Popular Politics and the English Reformation

By Ethan H. Shagan | Go to book overview

8
The English people and the Edwardian
Reformation

Elite observers in Edward VI's reign were well aware that regardless of whether most English people unequivocally accepted sola fide and sola scriptura, the 'new learning' was acquiring significant political weight in the countryside. With evangelicals increasingly monopolising the 'points of contact' through which Tudor subjects traditionally communicated with their government, Catholics leaders fretted, not without reason, that avarice and ambition would lead their coreligionists to 'take truce with the world'.1 Perhaps more surprisingly, many influential Protestants were equally uneasy with their own growing ascendancy, worrying that political expediency would take the edge off of evangelical religion. If dedication to true religion resulted not in worldly suffering but in worldly advancement, after all, how could the sheep be reliably separated from the goats? Hence the great bugbear of Edwardian Protestantism was not the ability of crypto-Catholics to 'counterfeit the mass', but rather the incentive for ambitious pseudoevangelicals to counterfeit an outward affectation of Protestantism.

The charge of lukewarm or expedient religion could be brought against all social classes, giving it a gratifying appearance of evenhandedness in an era of social strife.2 The evangelical John Hales, for instance, castigated greedy landlords who 'in their talk be all gospellers, and would seem to be favourers of God's Word'.3 Thomas Lever used similar rhetoric against corrupt ministers, excoriating 'carnal gospellers, which by their evil example of living, and worse doctrine, do far more harm than they do good by their fair reading and saying of service'.4 But at heart the threat of the 'carnal gospeller' was a popular threat, rooted in the dangerous promiscuity of the

____________________
1
John Redman, A Compendious Treatise Called the Complaint of Grace (London, 1556), sig. G3r. While not published until Mary's reign, this tract was written shortly before the author's death in 1551.
2
Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (New York, 2001), p. 152.
3
BL Lansdowne MS 238, fol. 320v
4
Thomas Lever, Sermons, ed. Edward Arber (London, 1871), pp. 65–6.

-270-

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