Iconoclasm, Then and Now

Paul Halsall, who notes that 95% of English medieval religious art was destroyed as a result of the Reformation, draws our attention to a blog post about English iconoclasm:

The fear that lay behind much Reformation activity was fear of one of the primal powers of art: the ability of the image to seem as real as a real person, to come to life, and not only become an object of worship in its own right, but perhaps do evil to those who oppose it. This fear of the dangerous, potentially animate qualities of art may be detected in the methods of the destroyers. Defaced images often had their eyes scratched away, as though, by breaking visual contact between image and viewer, the suspect power of the image might be defused. The potent realism and the beguiling presence of the most affecting art of the pre-Reformation period may partly explain the violence of the reaction against it. Destruction can be seen as a kind of back-handed compliment. To deface or smash an image is to acknowledge its power.

 The idealistic Protestants saw their destruction as a means of disproving the power of images and loosening the chains of superstitious belief which they felt had tightened around the minds of the laity. During the most extreme phase of the Reformation, the Puritan moment of the 1640s, the abolition of Christmas and the destruction of Stonehenge were temporarily discussed as ways of furthering the cause. The pagan festival and the pagan stone circle were to be done away with because, just like the images of the Catholic faith, they were part of the dangerous, misleading, ancient superstitious history of the nation, a history that needed to be unwritten.

Halsall shares this image from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), which depicts the reign of Edward VI and gives pride of place to state sponsored “burning of images.” (Clearly, not all images were bad! The woodcuts in the Book of Martyrs were especially effective as propaganda.) 

He also draws attention to this tweet from Laura Sangha:

As you are no doubt aware, iconoclasm – in particular, the tearing down and destruction of statuary – is currently back in fashion. The most recent and prominent example: yesterday, a mob toppled a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, England, and cast it into Bristol Harbour. Who was this man? According to Wikipedia, he lived 1636-1721, and:

supported and endowed schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches in Bristol, London and elsewhere. Many of his charitable foundations survive to this day.

In Bristol, he founded almshouses in King Street and Colstons Almshouses on St Michael’s Hill, endowed Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital school and helped found Colston’s Hospital, a boarding school which opened in 1710 leaving an endowment to be managed by the Society of Merchant Venturers for its upkeep. He gave money to schools in Temple (one of which went on to become St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School) and other parts of Bristol, and to several churches and the cathedral. He was a strong Tory and high-churchman, and was returned as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bristol in 1710 for just one parliament.

David Hughson writing in 1808 described Colston as “the great benefactor of the city of Bristol, who, in his lifetime, expended more than £70,000 in charitable institutions.”

So you can see why he would merit a statue. However, all this money, by our standards, was tainted, for:

In 1680, Colston became a member of the Royal African Company, which had held the monopoly in England on trading along the west coast of Africa in gold, silver, ivory and slaves from 1662. Colston rose rapidly on to the board of the company and became deputy governor, the company’s most senior executive position, from 1689 to 1690; his association with the company ended in 1692.

During Colston’s involvement with the Royal African Company, it is estimated that the company transported around 84,000 African men, women and children, who had been traded as slaves in West Africa, to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas, of whom 19,000 died on their journey. Due to the conditions on many of the vessels, the extended journeys affected the ship’s crew mortality rates, which were often similar and sometimes greater than those of the slaves. The slaves were sold for cheap labour on tobacco, and, increasingly, sugar plantations, whose planters considered Africans would be more suited to the conditions than British workers, as the climate resembled the climate of their homeland in West Africa. Enslaved Africans were also much less expensive to maintain than indentured servants or paid wage labourers from Britain.

Even though “the proportion of his wealth that came from his involvement in the slave trade and slave-produced sugar is unknown, and can only be the subject of conjecture unless further evidence is unearthed,” the fact that Colston actually sat on the board of the Royal Africa Company is intolerable to our sensibilities. 

Wikipedia.

The statue, constructed in 1895 and listed in 1977, has been controversial for some time. A number of plaques explaining Colston’s role in the slave trade had been considered, with none finding universal favor. I guess there won’t be any need for them now! 

Wikipedia.

There is a certain type of historian who praises this sort of direct action as “carnivalesque” or an example of “charivari,” an expression of the authentic voice of the unheard and a blow against systems of oppression.* It might very well be that, but it’s important to remember that encouraging violence is a dangerous game – once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s rather difficult to control, and it often ends up being applied to “good” things too, as we have recently witnessed. Furthermore, the object of one’s hatred might not always be so hated! Wouldn’t it be nice if more medieval art had survived Protestant iconoclasm?

In general I’m against removing statues. Instead, I am in favor of putting up other statues to current heroes as a riposte, so that a city gets to be full of statues and as a result becomes more interesting. It is good to remember that no one is perfect – and that we should resist the moral self-indulgence of judging the past by our own standards. I will admit, though, that public statues do, on some level, praise the honoree. Maybe some statues really do belong in museums – i.e. in a more “objective” context – or even in storage. Dismantling a statue is not “erasing history,” but erasing the praise. I do not fault residents of the former DDR for removing statues of Marx and Lenin from the public sphere, for instance. 

But if we must do this, then let us follow the instructions of Martin Luther, who wrote that “I have allowed and not forbidden the outward removal of images, so long as this takes place without rioting and uproar and is done by the proper authorities.”

* Alfred F. Young’s The Shoemaker and the Tea Party (2000) provides an example of this. Young praises the Boston Tea Party of 1773 for its destructiveness, seeing in it the coming-together of all classes of Americans to tell the British, in no uncertain terms, what they thought about paying taxes they hadn’t consented to. As I read the book, I kept wondering what Young thinks of other such popular expressions of violence against perceived threats, like tarring and feathering, or lynching?

Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen

My friend Matt Phillips explores an important point in Lutheran theology: when is a Christian allowed to resist unjust authority? This is a serious issue, as Luther’s rebellion against Papal authority helped to inspire a major peasants’ revolt in the 1520s. Luther eventually turned against it with a remarkable pamphlet entitled Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), in which he called on everyone to:

smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful or devilish than a rebel. It is just as when one must kill a mad dog; if you do not strike him, he will strike you, and a whole land with you.

The revolt was eventually put down, at the cost of some 100,000 lives. Some people never forgave Luther for this, and indeed I find it strange that his movement survived it, but Luther was unapologetic: his Reformation was to be a purely spiritual affair, not a political one. “God hath not granted the sword in vain” is one of the great Lutheran lines, the “sword” here being secular legal authority.

But to what extent this principle led to the German penchant for obedience is a topic that deserves further study. Some people just don’t deserve to be obeyed, do they? We can all think of a particular figure in German history to whom resistance would have been amply justified. Luther’s Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed (1523) indicates that Luther’s ideas were a little more subtle than commonly understood:

While he advised obedience to temporal authorities, Luther mocked evil rulers in the first paragraph of Temporal Authority when he wrote, “For God Almighty has made our rulers mad; they actually think they can do—and order their subjects to do—whatever they please.” He explained that subjects are not obligated to obey their rulers in all matters, especially regarding the command to turn over Luther’s books to temporal authorities. Referring to Acts 5:29, Luther explained that Christians owed obedience to temporal authorities in earthly matters, but they should not willingly turn over books. However, if the authorities searched their homes and confiscated their property, they must suffer as Christians and not resist forcibly.

Furthermore, in 1530:

at a meeting in Torgau, Luther and Philip Melanchthon agreed to support resistance against a potential Imperial invasion of Protestant lands. Luther, Melanchthon, and other theologians agreed to the legal argument that Emperor Charles V was elected under certain conditions of Imperial law. That is, the emperor had voluntarily limited his own authority in formulating and adjudicating laws, that is, man-made positive law as distinct from natural law. Therefore, if he acted outside of his jurisdiction, the Protestant princes (though not individual Christians as Christians) may actively resist as a matter of self-defense against the unjust laws of men. Thus, the theologians, particularly Luther, accepted the Saxon jurists’ argument as a matter of positive law, but still rejected active resistance based merely on theology or natural law.

Read the whole thing. I don’t know if this would have stopped Hitler, but it does indicate that for Luther, the “sword” was by no means absolute.

Protestantism, The Bible, and Church Tradition

In the early sixteenth century, everyone knew that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt, in that it was not living up to its own principles. The Pope may have been head of the Church, but he was also a secular ruler, the sovereign of the Papal States, and as such, engaged in all the subterfuge that Machiavelli describes in The Prince. The Church forbade any number of things, like holding more than one church office, marriage within certain degrees of consanguinity, or the keeping of mistresses, but was always willing to grant an exception for the right price, or turn a blind eye if the subject was important enough. Many popes enjoyed a very luxurious and self-indulgent lifestyle, and even if we got some great Renaissance art out of this, it still didn’t sit well with a lot of ordinary Christians. And altogether, the Church as an organization appeared bureaucratic and very venal, a long way from its lofty self-image as the foundation of Jesus Christ himself and the sole guarantor of human salvation.

So in this sense, Martin Luther had a point.

Luther went a little further than that, though. In common with Erasmus and a number of other prominent thinkers of his time, he identified the corruption of the Church with its wealth of extra-Biblical traditions. The humanist impulse was to go ad fontes, which to them was always textual, the text in this case being the Bible. Where in the Bible to you find any justification for:

veneration of saints and their relics
pilgrimage to visit these
penance
purgatory
indulgences
priests as a separate caste of human
monasticism
prescribed use of Latin

Etc. So all of these practices, some over a thousand years old when Luther was alive, were to be downgraded, because they’re not endorsed by the Bible. They were figured as useless at best, or positively harmful at worst – idolatrous and sinful. Now, I suppose that Luther had a point here too… but, really, his program was no more true than its opposite. It is arbitrary, a judgment call, that the Bible should be the sole source of Christian practice. Even Erasmus condemned the mechanized, what’s-in-it-for-me aspect of popular piety, not its non-Biblicism as such.

The real significance of Luther, though, is encompassed in the word Glaubensspaltung – the “Faith-Splitting.” Luther was in no position to be elected pope, at which point he could use the power of the office to impose a more Bible-based Christianity on everyone. Instead, he managed to convince certain German princes that it was no big matter to declare their independence from the Roman Catholic Church, so that he could at least impose his vision of Christianity over their territories. Americans generally view this secession favorably, given this country’s Protestant history and its own parallel origin in the Declaration of Independence. But you could also say that Luther permanently destroyed the unity of Western Christendom, a terrible and tragic thing.

And if Luther could break away in order to implement his own interpretation of Christianity, then so could everyone else. The Bible is a big book, with a lot of stuff in it, and it all depends on what you want to emphasize. Luther himself retained some non-Biblical Catholic practices like infant baptism or the notion of an established church, for reasons that he could justify to himself. But following Luther’s lead, all sorts of people in Europe then felt licensed to interpret the Bible according to their own consciences and to establish their own churches, often going far beyond the dictates of Lutheranism. Jean Calvin discerned predestination and limited atonement from his reading of the Bible. Even more extreme were the Anabaptists, who sought to recreate the church of the first century AD as described in the letters of St. Paul. You know you’re pure when you’re a small group in a hostile world, and accordingly Anabaptists refused all connection to state power, which had only been established in the fourth century, long after the closure of the New Testament canon. Other signature Anabaptist beliefs included adult baptism (in the mode of Jesus, who accepted it when he was old enough to understand what was going on), pacifism (Matthew 5: “whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”), the shunning of wayward members (Titus 3: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject”), and the refusal to take oaths (Matthew 5: “Swear not at all… but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay”). 

How many other Biblical verses have inspired new sects or at least cherished practices? Off the top of my head:

Genesis 9: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”

This is spoken to Noah as he leaves the Ark, thus it predates Moses and even Abraham, and so is still binding, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This prohibition on the consumption of blood means that JWs will refuse to receive blood transfusions.

Exodus 20: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

That would be the sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, i.e. Saturday, the one the Jews keep. Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the early Christian custom of treating Sunday as the sabbath was a grave error.

Mark 16: “And these signs shall follow them that believe… they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”

This has given rise to the Pentecostal custom of glossolalia (speaking in tongues)… and in extreme cases of serpent handling,* that emblem of Appalachian weirdness.

(Even the Westboro Baptist Church can explain very logically why the Bible compels us to picket AIDS funerals.)

Back in the sixteenth century, Roman Catholics responded to Biblicism by rejecting it. Or rather, they affirmed that the Bible was important, but they also affirmed that longstanding church traditions were important, on the principle that Jesus did not write the Bible, he founded a church, and without the church there would be no Bible. The Church precedes the Bible, and if the Church endorses a tradition, then it’s all good, and there is no reason to throw out customs that people have found efficacious and deeply meaningful for hundreds of years. Yes, the corruption of the church had to end, as did any calculated, mechanistic attitudes towards salvation. But, they rightly reasoned, there was no reason why a Bible-based Christianity would necessarily be the cure for these things. One can have the love of God in one’s heart, even as one believes in the efficacy of all seven of the sacraments, papal supremacy, or the intercession of saints.

And even the Anabaptists agree, in their way. The Anabaptist group that everyone knows about are the Amish. As mentioned, they hold themselves apart from the world (2 Corinthians 6: “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”), and have adopted any number of customs in order to signal this. But where in the Bible does it say that one must abjure electricity and automobiles? Where in the Bible does it say that men must wear plain dress and have beards, but with no hair on the upper lip?

You can drive tradition out with a pitchfork, but it always finds its way back.

* The trouble is that verses 9-20 (the “Longer Ending”) of Mark 16 were probably not in the original manuscript. I personally think that the practice is condemned by 1 Corinthians 10:9: “Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.”

Exam Question

At heart, what was the Renaissance? How did it contribute to the Reformation?

The Renaissance was fundamentally a rebirth of classical Latin – or rather, the Latin of the first century BC, particularly as it was composed by Cicero (and perhaps Virgil, Livy, Ovid, and other Augustan writers). To Francesco Petrarca, who lived in the fourteenth century AD, this was the pinnacle of its development and worth returning to. Language changes over time, of course – on the ground, Latin morphed into French, Spanish, and Italian – but even as a formal, learned language it changed, such that the Latin in daily use by the medieval Church was not quite the same as the one employed in the Senate House to expose the conspiracy of Cataline. I’m sure that any fourteenth-century reader would have noticed this difference, and not cared very much, but Petrarch cared a great deal. To him, every linguistic change since Cicero was necessarily a debasement, a corruption. (Cicero did employ certain rhetorical effects that later fell out of use.) The venality of the Church, and its stultifying bureaucracy in which Petrarch worked, seemed to be reflected in the prosaic Latin it used.

Thus, to Petrarch, it was a cultural imperative to revive Ciceronian Latin. This project was slightly risqué – Cicero was a pagan, and the Church did not recommend that Christians read too much pagan writing. As it happens, the Church was right – Petrarch almost single-handedly started a vogue for the revival of Ciceronian Latin – and of necessity a revival of the pagan idea of making something of yourself. No longer did life need to be a vale of tears so that one’s heavenly reward could be all the sweeter; now, people started to claim that God had given them talents, and they glorified God when they developed those talents. This is not necessarily anti-Christian, and indeed the Pope later became one of the greatest Renaissance patrons of all, but it did entail a certain skepticism towards traditional Christianity, and the Church that sponsored it. That Lorenzo Valla, using humanist philology, proved conclusively that the Donation of Constantine was a fabrication, is emblematic of this. Emperor Constantine (d. AD 337) did not actually grant to the pope the rights to the papal states, nor the right to name the western emperor. The pope himself invented the notion in the eighth century.

A similar philological critique was launched by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, who set himself the task of publishing an authoritative edition of the New Testament in Greek. To this end he collected as many manuscripts as possible which, he discovered, did not necessarily agree with each other. To help determine which was the original reading, he adopted the “principle of maximum embarrassment” – that is, the reading that was most likely to be true was the reading that the Church liked the least. In other words, Erasmus implicitly accused the Church of being a bad steward of the Bible. And just as Italian humanists returned to Cicero for his Latin, and for his ideas about human nature, so also did Erasmus believe that this original text ought to be the main arbiter of Christian practice. Thus did Erasmus write Praise of Folly, a scathing attack on the mechanistic, superstitious, non-Biblical Christianity he saw around him. Instead, he believed that everyone should have access to the Bible, so that they could consume the word of God directly.

These two strands, skepticism towards the claims of the Roman Catholic Church, and the idea that we should go back to the Bible to determine our own Christian practice, came together in the program of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Everyone knew that the Church was corrupt, in that it often did not live up to its own ideals, but Luther went further than that, and identified non-Biblical Christian practice (starting with purgatory and indulgences) as part of that corruption. If he wasn’t going to be elected Pope, the next best thing would be to get certain German princes to declare their territories free from the Pope’s writ, and reorganize the church there according to his own understanding of Christian practice. And if Luther could do this, then so could others – with or without the support of the local government authorities.

In this way did the Reformation grow out of the Renaissance.

Psalm 137

A useful primary source to illustrate the Babylonian Captivity, the sixty-year period in the sixth century BC when large numbers of Jews were enslaved in Babylon, is Psalm 137, one that I always use for HIS 111. This is the translation that appears in the New International Version:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,  happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

The last two verses are always jarring – rather like the third stanza of “In Flanders Fields” – but otherwise this Psalm succinctly and beautifully expresses Jewish sadness over their enslavement and exile (although I’m sure that to scholars of the period, who are better versed in theories of exactly who composed it and when, the story is more complicated).

Although I insist that primary sources come from a particular time and place, I can’t resist noting that some historical episodes become tropes, through which subsequent generations interpret their own experience. (The inspiration that Moses had for African-American slaves is a prime example.) The Babylonian Captivity comprehends the themes of both slavery and exile, thus did people in the fourteenth century speak of the “Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy” when it was located at Avignon between 1309 and 1377, or did Martin Luther compose his tract On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), asserting that the Papacy itself held the true church in captivity. Closer to home, the trope of the Babylonian Captivity has resonance with Afro-Caribbeans for obvious reasons, hence the Melodians’ rendition of Psalm 137, later done by Boney M. And, of course, “Babylon” retained its relevance for the Jews themselves, following the diaspora, as a symbol of exile from their homeland.

(This is to say nothing about other Babylonian tropes, like the Tower of Babel from Genesis, or the Whore of Babylon from Revelation.)

UPDATE: Something amusing from a friend’s Facebook feed:

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Reformation Sunday

One of the delightful features of the church I currently attend is that it celebrates Reformation Sunday, the Sunday before October 31. That was the day on which Martin Luther, in 1517, nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, thereby inaugurating the Protestant Reformation! (Of course, there is no primary source evidence that he actually did this, although he may very well have, given that the church door functioned as the university bulletin board. What really mattered is that they were translated into German and published with the printing press, an example of an academic idea bursting out of the confines of the university and into the wider culture. This happens from time to time.)

The church bulletin yesterday did not feature Martin Luther composing, nailing, or printing his theses. Instead, the illustration was of him at the Diet of Worms of 1521, when he stood up to no one less than Emperor Charles V! (Even if he did this in April – actually, I think that Savior of All should celebrate Diet of Worms day, too. Unfortunately, there is no proof that he ever said “Here I stand; I can not do otherwise.”)

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I like that the artist has rendered the double-headed Imperial eagle on a gold field. Alas, he has also simplified the coat of arms beyond recognition. Here is what Wikipedia has:

1024px-Greater_Coat_of_Arms_of_Charles_I_of_Spain,_Charles_V_as_Holy_Roman_Emperor_(1530-1556).svg

Here is another work of art featuring Luther, discovering justification by faith:

Scan

The original of this painting may be found in the Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery in Greenville, South Carolina, which we visited in the spring of 2014, and which houses the most fantastic collection of late medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Apparently Bob Jones, Jr., son of the founder and university president for many years, had a predilection for Christian-themed art and so began acquiring it when he could. (The painting above is not representative; it is nineteenth century in origin and Protestant in theme. Most of the BJU collection is older than that and quite Catholic, which is somewhat at odds with BJU’s historic principles.) I highly recommend a visit to the Museum and Gallery should you be visiting Greenville.

More Saint Georges

Dr. Roger Simpson, a parishioner at St. George’s Tombland, Norwich, sends some more pictures from his church. As one might expect, St. George is depicted quite a few times in the building, and in different media.

1. Near the kitchen, a wooden plaque of Flemish or North German origin, from the mid-sixteenth century. I always like these ones: not only do we have an equestrian St. George and a dragon, but also the princess, her sheep, and the walls of their city Silene.

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

2. On the south porch, a roof boss from c.1485, showing a scarlet-coated St. George slaying the dragon.

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

3. In the south aisle, a stained glass memorial window by C. C. Powell, c. 1907. Here we see St. George’s distinctive red cross on his surcoat and his banner, along with Gothic-style initials for “Sanctus” and “Georgius.” Very nice!

Photo: Paul Dennis, churchwarden.

Dr. Simpson writes that “St George Tombland is a medieval church just across the road from the Cathedral. It is Anglican and ‘High’, and is still a working church. Services are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and of course there is a Sung Eucharist on Sundays. I am one of a group that helps to keep the church open for visitors also most days a week.” I am glad to know this. Norwich has a lot of churches in its city center; my hunch is that many of them were built with profits from the wool trade in the late Middle Ages, when sponsoring a church was deemed a good deed, regardless of the size of the population it was to serve. (The Reformation put an end to such a practice, deeming it wasteful.) Whether or not there was an actual demand for all of them in late-medieval Catholicism, there certainly isn’t one now, when all of 2% of the English population attends Church of England services on a weekly basis. Many Norwich churches, therefore, are maintained as museums by the Norwich Historic Churches Trust, and have been converted into cafes, flea markets, etc. The two churches of St. George, however, remain open for Anglican worship (and for visiting at other times, courtesy volunteers from the parish).

A Good One

From Euan Cameron, The European Reformation (1991):

Marriage was traditionally seen as a sacrament on the grounds that it was an analogy of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The reformers denied that this was sufficient reason to turn it into a ‘sacrament’ as such. Calvin mischievously remarked that on those grounds burglary would be a sacrament, since ‘the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night.’

A Discovery!

From the Guardian:

Henry VIII’s evidence to support break with Rome turns up in Cornish library

Book of legal and philosophical advice on king’s efforts to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled helped change the course of English history

A book which helped changed the course of English history, part of the evidence Henry VIII and his lawyers gathered in the 1530s to help win an annulment from Catherine of Aragon and ultimately to break with Rome, has turned up on the shelves of the magnificent library at Lanhydrock, a National Trust mansion in Cornwall.

The book, a summary of the theories of the medieval philosopher and theologian William of Ockham, has been newly identified by a US scholar and expert on the history of Henry’s library. The book was damaged but escaped destruction in a disastrous fire at the house in 1881, and crucially the fly-leaf survived. It still carries the number 282, written in black ink in the top right-hand corner, which Prof James Carley identified as corresponding with an inventory taken in 1542 of the most important of Henry’s books, five years before the king’s death.

Paul Holden, the house and collections manager at Lanhydrock, said: “It was an amazing moment. The old long gallery here is about the length of a football pitch, and the professor lapped it about six times when we found the book.”

Read the whole thing.