Sunday November 01, 2015
How two Queens revolutionized the Book of Common Prayer
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has long been thought to be the work of men only. But a startling discovery has upended that thinking, with news that not one, but two Queens had a hand in the Prayer to the Monarch. And a Canadian woman is the sleuth who uncovered the truth of the prayer's origin.
Carleton University professor Micheline White was researching some of the writings of Henry VIII's last wife, Katherine Parr back in 2012. Parr was a published writer and one of the King's most trusted political advisors. White says Katherine was "one of his chief strategists and his spin doctor."
England had been mired in wars for decades. Parr was working on a book of prayers that the Royal couple hoped would help bolster the King's military ventures in the eyes of the public. That book included a translation of a Latin prayer entitled A Prayer for the King.
White noticed startling similarities between Katherine's A Prayer for the King and another, found in the Book of Common Prayer.
"It had been edited to about two thirds of its length, but it was Parr's prayer... and my head exploded," White recalled in an interview with Mary Hynes.
"I think I actually stood up and did a little jig. I just couldn't believe it. I rubbed my eyes and said 'This can't be... but it is! But how did this happen?!'"
Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry and step-daughter of Parr, included the prayer in the Book of Common Prayer in 1559, modifying it somewhat and renaming it A Prayer for the Queen's Majesty. It remains to this day a permanent part of the Anglican liturgy.
It took two years of research to nail down the precise details, but the pieces all came together in 2015, to the delight of historians and clergy alike, who long thought the prayers were the sole work of men.
"Only senior male clergymen could be involved in putting together the text that everybody uses in public worship every Sunday," explains White. "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."