During the thirteenth century several popes had intervened in these controversies [about poverty and property], generally to support the Franciscans against their critics. Pope John XXII, however, intervened drastically on the other side. In several decretals issued between 1322 and 1324 he decreed that the Franciscans must themselves become the legal owners of the property they used and appeared to condemn as heresy the Franciscan doctrine that Christ and the Apostles had owned no property. Initially, Ockham steered away from active involvement in this conflict. But when ordered to read the relevant documents by his superiors in the Order, brother William came to the reluctant yet firm conclusion that John XXII had himself become a heretic. Most members of the Franciscan Order submitted to the Pope's decrees, but in 1328 the head of the Order (Michael of Cesena) and several others including William of Ockham broke with John XXII and eventually sought the protection of the "Roman Emperor", Ludwig of Bavaria, who was already in dispute with John XXII. (The pope claimed that no one could become Roman Emperor without the pope's approval and had excommunicated Ludwig for exercising imperial powers without approval; Ludwig had been elected by a majority of the Electors of the Empire and had defeated the other candidate in battle.) For most of the rest of his life Ockham lived in Munich (Ludwig's city), out of the pope's reach. There he produced various writings against John XXII and Benedict XII, including:
- The Work of Ninety Days, a large work (about 600 pages in the modern edition) in which Ockham reports the answers made by the dissident Franciscans to John XXII's answer to Michael of Cesena's criticisms of John's decrees relating to the Franciscan life. (translation: electronic edition, printed edition).
- A Letter to the Friars Minor, addressed to the 1334 general meeting of the Franciscan Order (i.e. of those who had submitted to the pope), explaining why he was not with them.
- Against Benedict, against the pope who succeeded John XXII when he died.
- Eight Questions on the Power of the Pope, reporting and comparing various opinions on the powers of the pope in relation to the Roman Empire.
- A short discourse on the tyrannical government over things divine and human, but especially over the Empire and those subject to the Empire, usurped by some who are called Highest Pontiffs [i.e. Popes].
- On the Power of Emperors and Pontiffs. This little treatise, written in the final months of Ockham's life, was a kind of "apologia" for his religious and political anti-papal activism.
Dated 1495, the book is a summary of works by philosopher and theologian William of Ockham who was a major figure in medieval intellectual and political thought.
To help Henry VIII to gather evidence to support an annulment to his marriage, his agents scoured the country for texts such as Ockham’s which questioned the authority of the Pope and argued for the independence of the monarch.
The book at Lanhydrock contains marginal notes and marks which were made by Henry VIII’s secretarial staff to draw his attention to relevant passages.
The book has been at Lanhydrock for many years, but its direct connection to the Royal library was not known until Professor James Carley, an expert on the libraries of Henry VIII, was invited to examine some of the volumes in Lanhydrock’s collection.