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Henry VIII's Conservative Scholar

Bishop John Stokesley and the Divorce, Royal Supremacy and Doctrinal Reform

Andrew A. Chibi

Through a careful reexamination of manuscripts, archival materials, primary documents and other secondary sources, this book traces the central importance of one of Henry VIII's lesser known advisors. Bishop John Stokesley was deeply involved in the King's matrimonial controversies, in the development of royal supremacy theory, in both doctrinal and clerical reform and proved himself a conscientious pastoral shepherd. The result of this research draws attention away from the major figures of the Henrician period forcing the reader to consider the key events of the reign from a new perspective: that of an important conservative scholar and Bishop.

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Introduction 11

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Introduction Martin Luther questioned the scriptural basis of the papal practice of selling indulgences and, against even his own inclinations, ushered in a period of widespread religious revolution in Europe. To a lesser degree John Stokesley did much the same thing in England. By questioning the scriptural foundation of a papal dispensation he set in motion great changes in the relationship between church and state. Some of these changes he did not want. Unlike Luther, however, the credit for the achievement, good or dubious, has been denied him. The purpose of this book is to establish Stokesley's position as an important and influential figure in England in the crucial decade of the 1530s. This will be done primarily by focusing on the three major themes of the period: the divorce, the royal supremacy, doctrinal reformation and Stokesley's scholarly role therein. Who was John Stokesley? His earliest distinction was as a scholar. Erasmus himself was clearly impressed. In 1518 he enthusiastically praised Stokesley's command of the three scriptural languages and later noted his virtuous nature, praised his command of theology, and wrote that he was 'divinely-gifted ... the most accomplished theologian among you' .I Such praise was repeated in 1521 when Stokesley defended Erasmus's New Testament translations before the King and Queen against an attack by the obscurantist Bishop Henry Standish.2 This activity also earned him the admiration of the Italian historian Polydore Vergil. In the dedication of his Adagia Sacra (1519) to Richard Pace, Vergil had written: Enimuero sola hominis loquendi...

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