Friday, February 25, 2011

Question from Sarah - Hugh Latimer giving a Bible to Henry VIII

I read that Bishop Hugh Latimer gave Henry VIII a Bible with a marker on the passage: "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge."

Is this true? And if so, how did Henry respond? And why would Latimer have said this - presumably Henry VIII was then happily married to Jane Seymour?


Foose said...

The incident is in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which must be treated with caution, and repeated all over Protestant hagiography of Latimer in the succeeding centuries, but I can't find any reputable modern historian citing the story as an actual incident of the reign.

Latimer could be outspoken - he was caught eating buttered chicken during Lent in 1539, and would have gotten off, but had the temerity to argue with his master Henry VIII about the Biblical authority for giving up meat during Lent. He was subsequently deprived of his bishopric.

He also did his fair share of crawling - he wrote a particularly unctuous letter to Henry after the birth of his son Edward, comparing the prince's nativity to that of John the Baptist. He probably would have compared it to Jesus Christ's, had he judged Henry receptive.

If this incident is true, I don't necessarily think Latimer was being all that bold - if anything, he might have been playing to Henry's vanity. It is because Henry did not want to be a whoremonger that he put away Catherine of Aragon - his brother's wife - and he emphatically showed his disapproval of adulterers by executing Anne Boleyn and her five alleged lovers. For most radical Protestants, like Latimer, Henry was the incarnation of a righteous Old Testament king, punishing iniquity and upholding God's law. We see the irony of this incident, but Henry and Latimer were probably in accord in seeing Latimer's action as only Henry's due - incense offered to the champion of morality.

Foose said...

And just to clarify: In Foxe's narration of the incident, there is no Henrician reaction. The anecdote stands alone:

"[Latimer's] whole ambition was to discharge the pastoral functions of a bishop; neither aiming to display the abilities of a statesman, nor of a courtier. How very unqualified he was to support the latter of these characters, the following story will prove: It was the custom in those days for the bishops to make presents to the king on New-Year's day, and many of them presented very liberally, proportioning their gifts to their hopes and expectations. Among the rest, Latimer, being then in town, waited upon the king, with his offering; but instead of a purse of gold, which was the common oblation, he presented a New Testament, with a leaf doubled down in a very conspicuous manner, at this passage, 'Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.'"

And then Foxe immediately moves on to 1539 and some incident involving Gardiner and Latimer slanging each other, with Latimer on the side of the angels, according to Foxe.