Imagining Peace: A History of Early English Pacifist Ideas, 1340-1560

By Musto, Ronald G. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Imagining Peace: A History of Early English Pacifist Ideas, 1340-1560


Musto, Ronald G., The Catholic Historical Review


Imagining Peace. A History of Early English Pacifist Ideas, 1340-1560. By Ben Lowe. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 1997 Pp. xiv, 362. $60.00 clothbound; $19.95 paperback.)

Ben Lowe's work is a welcome addition to the scholarly analysis of peace movements and ideas in Europe in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. There are many things to like about this book, Over the past generation we have seen "peace studies" pass from a marginal endeavor-dismissed by many historians as special pleading and misreading of the evidence-into a highly developed field of study, albeit still one incorporated into far too few history departments" offerings and too few surveys' pages. Acceptance of the facts still remains hard-- won; and while not even the most devoted peace-studies scholar would question the realities of war in any minimally acceptable introductory text, many historians still raise eyebrows when the reality of peacemaking and peace discourse (to borrow Lowe's phrase) is documented by serious scholars. Lowe's work builds on much previous research to focus on English ideas from the start of the Hundred Years' War in 1337 to the Peace of Chateau-Cambresis in 1559 and does much to bring a living tradition of thinking and writing about peace to a contemporary audience who might not have considered the possibility before.

The book is the outcome of research Lowe completed for a doctoral dissertation, and he has also published several articles on war and peace in the Elizabethan period. Imagining Peace offers introductory chapters on the just-war "ideology" and the development of the law of arms in the later Middle Ages, and then surveys "anti-war" and "peace" discourse during the Hundred Years' War and the ideas on war and peace of the English Humanists, material earlier covered in such works as Robert P. Adams's groundbreaking" The Better Part of Valor (1962). Lowe goes on to discuss early Protestant "negotiations" of war and peace, and concludes by examining these issues in the Elizabethan period.

The author contends that while the just-war theory remained the dominant-one sometimes gets the impression from this book, the only legitimate-- Christian approach to war and peace in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, toward the end of the Hundred Years' War sufficient opposition had formed among many elements of English society to allow the fruitful development of an intellectual tradition that began to reject just-war thinking as an appropriate Christian response. Lowe assembles and weighs enough evidence to argue his case convincingly that by the time Humanism reached England the way had been well prepared for the efforts of the London Reformers and their Renaissance critique of war. The Humanists, in turn, paved the way for the English Protestants and their ideas of peace based on "biblical exegesis.'' The book includes an English Complaint of Peace" in an appendix and a good bibliography. Lowe draws on a variety of sources: sermons and liturgies, episcopal visitations and inquisitions, public and private correspondence, state papers, registers, chronicles, literary texts, explicit treatises on war and peace and a wide-ranging command of the secondary literature to place his study and his judgments upon sound scholarly footing.

There are some things to question from a methodological and conceptual point of view that do not diminish the value of Lowe's work but that highlight both the limitations and the thought-provoking aspects of his approach. …

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