Sunday, February 16, 2014

Question from Sarah - The King's Primer

What was the 'King's Primer' in the 1540s and was it written by Cranmer?


Foose said...

In his book, The Gospel and Henry VIII, Alec Ryrie describes this document as "the revised English version of the traditional devotional text known as the primer. A proclamation of 1545 prescribed this as the only primer permitted to be used. The shift from Latin to English was striking enough, but these texts were more than translations. The Latin originals had been infused with the veneration of saints, prayer for the dead and other aspects of Catholic theology. The new versions did not explicitly embrace evangelical theology, but these remnants of traditional religion were pared to the bone."

Ryrie's book does not specifically state that Cranmer wrote the King's Primer, but describes it as part of his "steady liturgical work." Diarmaid MacCulloch in his biography of Cranmer says "There can be no doubt of Cranmer's close involvement with [the Primer's] compilation" by comparing it with other ecclesiastical efforts he definitely authored.

MacCulloch reviews the Primer's elements that Cranmer likely authored personally or supervised, stating: "... the moderate reformist agenda is clear, as much by what is missing as what is there; none of the exuberant conversations of medieval liturgy with Our Lady or the saints, and remarkably little on the eucharist."

Foose said...

There's also the question of what exactly a primer was. Apparently it's what is often called a "Book of Hours," a devotional collection of prayers, psalms, and lessons and collects dedicated to the Virgin. They were quite popular in pre-Reformation England and proliferated in various forms.

Eamon Duffy, in his Stripping of the Altars gives a very good, detailed overview of the primers, their place in religious devotions and practice, and their significance to the faithful, and discusses how the King's Primer represented a major break with the past.