Each age has used the debate about the English Reformation in its own way and for its own ends. This book is about the changing nature of the debate on the English Reformation, and is a study of Reformation historiography. It focuses the historiography of the Reformation as seen through the eyes of men who were contemporaries of the English Reformation, and examines the work of certain later writers from Thomas Fuller to John Strype. The book discusses the history of the sixteenth-century Reformation as written by modernist professional historians of the later nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. All through the Tudor times the tide of Reformation ebbed and flowed as the monarch willed. The book sets out modern debates concerning the role of Henry VIII, or his ministers, the Reformation and the people of England, and the relative strength of Protestantism or Catholicism. Catholics and Protestants alike openly used the historical past to support their contemporary political arguments. Additionally, the nature of religious identities, and the changes which occurred in the Church of England as a result of the Reformation are also explained. The history of the Reformation in the 1990s and 2000s has to be viewed within the context of research assessment and peer review. The book shows how persistent the threat of postmodernist theory is to the discipline of history, even as leading academic authorities on the Reformation have rejected it out of hand.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book talks about the changing nature of the debate on the English Reformation. It discusses the history of the sixteenth-century Reformation as written by modernist professional historians of the later nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book examines the work of certain important later writers who cared about the issues raised by the Reformation and saw them as deeply relevant to their own times. It explains why the debate mattered to the later writers and not simply what the debate was. The book is concerned with the historiography of the Reformation as seen through the eyes of men who were contemporaries of the English Reformation-William Tyndale, John Frith, Margaret Campbell Barnes, John Foxe and John Bale.
This chapter examines the most important Protestant interpretations of the English Reformation and its history penned in the sixteenth century, culminating in the works of John Foxe. The importance of history and historiography to the Marian and Elizabethan Protestants can be demonstrated by the manner in which they marketed the Book of Martyrs. The alternative historiography of the Reformation was as potent for future generations, in its way, as was that of the 'religious' reformers. Between 1525 and 1535 a number of English reformers were living in exile in Europe, unwelcome in Henrician England. Grindal and other exiles urged Foxe to continue his work and to include the reign of Henry VIII, while they also located materials about the reigns of Edward Foxe and Mary Boleyn. Henry forced the reluctant clergy to admit that their allegiance to the Crown superseded their loyalty to the papacy.
John Strype became involved in interpreting the English Reformation as a result of his complacent Anglicanism, his antiquarian and scholarly interests, and his ambition. The Catholic Nicholas Sander(s) had attacked the English Reformation with, Gilbert Burnet alleged, great scurrility in his De Origine et Progressu Schismatis Anglicani libri tres. Peter Heylyn began to collect materials for a history of the English Reformation and to prepare historical defences for the retention of episcopacy and for the English liturgy. Probably much criticism of Heylyn as an unscrupulous polemicist derives from the fact that his views were so influential. Thomas Fuller's The Church History of Britain was a reply to the various Catholic detailed versions of English Church history since the break with Rome, bore witness to the continued strength of the Foxian apocalyptic vision.
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.
Nineteenth-century Britain saw the established Church of England in the throes of a major crisis of identity. The Oxford movement stressed the unbroken traditions of the English Church, the Catholic faith, the Catholic heritage, the apostolic succession. Samuel R. Maitland, 'the high and learned' librarian of Lambeth, sought with passionate zeal to discredit as historians both John Foxe and Stephen Reed Cattley. Charles Beard's brief discussion of the English Reformation has intrinsic interest. In his history, Richard Hurrell Froude portrayed the English Reformation as a moral victory in the struggle for human freedom and intellectual honesty. The detailed and learned history penned by Canon Richard Watson Dixon in the 1880s arrived at a conclusion: the English Reformation was a political act, the product of the legislation of the 1529 Parliament. Social evolutionism, heavily influenced by the writings of Herbert Spencer, provided a social complement to Darwin's theory of biological evolution.
Frederick Pollard saw the Henrician Reformation as the culmination of the long struggle between spiritual and temporal powers in England. The field of historical studies in Britain had undergone profound changes since 1902, in no small part due to Pollard's own endeavours. The English Reformation, A.G. Dickens's general history looked at the respective roles of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell from a somewhat different perspective. Historians in the twentieth century had previously denied that England's monarchy was a despotism. Geoffrey Elton produced a plethora of scholarly monographs and learned articles which contributed to the debate on the Reformation. These included The Tudor Constitution: Documents and Commentary, The Tudor Revolution in Government and England under The Tudors. For Elton, who was prone to see sixteenth-century men and women through twentieth-century or even nineteenth-century spectacles, religion was often ignored as a factor of importance.
In the twentieth century, and particularly from 1960 to 1985, the English Reformation became prey to the new history. Views of history-writing and history as a discipline provide the backcloth for the debate about the Reformation. There has been much written on the attitude of Henry VIII himself to Protestantism. Historians of the spread of Protestantism or the persistence of Catholicism need to know what ordinary men and women believed. A.G. Dickens a historian of the German Reformation, made a concerted effort to 'understand the English Reformation as an integral part of the European Reformation'. J.J. Scarisbrick's The Reformation and the English People set out to reassert the view that the English Reformation was an official reformation and one that the people of England did not want. The question of the origins of the English Reformation clearly has a bearing upon the progress of that Reformation at popular level.
The Act of Supremacy was confirmatory of a grant of supremacy to the English Crown from God: it was not an act of creation. The Act of Supremacy repealed the Marian ecclesiastical legislation, revived the Henrician laws against Rome, and restored to the Crown the ecclesiastical powers that Henry VIII had enjoyed. At one stroke, by the Henrician Act of Supremacy, relations between Church and state were put on a new footing. In general, the Crown and the episcopate shared identity of purpose after the translation of Whitgift to Canterbury and harmony was threatened only in specific areas. The Crown saw the episcopate as a protection against radical change in the social and religious framework. Studying the Church of England as an institution was almost a side issue for the majority of early modern historians, who were more concerned with the politics of religious settlement or the spread of Protestantism.
The historiography of the Reformation since about 1980 has developed against a background of changes in the academy itself as well as of new approaches to the subject matter. Newisms became prominent from the 1950s onwards: modernism, postmodernism, deconstructionism, feminism and receptionism being five of the most important for our subject. To the modern historian touched by postmodernism there may appear to be a certain charming naivety about A.G. Dickens's and Patrick Collinson's attitude to 'evidence'. Although debates about postmodernism gripped the profession from the 1970s onwards, modernism was not defeated but lived on in modified yet recognizable form into the twenty-first century. Most scholarly attention has focused on Protestantism in the Elizabethan and early Stuart years. English Reformation was also brought into close contact with European movements by spasmodic negotiations with the German Schmalkaldic League.