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

By Robert Tittler | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Amongst those who have set out to investigate the reformation as matters primarily of church doctrine and popular belief, a healthy debate has emerged over the sharpness of discontinuity represented by the events of the 1530s and 1540s.1 A similar, perhaps less explicit debate has emerged over the question of continuity in the politics and political culture of English provincial towns over the putative divide of the reformation. While a few even of the most recent writers have surprisingly ignored the issue almost entirely, 2 some have argued for an essential continuity in the political function, if not the form, of such quasi-governing institutions as guilds and fraternities. 3 Continuities of such politically charged interpersonal relations as kinship, patronage, and clientage, especially of the sort discussed by Ian Archer for post-reformation London, cannot be denied. 4 Examples of oligarchic governance were also well precedented, at least in some towns, well before the sixteenth century.5 All these perspectives tend to minimize the significance of the reformation, and particularly the events of the 1530s and 1540s, as a turning point in the history of English urban society. While not meaning to deny or overlook pre-reformation precedents where they can be demonstrated, this book considers most such evidence as still somewhat exceptional for its time. It argues instead that the reformation marks a distinct watershed, even a titular episode, in English urban history, and it views the urban scene as dynamic rather than static.

____________________
1
Representative voices in this debate belong to Dickens, English reformation, and numerous other works, on the one hand; and Haigh, English reformation Revised and English reformations (amongst other works); Scarisbrick, reformation and the English People; and Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, on the other.
2
See e.g. S. M. Jack, Towns in Tudor and Stuart Britain ( 1996).
3
Esp. Rosser, Town and Guild of Lichfield, 39-47; and Faraday, Ludlow, 90-3.
4
Archer, Pursuit of Stability, chaps. 1-3.
5
Kowaleski, Commercial Dominance of a Medieval Provincial Oligarchy, 355-84; Carr, The Problem of Urban Patriciates, 118-35; Rigby, Urban "Oligarchy" in Late Medieval England, in Thompson (ed.), Towns and Townspeople, 62-86; Shaw, Creation of a Community, esp. chaps. 4-6.

-335-

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