate far too much rubbish.

      In the sixteenth century life was structured and everything was ordered in life and in the Universe. Religious belief was at the heart of everything you did, thought and said, the hours of the day and work, rest and play. On an intellectual level religious beliefs mixed with theological, mathematics, logic, the world of the classical, so much was dependent on Aristotle and Galen, the works of the Fathers and the natural sciences. The Church had interpreted Scripture in much the same way for centuries and held onto both traditions and well defined articles of faith. Everyone more or less believed the same things as their forefathers and life went on. Scripture was studied and interpretation was permitted within the Universities which is where William Tyndale gained his knowledge of Scripture and Greek, Hebrew and Latin. He discovered (in his opinion) that certain doctrines are not present in scripture and raised this with the Establishment. However, the Establishment, i.e the Catholic Church does not agree with him. She is the repository and the guardian of Holy Scripture, it is her job to interpret the Word and preach and teach it to everyone. She is founded by the first of the Apostles, Saint Peter and given authority by the Holy Spirit to do God’s work and so off course her doctrines are based on Scripture. You can see where the local Bishop to whom Tyndale is making his proposal to translate the Bible is going with his arguments here…Who are you to challenge my authority and why do you want to do such a thing?

      Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall was the local authority in London and it was his job to ensure orthodox practices were kept at all times and during the 1520s the, influx into England of books which challenged Church authority, that is the works of Martin Luther, increased and he was part of the set up to prevent those ideas getting loose on the general population. In Germany it had caused a murderous civil war and rebellion during which many thousands of people were killed, so the fear that new ideas which encouraged people to think for themselves and question authority may be dangerous to society as a whole seemed reasonable. It wasn’t the translation of the Bible which the Church feared, it was that individuals may put errors into the Holy Word and that would lead to false teaching and heresy. They also feared that without the experience and expertise of Church scholars to give the right interpretation of Scripture that people would abuse the Bible, that many different views would lead to chaos and confusion and to violence and disrespectful arguments. Henry Viii would later complain that the Holy Scripture was being disputed and mocked in pubs and ale houses so maybe the Church actually had a point and good reason to be cautious. However, at this point all Tyndale wanted was permission. It might have been the short sighted nature of Tunstall refusing him which ultimately lead to him going further and challenging a number of long held Christian doctrines. From the point of view of the authorities such requests were dangerous just because people went further and tried to tell them that everything they had held sacred for over 1000 years was now all of a sudden incorrect, without any real evidence to back it up, save their own interpretation of the Bible which was at odds with the rest of the Catholic Christian World. I can really go back and see why that might be a problem.

      I can’t stand the idea of burning books and banning them but maybe I would think differently 500 years ago, especially with a most confusing and contradictory wave of new ideas suddenly flooding my local community and causing political turmoil in the country. The polemic between William Tyndale and Thomas More were best selling books and pamphlets, not only here but in Europe, with their language probably suitably entertaining the masses in its colourful and crude nature. By the way a list of about 300 books, never officially banned, but listed for caution still existed until 20 years ago when it was archived in the museum at the Vatican, with a wide variety of things on it.

      1. That is so true Bq everything was structured in those far off days, we live easy lives compared to those people, we can read what we want, we can worship what faith we want, but it must have been soul destroying to be taught one faith then halfway into your life be told that faith is wrong, and for the reformers to believe fervently their new faith is the true one but be persecuted because of it, killed even! We have no idea of the struggles people faced with their conscience and the fear they felt through persecution, we can imagine it but can never wholly understand because we do not experience it, it’s like Henrys first queen steadfastly sticking to her belief that she was in truth married to him because that was the rock she clung to, she could not renounce her marriage as it was life itself to her, as was her religion.

  2. ‘I defy the pope and all his laws’ thus spoke William Tyndale and with his last breath he uttered he hoped the King of Englands eyes would be opened, as Michael said this man left a lasting legacy as his work was later printed and found its way into the English bible, not all of it and he did not finish his last piece but it remains to this day in the New Testament and Holy Bivle, he was the catalyst for the later break with Rome, as Michael stated for his teachings that man was answerable to God alone and not the pope gave Henry the idea to break with Rome forever, however this new religion was sacrilege to those who followed Catholicsm , and we can see how the tide of this new religion was infiltrating the university’s and colleges and domestic homes to, a scholar studying both at Oxford and Cambridge he was inspired by the works of Erasmus and Martin Luther, it was clear all three of these men were responsible for the reform that was sweeping over Europe and the British Isles, Tyndale came from Gloucestershire a quaint little county today known for its yellow cobbled stone buildings and little country lanes meandering through towns and villages, it probably hasn’t changed much since Tyndales day although it was obviously more rural, he had an avid admirer in the King of Englands new mistress a most ambitious young lady by the name of Anne Boleyn, the occasion where Anne Gainsford borrowed her mistresse’s book and it was confiscated made this poor lady very worried, she was too frightened to tell her mistress knowing her temper, but Anne on hearing it was in the possession of her sworn enemy Wolsey was nonplussed, let him read it then she declared, it was worthy of reading by the Kings Cardinal, but it was a frightening age as I remember the time when Catherine Parr had her ladies hide all her books as they were considered quite inflammatory, she also was a reformer and she knew her enemies were waiting to nail the charge of heresy on her, it also brings to my mind years ago when Salmon Rusdie published ‘The Satanic Verses’ and he had a death charge on him, he lived in Britain at a secret address I’m not sure if he’s still alive but what he printed was true, when Henry V111 was given a copy of Tyndales book to read by Anne he must have been overjoyed, at last a man with sense, he had been in discussions with his lawyers and council and church officials for months and months about ridding himself of Katherine, now he would break free from Rome that far way land where he had never been, and wasn’t likely to either, and make himself head of a new church, he would be answerable to none but God and the pope sitting on his golden throne could go to hell, I can just see the thoughts running through his mind, this fellow Tyndale was the answer to his prayers, and egged on by his very vocal mistress Henry V111 as we know did eventually break from Rome and the reformation had its seeds in his reign, it was completed in his sons reign who was a die hard reformist, but Henry still in thought and deed was still Catholic and he did die in the Catholic faith, it was the faith of his boyhood and of all the Kings who had ruled before him, Tyndale died by strangulation in Brabant and his body was then burned, a very clever man who really was behind his country’s cataclysmic break from Rome and along with Luther and Erasmus, sowed the seeds of a new religion which later was to be known as Protestantism. Welcome back Claire how we have missed you!

  3. Welcome back to the AB Files, Claire. Enjoyable talk as always. William Tyndale gave Henry Viii the key to his annulment, but his divorce from Rome was as much a personal and political move in order to achieve his annulment of his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon as it was a move forward towards the English Reformation. However, it wasn’t theological and the book The Obedience of the Christian Man was useful to him only in so much as he was now confirmed as answerable only directly to God and he was convinced that he no longer needed the Pope who was taking too long to decide in his Great Matter. Henry now suddenly saw a way forward, a way to get what he wanted and to achieve great power. Henry wasn’t interested in leading England out of some imaginary darkness into new light. He wasn’t the New Moses or King David or Joshua, although he had himself portrayed that way in a new set of tapestries at Hampton Court Palace, but the message had the same effect. It would take the genius of Thomas Cranmer and the administration of Thomas Cromwell to achieve the legal and theological pathways which Henry used to become Supreme Head of the Church within the next three years. For now Henry put an argument to Convocation via George Boleyn and others and he rejoiced in the Book Anne had brought to his attention.

    Anne herself had a copy of the New Tyndale New Testament in her apartments which was open for all to read and during her life with Henry he was able to smuggle his books into England. It was after Anne’s execution that Tyndale was in danger, an agent of King Henry followed him and he gained his trust, betrayed him and handed him over to the authorities. Henry had been upset by his writing against his annulment from Katherine of Aragon and the work on prelates. He had hoped the reformers would support his cause but they refuted his annulment saying that God joined couples and Henry could not undo His Work. Not that Henry was any great reformer in any case, but he was now furious and sent his man after William Tyndale. Tyndale wasn’t burned for his translation of the Bible but for a number of errors he was accused of promoting within it and for his words which were considered a dangerous challenge to Christian unity and Papal authority.

    Like his nemesis, Thomas More, with whom he exchanged a torrent of mighty words, William Tyndale was a man of conscience and principal and he stood out as a man of faith. Both men suffered the lack of gratitude of their King, the latter after many years of faithful service and both men ended their lives being executed for strong personal expressions of faith and opposition to the power of a King blinded by the ideas one of them had accidentally promoted. Tyndale may have said a King is only answerable to God, but he also spelt out his responsibility as a just and Christian ruler. I doubt the Supremacy was exactly what he had in mind as such extremism was putting King Henry above the Word of God, instead of submitting himself to it. Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher could not accept it because for them it cut England off from the rest of the Christian Church and usurped the place of both Christ and his representative, the Pope. Tyndale and More were mortal enemies but they both gave their lives, as did Fisher and so many others for their convictions and their truth as they saw it. All of these men deserve our administration and respect for their sacrifice and faith.

    The Tyndale New Testament was incorporated into the Coverdale, Great Bible and the King James. The eyes of Henry Viii may not have been opened but men and women continued to work for scripture in the language of the people, not only here, but all around the globe and we see the heritage of that work in every country today. The Holy Bible is the widest, most popular collection in one huge Volume ever printed and widest ever read. I have no idea how many hundreds of languages there are in the world, but the Bible has certainly been translated into most of them. The King James is considered an international treasury. However, because of the discovery of many older copies of the original Books in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic (the language spoken in the time of Jesus) we now have more up to date and better translations of both Protestant and Catholic versions. (The number of books and emphasis on certain words being the only difference) How the canon was put together over a period of 300 years and how to date each book is the subject of scholarly debate which would keep one occupied for several lifetimes. However, we have the son of a farmer from Warwickshire, a bright and brilliant scholar who took on the Establishment to thank for it all, it’s beginning all those centuries ago. Cheers Mr William Tyndale.

    1. Glad to see you back, Claire. What is unusual is that Tyndale and More also agreed that Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon was valid … I’ve often wondered if things might have been different for Mary if she realized how many Protestants agreed with Tyndale (and Luther, too, BTW) on this point. According to some books I’ve read, this is one reason why Henry didn’t do anything when Tyndale was arrested.

  4. Hi BQ. Let me reiterate that in our lifetime I am offended by book burnings etc but I do understand a bit about it’s necessity 500yrs ago but I keep hearing a quote in my mind ‘Where they burn books they burn people’. This certainly was true 500yrs ago and was applied to Germany in the 1930’s & 40’s. Under Henry belief was made even even more difficult by his inability to commit to a doctrine and stick with it. What was legal to believe today may get you executed tomorrow but the next day may be legal again. Though this is a slight exaggeration it’s not far off. Things were terrible for Protestants under Mary and as bad for Catholics under Edward the worst must have been under Henry.

    1. Yes I also have heard that quote, hundreds of Jewish books were thrown onto bonfires in Nazi Germany, as well as Jewish bookshops and other shops had their windows smashed and were looted, I do feel for the Jewish people, they have been a persecuted race throughout history, with the Romans and there was an incident in London in medieval times when some Jewish homes were raided and looted, the Jews were attacked, but nowhere compares as bad as what Hitler did to the Jews that was heinous.

      1. Have either of you seen Fahrenheit 451? The firemen of the future are used to burn books and not to put out fires, with one particularly horrible scene with a woman who had a large library in her home, being burned alive, alongside her books because she refused to move or leave them. She speaks the words of Hugh Latimer and she was the woman who changed the head fireman, Montag, who eventually finds his way to the underground and joined them. Each member is a living book, memorizing and becoming the book of their choice, preserving literature for the future.

        This was written in the early 1950s by Ray Bradbury but it obviously reflected Nazi Germany and the sense that when censorship begins with the destruction of knowledge or the sources of knowledge, in these cases, books, that the next step was frightening because it did indeed often lead to the persecution and judicial murder of people. The Nazis dreadful and horrific extermination of the Jewish people and other groups they saw as not being human began with the attempt to eradicate the history of Germany, the burning of any book which didn’t meet the warped ideals of Hitler and his evil cronies. Of course the Tudors cannot be compared with the Nazis but persecuted people are often those who have written or dared to think differently to the status quo. It happened once and could happen again because of fear, ignorance and hatred. The terrible example of the Nazi persecution is something we must never allow to be repeated and that is why Ray Bradbury is very clever and right to have highlighted the danger, the real danger of the destruction of knowledge, that ideas cannot be suppressed totally and the next steps are often more frightening, the destruction of people, because its people who sacrificed themselves to keep knowledge and ideas alive. Michael is very right, we must always condemn the burning of books because of the terror which may follow, the burning of people.

        1. I know of the book and had a rough idea of the the story but never read or watched it. The premise sounds terrifying.

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