The Reformation and the Towns in England: Politics and Political Culture, c. 1540-1640

By Robert Tittler | Go to book overview

3
Traditional Perspectives and New Approaches

i

For historians of the national scene, it is no longer appropriate to think of the English Reformation as having taken place in the reigns of Henry VIII or Edward VI. Few now locate in that era the establishment of Protestantism as the predominant perspective of English men and women.1 Yet for the urban historian, for whom the Reformation means much more than a revolution in doctrine, the picture remains somewhat different. The legislative onslaught especially of those years brought most of the finely balanced religious foundations of late medieval urban society tumbling to the ground. In the early 1530s all was more or less as it had been. Two decades later a very great deal had changed in the institutional, social, political, and cultural dimensions of urban life. Four decades further on, urban communities were continuing to evolve in ways heavily influenced by the Reformation, and even the doctrinal changes had only just become firmly established. If traditional religious belief itself seems often to have remained more resilient than one used until very recently to think, the circumstances in which such beliefs had evolved and been sustained for a very long time had changed for ever. The nature and sequences of those changes seem familiar enough in their broad outline, but it will not hurt to recall them concisely so that we may better consider events in their wake.

That complex series of events usually referred to by the shorthand term 'The Dissolution of the Monasteries', or simply 'The Dissolutions', seems the place to begin. Some precedents may be offered for

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1
See e.g. Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants ( Oxford, 1982); J. J. Scarisbrick , The Reformation and the English People ( 1984); Christopher Haigh (ed.), The English Reformation Revised ( 1987); Collinson, Birthpangs; Duffy, Stripping of the Altars; and Christopher Haigh, The English Reformations: Religion, Politics and Society under the Tudors ( Oxford, 1993).

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