Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. David Routt

Second Advisor

Dr. Woody Holton


In March 1521, Catholic Europe was on the brink of rupture. It had been more than three years since Martin Luther had posted his Ninety-Five Theses in the university town of Wittenburg, and what had been a mere invitation to a public disputation concerning the power and efficacy of ind ulgences had gone on to embroil Christian Europe in an unprecedented doctrinal conflict. The political and religious significance of Luther's revolt was certainly not lost on Rome, which had by this point responded to Luther's December 1520 bonfire fueled by copies of Leo X's excommunication bull and books of canon law by declaring him "the slave of a depraved mind," deserving of "excommunication, of anathema, of our perpetual condemnation and interdict." 1 Already pressuring Emperor Charles V to put an end to the "pernicious poison" of Luther's heresies at the upcoming Diet of Worms, Pope Leo X was also busy ensuring that England would remain relatively unscathed by the "Luther-question."2 While he praised Cardinal Thomas Wolsey's efforts to prevent Lutheran books from infiltrating England's shores, the Pope wasted no time in bluntly informing his English legate that a "general bonfire would be more satisfactory."3 As a "political psychologist in a cardinal 's hat," Wolsey understood the need to express England 's orthodoxy and loyal ty to Rome by staging a spectacular coming out for Henry VIII's very own campaign against Luther, culminating in a lavish book burning ceremony on the grounds of old St. Paul's Cathedral in London. 4 While the estimated 30,000 onlookers gazed into a sumptuous bonfire fed by Luther's collected works to date, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester delivered a two-hour long sermon reasserting the key tenets of Catholic doctrine questioned by Luther. Publicly proclaiming England's orthodoxy to a fracturing European continent, Wolsey's book burning was a public relations coup that put Henry VIII and his kingdom on the definitive side of the pope and the emperor, exercising the show of support that Leo X had not so subtly hinted at two months earlier. These events of May 12, 1521 not only signaled a rejection of Lutheranism, but also the beginning of a prolonged domestic effort to quell Luther's "mighty storme and tempest" within the realm. 5