Christianity in England from Roman Times to the Reformation

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KENNETH HYLSON-SMITH. Christianity in England from Roman Times to the Reformation. Volume II: From 1066 to 1384. London: SCM Press 2000. Pp. 338 + xiv, introduction, bibliography, index. £19.95 (paper).

The second volume of Kenneth Hylson-Smith's History of Christianity m England moves from the Norman Conquest to Wycliff. Hylson-Smith, recently retired as bursar and fellow of St. Cross College in Oxford, gives a straightforward account of the development and vicissitudes of the church in England in relation to the national history. The volume harvests two generations of post-war English ecclesiastical historians, and is enriched in places by more recent secondary studies.

In fact, the volume might be better named the history of the church in England, rather than of Christianity, as it studies the institution more cogently than the religion. While Hylson-Smith seeks to include popular religion, spirituality, and theology, the strength of the book is its basic structure, relating the policy of the monarchy to the policy of archbishops and bishops, reign after reign, as the institutions of church government and life developed in relation to English and European life as a whole. If that approach is something of a reassertion of a Westminster-centered view of British life, it has the virtue of linking policies, movements, and the individual personalities of leaders coherently, and of focusing on the issues for which there is the most evidence available and the longest historiography on which to build. Hylson-Smith draws on generations of surveys and specialist studies of church institutions in their relation to the national history, and is in a position to render thoughtful portraits of the kings and archbishops in relation to the movements and developments they sought to govern. In places, it may be that his own experience in administration gives him a perspective which other historians of religion have lacked. For example, his view of Anselm as administrator is markedly more positive than R. W. Southern's. Another strength of the book is his attention to church architecture, which remains an imposing and lively primary source to students who live in or can visit England.

The book's weaknesses are to some extent the other side of its virtues. Where the magisterial studies he harvests are dated, so often is his account. For example, his paragraphs on the English "mystics" of the fourteenth century depend on David Knowles' book from 1961, and not on more recent studies or on close reading of the sources themselves. …