Conversion, Politics and Religion in England, 1580-1625

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Conversion, Politics and Religion in England, 1580-1625. By Michael C. Questier. [Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History.] (NewYork: Cambridge University Press. 1996. Pp. xiv, 240. $59.95.)

Dr. Questier has written an interesting and provocative book which should be read by anyone working in the area of Elizabethan and Jacobean religious history. Entering the battle over the nature of"English Catholicism" and when/ if England became a "nation of Protestants" through an examination of the phenomenon of conversion to and from the Church of Rome, he reminds those working in the field that religious allegiance was for some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century men and women a question of conversion and obedience to God's grace, not merely of obedience to the commands of the monarch or a way of preserving property. In establishing that as his goal, Dr. Questier then encounters some methodological problems. How does one establish the religious beliefs of the majority of English Catholics or of English Anglicans? How significant are the examples of conversion which Dr. Questier produces? Is there a difference between the conversion narratives of the clergy and those of the laity? How many of these narratives of conversion are there?

While Dr. Questier's analysis of the conversion narratives themselves is significant, the question remains: how significant is conversion for the mass of the people? Religious motivation is difficult to assess: how many men and women simply went along with the changes because they were mandated by the queen? How many were devoted to the old religion simply because they did not like the new? How many people accepted the priests' definition of what it meant to be a member of the Church of Rome? In dealing with these conversions and with his analysis of recusant literature, Dr. Questier lumps together clergy and laity, those residing in England and those living in exile. Does that clarify the material, or does it muddy the issue? …