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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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Chapter 1: The Divorce: Theology 23


Chapter I The Divorce: Theology There have been many attempts made to try to understand the significance of Henry VIII's first marriage crisis.! For the most part these have taken a very negative view of the King, his motivations and his scholarly support. Although he often seemed sincere and scrupulous, as did his agents, both he and they have often been found wanting by the many calculating and even callous episodes in which they were involved. Stokesley himself, as one of the King's primary supporters, if not as both he and Chapuys believed, the 'principal cause and instrument', of the divorce has suffered much ill-treatment at the hands of historians. Moreover, this treatment has often been indirect, as Stokesley's role in these events has never truly been appreciated.2 That he was involved on a very intimate level is beyond question. Why he was involved, however, is more problematic. It might simply have been a matter of course. A series of miscarriages had dented the King's optimism for his marriage and, by 1518 his frustration was beginning to show. He wrote to Wolsey about it3 and held a consultation with his confessor, Stokesley. Details are provided by the Spaniard Loys de Helweghen. In a letter he recalled a recent dinner conversation with William Barlow, dean of Westbury, who reportedly said that ... the king, after he had been married nine or ten years, having gone to confess to a priest whom the Dean named, though being a strange name I have quite...

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