Godly Reformers and Their Opponents in Early Modern England: Religion in Norwich C. 1550-1643

By Skeeters, Martha C. | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Godly Reformers and Their Opponents in Early Modern England: Religion in Norwich C. 1550-1643


Skeeters, Martha C., Anglican and Episcopal History


MATTHEW REYNOLDS. Godly Reformers and Their Opponents in Early Modern England: Religion in Norwich c. 1550-1643. Studies in Modern British Religious History. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 2005. $90.00.

Matthew Reynolds' monograph, based on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Kent, outlines in great detail the contest over religion in early modern Norwich. The focus on godly reformers and their opponents, however, creates a false polarization given the great variety of goals and methods on both sides. The chronological culmination in Laud's program and the Civil War undoubtedly influenced this perspective.

The book follows chronological development from the first years of the reign of Elizabeth I to the Civil War, or as his chapter title would have it, the "Puritan Revolution." His narrative is as follows. From the ascension of Elizabeth through the 1580s, an alliance between Protestant aldermen and Bishop Parkhurst sought to advance godly religion with support of inspiring preachers, while also supporting magisterial authority. However, the Puritans' nonconformity prompted Elizabeth to select Edmund Freke bishop in order to bring discipline to the diocese. In the early years of James, Bishop John Jegon balanced the desires of the godly for further reform with the crown's concern for conformity. In 1619 James chose the anti-Calvinist Samuel Harsnett as bishop to deal with Puritan criticism of his foreign policy. Harsnett manipulated James' fears to further his own religious agenda by curtailing the preaching of lecturers and parish preachers in favor of those in the cathedral, curtailing the preaching of predestinarian ideology in favor of its critics. Thus, religious conflict already existed when Matthew Wren became bishop in 1635 to implement Laud's "altar policy."

While Reynolds notes that people had to take sides at this point, he continues to show the godly Parliamentarians as strongly committed and the opposing royalists, such as Mayor William Lane, as vacillating. With the "godly" at the center of the narrative and the "puritan revolution" near the end, the "Godly Reformers" are the obvious heroes of the tale. He disagrees with the Haigh-Walsham thesis that the Caroline church flowed from an unbroken strand of Catholicism, but rather sees the potential appeal of Laudianism as a focus for anti-Puritan feeling. Nevertheless, the story is one of conflict and Reynolds' thesis is that there was a contest. The motivations of the opponents of the "godly," however, remain little known in spite of the voluminous prosopographical detail. This fuzziness accords with the conclusion that support for the conservative bishops Harsnett and Wren "demonstrates the shifting nature of lay conformity in the early Stuart church as other parishioners, approving the new ceremonialist agenda, took the opportunity to beautify their church with religious images, deemed idolatrous by the godly, turning their backs on the march of forward Reformation as a consequence. …

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