Friday, 30 September 2011

The Christianity of Anne Boleyn

Whenever I think of Anne Boleyn, the thoughts are negative. In general, history portrays her as the young temptress with bewitching powers who seduced King Henry VIII. We read of an immoral woman who pressured the King to divorce and dethrone his Queen, disinherit his daughter, and break with the church... all in order to achieve her greatest ambition: to become Queen.

With this impression of Anne Boleyn, I was surprised to come across a book which proposes that Anne was, in fact, an evangelical christian! In Anne Boleyn: One short life that changed the English-speaking world, Colin Hamer presents a fresh perspective on Anne's life, using credible, primary sources.

I read with great skepticism. It was amazing to discover a side to Anne's life that one never reads about in a general history book. According to Hamer, Anne worked zealously to protect and promote well-known evangelicals, both at home and abroad, and endeavoured to fill prominent church roles with men of evangelical faith. She worked hard to promote the Bible and other evangelical books in English, displaying them publicly in court (though they were banned books).

In his chapter called A faith in Action, Hamer presents a brief overview of the christianity of Anne Boleyn. I've posted parts of this chapter. See what you think!

A personal testimony
Personal Bible study was Anne's practice; her chaplain Latymer said that 'Her highness was very expert in the French tongue, exercising herself continually in reading the French Bible and other French books of like effect and conceived great pleasure in the same, wherefore her highness charged her chaplains to be furnished of all kind of French books that reverently treated of the holy scripture." (Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 268).
Louis de Brun, in a work dedicated to Anne, in 1531 wrote of her:

When I consider the great affection and real passion which you have for the French tongue, I am not surprised that you are never found, if circumstances permit, without your having some book in French in your hand which is of use and value in pointing out and finding the true and narrow way to all virtues, as, for example, translations of the Holy Scriptures, reliable and full of sound doctrines... And most of all... I have seen you continually reading those helpful letters of St Paul which contain all the fashion and rule to live righteously, in every good manner of behaviour, which you know well and practise, thanks to your continual reading of them. (Ibid, p. 269)

It is in these Pauline letters that Anne would have read the great statements about faith... Starkey says: '[Anne] continued this practice of conspicuous piety throughout the days of her prosperity, reading improving works herself and encouraging her ladies to read them as well' (Starkey, Six Wives: the queens of Henry VIII, p. 369).

Anne's Doctrinal Position
Anne, her brother George, and her father were all described as Lutherans - but this does not mean they held a clear doctrinal position that would identify them with everything that Luther said. Nor was there any direct connection with Wycliffe and the Lollards of an earlier time. The thing that united them was an absolute conviction of the importance of the Bible - in other words, they were evangelicals. The Roman Catholic Church was itself in a state of flux. Many within the Church, on reading the New Testament for themselves, had begun to see that the doctrinal position of the Roman Church bore little relationship to Scripture. Some embraced the 'new learning' wholeheartedly, some did in part. For others their journey to faith was a slow one, with doubts resurfacing on the way. Thomas Bilney (see below) and Archbishop Cranmer embraced the 'new learning', then shrank back in horror at the thought of their ruined careers, the damage to others it would cause, and the very real prospect of their own torture and burning. Then later they received renewed strength and witnessed to the Saviour, going to their violent deaths with enormous courage and heroism. These heroes of faith faltered - but who would be so bold as to pass judgment on them? Today we are surrounded by considered doctrinal statements that were hammered out over the hundred or so years after these tumultuous events, secure in the knowledge that the evangelical cause largely triumphed - a perspective denied them.

Anne was the catalyst in the break with Rome
Without Anne it is almost certain that Henry would not have made the break from Rome. Not only did she provide the motivation, she also gave him the scriptural arguments to strengthen his resolve. Anne brought evangelical books directly to Henry, marking particular passages for his attention and discussion... The Bible, not just church and 'religion', was the frequent dinner conversation in the Boleyn home, and Anne took the habit to the King's own dining table. William Latymer says that Anne and Henry never dined 'without some argument of Scripture thoroughly debated' (Denny, p. 210).

Key Figures could count on Anne's support
Anne's influence did not stop with Henry: the Archbishop of Canterbury was a known supporter of Anne, the Lord Privy Seal was her father, and the King's secretary was Thomas Cromwell, also firmly in the Boleyn camp, or at least, so it was thought; the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Audley, was also on very favourable terms with her. There was a circle of friends at court who were sympathetic to reform and would obviously be emboldened when Anne was crowned queen.

Anne pressured Henry to protect evangelicals at home
Anne's influence in theological matters had already displayed itself well before her marriage. In 1528 she had written to Cardinal Wolsey to 'remember the parson of Honey Lane for my sake'. All Hallows, Honey Lane, near Cheapside in the City of London, was a centre for evangelicals attracting great numbers to hear the preachers.The rector, Dr Robert Forman, and his curate, Thomas Garrett, were under investigation for heresy. Garrett particularly was involved in importing books that were more radical than any which Anne's agents handled. It was a brave move by Anne to write to the Cardinal, because Wolsey prided himself in tracking down the trade in books and prosecuting those involved, boasting to Pope Clement VII about his efforts. Anne also persuaded Henry to get Wolsey to intervene on behalf of the Prior of Reading, John Shirburn, who in 1529 had been arrested for possessing Lutheran books sent to him by Garrett. That Henry should intervene on behalf of an acknowledged Lutheran when he himself was still a staunch advocate of Catholic doctrine shows the remarkable extent of Anne's influence... Thomas Alway, prosecute by Wolsey for having banned books, wrote to Anne: "I remember how many deeds of pity your goodness has done within these few years... without respect of any persons, as well as to strangers and aliens as to many of this land, as well to poor as to the rich" (Ibid, p. 128).

Anne pressured Henry to protect evangelicals abroad
Anne also personally intervened to help evangelicals in trouble in mainland Europe. When Francis I turned against the Reformers in France Anne did her best to help them, including a poet called Nicholas Bourbon... he wrote of Anne: 'How can I express my thanks, still less, O Queen repay you? I confess I have not the resources. But the Spirit of Jesus which enflames you wholly with His fire, He has the wherewhithal to give you your due' (quoted by Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 261).
... Soon after her coronation Anne worked to restore the Antwerp merchant Richard Herman to membership of the Society of Merchants from which he had been expelled for helping to distribute copies of the New Testament in English. IN May 1535 William Tyndale was arrested in Antwerp, betrayed by one of Thomas More's agents. Anne acted with Cromwell in putting pressure on Henry, who had the necessary letters written in an attempt to secure his release. For whatever reason this was unsuccessful, the famous Bible translator eventually being strangled and then burnt on 6 October 1536.

Anne influenced key Church appointments
Anne worked hard to ensure that key Church appointments went to evangelicals, and her influence predated her coronation; she was recorded as far back as 1528 putting pressure on Cardinal Wolsey to appoint clerics who would promote reform. Before 1532 newly appointed bishops were mainly of orthodox Catholic persuasion; from 1532 to 1536 eleven bishops were appointed, nine of whom were considered to be evangelicals, such as Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Shaxton, Thomas Goodrich...

Anne saw the Bible in English as a goal
Anne's fluency in French gave her the privileged position of reading the Bible for herself - a privilege she was keen to see extended to all her English-speaking subjects. According to Latymer she kept a Bible in English in her rooms fro anyone to read who wished to do so...

Anne promoted the trade in Bibles and evangelical books
This trade was illegal. Her brother George was particularly active in the trade; with the protection of his family connections he would smuggle controversial works back to England in his diplomatic bag... As recently as 1998 it was established that George translated the French commentary into English. It carried a dedication to Anne showing a strong affection between brother and sister, and a common cause - the evangelical faith. Another work was the text of the Bible book Ecclesiastes with a commentary, also probably by George, emphasising in clear vivid language the need for a living faith in Christ... it was not just through George that Anne worked - she had her own contacts abroad, especially in Antwerp. Agents there supplied her with evangelical books, and she in turn supported those involved in the trade. Among the Reformers in Antwerp was William Tyndale; his translation of the New Testament was being smuggled into England in considerable numbers...

In the opinion of others...
John Foxe, writing in the 16th century, recorded: "What a zealous defender she was of Christ's gospel all the world doth know, and her acts do and will declare to the world's end" (John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, v. 175)
Alexander Ales wrote in a letter to Elizabeth I that "true religion in England had its commencement and its end with your mother" (Letter to Queen Elizabeth, 1 September 1559. Quoted in Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 264).
And in our own day, Joanna Denny writes: 'Anne Boleyn was the catalyst for the Reformation, the initiator of the Protestant religion in England' (Denny, p. 132).

I would love to share more of this chapter, but time (both for me and for you!) is short. We don't know what were the faith and motives of Anne Boleyn... over 500 years have passed. Yet this information seems to give support to the idea that Anne Boleyn was possibly an evangelical Christian. The Lord knows... perhaps she even came to saving faith by the grace of God! Even that possibility is encouraging, isn't it. An era in history which looked so dark was still illuminated with the light of the Gospel of Christ... the Holy Spirit cannot be quenched, and perhaps the Lord even called and greatly used that infamous Queen of England, Lady Anne Boleyn!


Shaz in Oz.CalligraphyCards said...

Hi there Maddy this is so very very interesting as you say we know not where she truly stood. Funny how she is painted as a temptress and in other such unpleasant lights in history - yet it appears from these writing to not be the case - one day God will reveal the truth and what a day it will be! thanks for sharing, love Shaz.xx

Carra - a bondservant of Jesus said...

Dearest Maddy,
Greetings dear sister. I see this as a perfect example of the Lord calling and using the people we never would imagine... In the case she were a true servant of the Lord, He no doubt used her in the path she was in. We don't know what her true story was, but our Almighty Lord and Father does, and this is just another prooving example that we must not judge people, even from 500 years ago by appearances, or what not...but use righteous judgement.
Even the worst criminal on earth could very well be used for the Lord. we must learn to be as Jesus... for He is our Life. He accepts and loves all men... giving them all a chance. Lets do that! :)
Love Carra

Joy said...

Dearest Maddy,

That was very, very interesting to read! Thank you so much for sharing this, as it is certainly an amazing time in history, and (as you know), I've been doing a little bit of study of that time in history as well so it was very fascinating reading something about it too :). I haven't really read much about the life and faith of Anne Boleyn, and as you mentioned, we cannot be absolutely sure where she stood in her faith, but God, in His infinite Sovereignty, DID use her as a great tool to bring reform to England, and restore truth and the Scriptures to the people. It is particularly startling how, if it were not for her, Henry VIII would NOT have done all the Reforms that he did, and I was touched by how much she worked to influence the king toward establishing the Scriptures and Truth in England.

Her adultery with Henry VIII does throw some doubts as to her faith that's true; we really don't know, do we? But it seems at the end of her life, she did confess how wrong she was and repented of that sin. From the book I was reading by Faith Cook about Lady Jane Grey, she writes about Anne Boleyn, "Anne was duly framed and then accused of adultery on a number of counts. [P.S. by the way, Henry the VIII was already tired of Anne and had his eyes on Jane Seymour, hence we cannot know but probably the accusation was false] Soon she found herself arrested and imprisoned in the Tower. She protested her innocence to the last... she begged God to forgive her husband his sin against her and continued by urging clemency for those unfortunate men, co--accused with Anne, who would also die in order that the King might have his heart's desire. Confessing her sins, particularly the sin of ever marrying Henry in the first place when Katherine was his lawful wife, Anne cast herself on the mercy of God..." (pg. 22, 23).

We can certainly be thankful for God's Sovereignty in History, that He used Anne Boleyn in many ways to bring about light and truth in England, and that as you said, "an era in history which looked so dark was illuminated with the light of the Gospel of Christ..."! Well, maybe I should read that book sometime. It would be good to make a bigger research of her life, wouldn't it?

Lots of love, Maddy. I am always blessed by your lovely posts, dear sister! God bless you and your family,

Sarah said...

Dear Maddy,
I agree with the others. This was a fascinating reading. It is amazing how the Lord used her to change England and the entire English-speaking world, and eventually the world. Yes, it is difficult to know for sure where she really stood in God's grace, but from Joy's quote the possibility is very high that she did truly believe.

Since studying about Oliver Cromwell, I learned never to take everything that is said in the normal history can never know where we could discover God's grace at work...even in the darkest times and in unlikely place with unlikely people!

Thank you so much for sharing this, Maddy. I'd like to read that book someday myself.

You might like to watch the Tyndale movie...its very relevant and very encouraging, here is the link:

Love in Him,

Maddy said...

Dear Shaz,

It was lovely to hear from you, and I'm glad you found this interesting as I did! Yes, isn't it amazing what a different perspective this book gave, to what we generally hear about Anne. I was very skeptical... yet quite convinced by the end of it! Yes, we don't know now... and what a day that will be when the Lord reveals all truth.

God bless you!



Maddy said...

Dearest Carra,

Greetings, I loved to hear from you today :). Yes, isn't this a wonderful example of the Lord using and calling someone we would never imagine.
I also really learned something about judging by appearance. It reminded me that often, we just see history through the eyes and perspective of the people who write it... only the Lord truly knows what has really happened through all the centuries, and in such a life as Anne's.

Yes, may we learn to judge righteously as the Lord guides us. It really seems that He used Anne to further the English Reformation. Wouldn't it be wonderful if He also called her to Him through these experiences! Yes, just like in the 180 clip, we see that He loves all men... I pray that He fills us with His grace for others.

I was blessed by this reminder, dear sister. It is amazing how the Lord can teach us through the events and lives of history, even 500 years ago!

Much love, and praying for you,


Maddy said...

Dear Joy,

I'm sorry for my slow response to your lovely comment! It was so good being able to share on a topic like this. It is true that no matter where Anne stood in faith (only the Lord knows), God in His sovereignty certainly used her to help 'kindle the fires' of the English Reformation!

As far as her adultery goes... after reading your comment, I felt that I really should have addressed that in my post! It is a grave issue, which certainly carries great weight in considering the fruit of her life. In Hamer's book, he goes to great lengths to show that there is no evidence that Anne committed adultery. I know that history generally points towards her guilt!... but still, I was very convinced by his arguments, which were sound and well supported by primary sources. According to Hamer's evidence, history seems to testify that Anne was blameless on this account, even, or especially, in that time period before her marriage to Henry. But there is also considerable evidence (more, in fact), that she was not guilty of the charges which her husband pressed against her, leading to her execution. I don't have time or space to give the quotes just here :), but maybe I could lend you and Sarah the book at some time? You're always welcome to borrow it!

It certainly is a very interesting time in history, Joy, and I've loved reading what you are discovering about Lady Jane Grey.
Thank you for sharing, dear sister!
God bless you,



Maddy said...

Dear Sarah,

I loved to hear from you, thanks for commenting! Isn't it a fascinating period. I was interested to read this account of Anne Boleyn, from start to finish! It certainly is a possibility that she believed; and I was amazed and encouraged by how the Lord used her in furthering the English Reformation. Certainly surprised too, after what I've read in history books.
I've truly seen this by what you have discovered about Cromwell, too. I remember years ago, when you were telling me about him and how he is mistakenly portrayed in many history books, thinking - we should never take anything that is said in normal history books without looking closely at the primary facts first! Yes, we never know where we might discover God's grace at work... as you said, in untimely people and places, and times of darkness! That is very true.
If the Lord wills, I would love to share more with you on these things in future :). I love to hear what the Lord shows you in your studies on these time periods!
God bless you sister,

Love in Him,


Maddy said...

PS. I've seen the Tyndale movie already, and thought it very good :). Thanks for the thought, I would like to look at it again!