Reformation in Britain and Ireland

Reformation in Britain and Ireland

Reformation in Britain and Ireland

Reformation in Britain and Ireland

Synopsis

The study of the Reformation in England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland has usually been treated by historians as a series of discrete national stories. Reformation in Britain and Ireland draws upon the growing genre of writing about British History to construct an innovative narrative ofreligious change in the four countries/three kingdoms. The text uses a broadly chronological framework to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the pre-Reformation churches; the political crises of the break with Rome; the development of Protestantism and changes in popular religious culture. The tools of conversion - the Bible, preaching and catechising - are accorded specific attention, as is doctrinal change. It is argued that political calculations did most to determine the success or failure of reformation, though the ideological commitment of a clerical elite was also of centralsignificance.

Excerpt

It was almost a decade ago that the General Editor wrote to ask if I would be interested in contributing to the Oxford History of the Christian Church. The volume he suggested would address the early English Reformation, with a concluding date in the first years of Elizabeth's reign. Or so I read Owen Chadwick's letter. A more careful rereading added a distinctive dimension to the task: what was needed was a study of the British churches, or rather those of Britain and Ireland, to match volumes being prepared on the Continental Reformations. It was that additional information that seduced me from the paths of social history and persuaded me to sign. In the first half of the 1990s there were at last exciting developments in the integrated and comparative study of the British Isles, following the ideas first proposed by John Pocock a decade and a half earlier. Collections of essays on the British dimension of early modern history began to proliferate. The time had come to try to stretch the understanding of a 'mere English' historian and to think about the ways in which the three kingdoms, and four nations of the British archipelago, responded to the most traumatic experience of the sixteenth century, the coming of the Reformation.

I added only one caveat to the Editor's proposal. It was no longer possible to halt the story of religious change at 1560, or even 1570. It is at present fashionable to argue that the Reformation has to be understood as a long process, finishing, according to taste, in 1640, in the 1680s, or even in the eighteenth century. This seems unnecessarily extended, though there is an obvious logic in continuing the narrative of changes in religious politics up to the war of the three kingdoms in 1642, a point made by Professor Chadwick. Instead Reformation historians would now most usually argue that it is important to proceed a generation or two beyond 1560: to understand the impact of religious crisis both on those who lived through the great transitions in public policy and those who followed them. The latter, as credal Protestants or conscious recusants, had a very different relationship to religious change from their mothers and fathers, and needed to be studied to understand how post-Reformation culture emerged. So, the Editor and I agreed to compromise: both the ecclesiastical narrative and the study of post-Reformation beliefs would have a

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