Historians and contemporary politics, 1780–1850
in The Debate on the English Reformation
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The contemporary politico-religious concerns of the nineteenth century Catholic polemicists were served by history and shaped their interpretation of the historical past. Nineteenth-century historians had a multiplicity of traditions of Reformation history upon which to draw. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the debate about the nature of the English Reformation was closely connected to the controversy concerning Catholic emancipation. William Cobbett's book produced a powerful social interpretation of the Reformation which had a profound influence upon both nineteenth and twentieth-century perceptions of socio-economic developments. John Milner, Charles Butler and John Lingard all expended a good deal of energy in constructing a Catholic martyrology from a variety of sources and an analysis of penal legislation against the Catholics. In examining the impact of Lingard's treatment, it is as well to be aware of the prevailing attitude to Thomas Cranmer's role in the English Reformation prior to Lingard's intervention.

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