The King’s Book - Henry VIII’s Comprehensive Statement of the English Faith

Henry VIII, King of England (1491-1547)

A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Chrysten man, set furth by the kynges maiestye of Englande, e[t]c.

London: Thomas Berthelet, May 29, 1543


Octavo: 13.5 x 9 cm. [304]pp. Collation: A-T8, V4

PRINTED IN THE YEAR OF THE FIRST EDITION. One of numerous editions printed by Berthelet (who also printed the first edition.)

Bound in modern blind-ruled calf. The text is in fine condition with a few blemishes, last leaf a little soiled and worn, short wormtrail in lower blank margin of some signatures, not affecting text. Provenance: Halifax Literary & Philosophy Society (bookplate), and Thomas Brown Wilber (blindstamp in ffep).

The colophon reads: “Imprinted at London in Fletestrete by Thomas Berthelet, printer to the kynges hyghnes, the .XXIX. daye of Maye, the yere of our lorde. M.D.XLIII. Cum privilegio ad imprimendum solum.”

Henry VIII’s break with Rome is arguably one of the most significant events of the past half-millennium. It’s impact on western, and indeed, world civilization has been immeasurably profound. With the Act of Supremacy of 1534, which established the unprecedented doctrine that within his realm the king was not only head of state but also head of the church, Henry VIII not only assumed the power over the Church of England as an institution but, more importantly, he assumed the power to establish Church doctrine. In the words of Richard Rex, the king who had earlier earned the title “Defender of the Faith”, “assumed powers not merely to defend but to define that faith.”

Religious controversy arose immediately and with it arose the need for a clear and definitive statement of English church doctrine. Henry VIII’s “Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Chrysten man”, the king’s comprehensive statement of his own vision of English Christianity, has its origins in earlier Henrician efforts “to forestall the dire consequences which it was feared would necessarily arise from religious division.”(Rex)

These efforts began with the Ten Articles of 1536, which were written to resolve certain doctrinal and ceremonial disputes (e.g. Anabaptist notions concerning baptism, the Sacramentarian and Lutheran attitudes on the nature of the Eucharist, etc.) Their purpose was “to forestall the dire consequences which it was feared would necessarily arise from religious division.”(Rex)

After the great uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536), Cromwell convoked a gathering of bishops and doctors at Westminster to debate and resolve a range of theological, ceremonial and canonical issues. This gathering presumably paved the way for Henry’s ‘Institution of a Christian man,’ or Bishop’s Book (1537) as it came to be known.

In 1543, the “Necessary Doctrine” provided the long-sought comprehensive statement of the English faith. It became known as “the King’s Book.” It contained twelve articles on the clauses of the Apostles’ Creed. It then dealt with the Seven Sacraments (the Henrician church still maintained the traditional view, whereas the Lutherans held that there were only three sacraments); the Ten Commandments; The Lord’s Prayer; the Hail Mary; and the articles on free will, on justification, on good works, and on prayer for the souls of the departed.

“Until the break with Rome, the official doctrine of the Church of England was unequivocally Catholic, and Henry VIII stood right behind his church. But in the early 1530’s, the leash was slipped from the necks of several academic Lutheran sympathizers in order to mobilize their talents on behalf of the divorce and royal supremacy. This policy became apparent in the royal protection first afforded to Hugh Latimer, despite his habitually tendentious preaching. It became obvious in the campaign against the papal primacy led by Cromwell and Cranmer, that dismissed the papacy as a human tradition foisted on unwitting Christians in place of the true gospel. This kind of rhetoric lent itself, in the hands of evangelical preachers, to veiled attacks on aspects of the Catholic faith, which in a Lutheran perspective, seemed to draw more on tradition than on scripture. Given the official sponsorship of such preachers, the doctrinal position and future of the English church became a matter of debate and doubt.”(Rex)

ESTC S109055; STC 5176