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Wife of Henry VIII wrote BCP prayer

Posted on: November 12, 2015 2:36 PM
Professor Micheline White says that her "surprising" discover reveals the role women played in the creation of the BCP
Photo Credit: Carleton University
Related Categories: BCP, Canada, Carleton University, England, Liturgy, PBS

[ACNS] A Canadian university professor has discovered that the prayer for the Monarch, contained in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and retained by many provinces, in one form or another, was written by Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, and selected for use in the BCP by Queen Elizabeth I.

Chris Cline, a spokesman for Carleton University in Ontario, described the discovery as “surprising”, telling ACNS that “it has always been assumed that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was composed and edited entirely by male clergymen.”

Professor Micheline White made her “accidental” discovery while researching one of Parr’s Ladies-in-Waiting. She came across a book of prayers published by Parr, which included a prayer for the King which struck a remarkable similarity to the prayer still used in the BCP.

“I was astonished,” White said in an interview with CBC, “because although it was a book of private prayers which I assumed . . . were apolitical and a bit boring, I realized that, in fact, they were intensely political and that it was a major work of military propaganda. . .

“The thing that really caught my eye was at the back of the book, there was a prayer for the King; and I thought ‘mmm, that’s a bit odd.’ Prayers for the King were tightly controlled. They are about the King’s image and Henry has a whole batch of advisers who manage his image for him. So why would he be asking Parr to disseminate a prayer about him that depicts him to his people.”

She told CBC that “Only senior male clergymen could be involved in putting together the text that everybody uses in public worship every Sunday. And so to find that even in 1559 under Elizabeth, that a text . . . produced by a woman, was included in the Book of Common Prayer is just very surprising. . . It means that women were not only authors of prayers for public worship, but they were also editors.”

Speaking to ACNS, White said that “The critical editions of the BCP and the existing historical scholarship on the 1549, 1552, and 1559 editions of the BCP all assume that clergymen were responsible for editing, translating, and compiling [it]. Previous scholars have not raised the possibility that Elizabeth or Parr, or any other women, were involved at all in the editing and writing of parts of the BCP.”

The BCP was first compiled and edited by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549 and revised in 1552. It was further edited under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1559, after Cranmer’s death, and again, more extensively, in 1662, leading to the version that is most commonly found in use today.

The Prayer Book Society (PBS) works to “defend the continued use of the Prayer Book [and] to secure an increasingly significant role for this sometimes neglected treasure at the heart of the worshipping life of this and future generations.”

“While some of the prayers came directly from [Cranmer’s] own heart and pen, he also drew together material from other sources,” Prudence Dailey, chairman of the PBS told ACNS. “While it can safely be assumed that the great majority of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer were composed by clergy – who would, of course, by definition have been male – I don’t think it would be terribly surprising if one of them originated with Queen Katherine Parr, since the Prayer Book contains prayers drawn together from a variety of sources, not all of which are known with certainty.

“We do, of course, already know that the development of the BCP was not devoid of some female influence—that of Queen Elizabeth.”

A Prayer for the King, by Katharine Parr (1512-1548)

O Lord Jesu Christ, most high, most mighty, king of kinds, lord or lords, the only ruler of princes, the very son of God, on whose right hand sitting, dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: with most lowly hearts we beseech thee, vouchsafe with favourable regard to behold our most gracious sovereign lord, King Henry the eight, and so replenish him with the grace of thy holy spirit, that he always incline to thy will and walk in thy way. Keep him far off from ignorance, but through thy gift, let prudence and knowledge always abound in his royal heart. So instuct him (O LORD JESU) reigning upon us in earth, that his human majesty always obey thy divine majesty in fear and dread. Indue him plentifully with heavenly gifts. Grant him in health and wealth long to live. Heap glory and honour upon him. Glad him with the joy of thy countenance. So strengthen him, that he may vanquish and overcome all his and our foes, and be dread and feared of all the enemies of his realm. Amen.

A Prayer for the Queen’s Majesty, as found in the Book of Common Prayer

O Lord, our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.