Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Manuscript of the King's Book

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

A Manuscript of the King's Book

Article excerpt

In 1999, a manuscript version of the King's Book (the final doctrinal formulary published by Henry VIII's government) surfaced in the book world. Although a new documentary link in the chain connecting the scandalously "Lutheran" Ten Articles (1536) and the much-debated Bishops' Book (1537) with the King's Book (1543) would shed welcome light on the development of the official doctrine of Henry's church, collation of the four texts leads to the conclusion that the manuscript (now at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) is not a link between the 1537 and 1543 volumes, and cannot help historians understand the process of theological change.

The reign of Henry VIII of England, 1509-1547, is a period of great interest to theologians and ecclesiastical historians, as it marked England's separation from the Roman Catholic Church. The politics and religious ideas that influenced this transition continue to be the subject of many studies, and, naturally, so momentous a change required explanation at the time. Particularly important for a study of the development of theology during the establishment of a national church are three official statements of faith: the Ten Articles of 1536, the Bishops' Book of 1537, and the King's Book of 1543.1

The King's Book, the final statement of faith published by Henrys government, draws on the organization, wording, and ideas of the earlier Bishops' Book, itself an expansion and revision of the Ten Articles. Though the King's Book includes new chapters (which it calls "articles") on faith, free will, and good works, many sections are reprinted from the Bishops' Book for sentences at a stretch with only minor changes, sometimes with new material fitted in around the old. At other points the King's Book rearranges the Bishops' Book's structure and modifies its wording in ways that clarify, develop, or even contradict the teaching of the earlier volume.

Historians have debated the extent and implications of these changes as well as the personalities and political exigencies that influenced them, most agreeing with Diarmaid MacCulloch's assessment: "In almost every respect [the King's Book] was more doctrinally conservative than the Bishops' Book, the exception being its highly dismissive treatment of purgatory."2 A new documentary link in the chain connecting the scandalously "Lutheran" Ten Articles and the much-debated Bishops' Book with the King's Book would shed light on the development of the official doctrine of Henry s church as well as on questions related to the book's stylistic and organizational departures from its precursor.3

In late 1999, a manuscript version of the King's Book surfaced in the book world and was offered to libraries and collectors. It was purchased by Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2000. The Fall 2000 "Selected Acquisitions" page of the Beinecke's website described it as "a newly discovered preliminary draft of A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man, commonly known as The King's Book, one of the key texts of the English Reformation. It supplies a critical link in the known sequence of composition and revision of this celebrated formulary. This is the earliest manuscript version extant of this text."4 The word "preliminary" and the reference to "the known sequence of composition and revision" focus attention on the presumption that the manuscript predates the publication of the King's Book. However, comparison of the manuscript and the printed version with the Bishops' Book leads to the conclusion that it is not a link between the 1537 and 1543 volumes that would help in understanding the process of theological and stylistic revision. Though old texts are indispensable sources of information about the past, this newly discovered manuscript does not answer questions currently of interest to historians.

The Yale manuscript is forty-seven leaves in length5-a small format that corresponds to a version much shorter than the text of the Kings Book as printed. …

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