The English Reformation

The study of the religious upheavals that took place in England during the 16th and 17th centuries has proved one of the most provocative areas of recent scholarship. Alec Ryrie looks at some of the key works of recent years.

'The Pope Suppressed by K. Henry the Eight'. Frontispiece from the 1631 edition of Actes and Monuments, or Foxe's Book of Martyrs, first published in 1570.
'The Pope Suppressed by K. Henry the Eight'. Frontispiece from the 1631 edition of Actes and Monuments, or Foxe's Book of Martyrs, first published in 1570.

A generation ago, to study the English Reformation was to participate in a cheerful form of trench warfare. Long-held Whiggish positions were being spectacularly bombarded by Christopher Haigh’s wonderful rhetoric and systematically undermined by Eamon Duffy’s devastating arguments; but they weren’t abandoned without a fight. The whole subject was being reduced to whether there was one English Reformation or several, when it (or they) started and finished and whether anyone actually wanted it. If, indeed, it happened at all.

So, for those of us who grew up in the midst of this battle, it is a little disconcerting to realise that peace has broken out. We are becoming used to a new historical landscape, in which (whisper it) we pretty much agree on the broad outline of events.

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