The Best Books On The English Reformation

By Peter Marshall

The Books I Picked & Why

The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

By Patrick Collinson

The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Why this book?

Thirty years after its first publication, Patrick Collinson’s elegantly written account of how Protestantism transformed English society remains fresh, challenging and surprising. Focusing on art and culture, urban life, the family and ideas of nationhood, it persuasively argued that it makes more sense to see the Reformation as a drawn-out process rather than a dramatic ‘event’, and as one that was coming to fruition only in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. It is also a triumphant demonstration of how short books can punch above their weight.


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Providence in Early Modern England

By Alexandra Walsham

Providence in Early Modern England

Why this book?

In the world of the Reformation, nothing happened by chance. Providentialism was the belief that every event in the human and natural world was a result of the direct will of God, and was infused with meanings for people to interpret. With great sensitivity and insight, Walsham draws us into these unfamiliar ways of thinking, where everything from a bout of bad weather to the unmasking of a political plot could be a message from God demanding an urgent collective response.


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Thomas Cranmer: A Life

By Diarmaid MacCulloch

Thomas Cranmer: A Life

Why this book?

The finest historical biographies use the life to illuminate the times, and MacCulloch’s meticulously researched book on the career of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer is also the best single account of the see-saw religious politics of the reign of Henry VIII. Its sympathetic portrayal of a flawed idealist is ultimately very moving as well as consistently enlightening.


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The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village

By Eamon Duffy

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village

Why this book?

Eamon Duffy’s justly acclaimed ‘microhistory’ transports us away from the world of bishops, parliament and the court in order to track, across four crucial decades, the experiences of a tiny village on the edge of Exmoor in Devon, based on meticulous recordings in the ‘church book’ by the long-serving parish priest. It is a story in miniature of the tragically destructive aspects of the Reformation, but also an uplifting one in its depiction of the capacity of ordinary people to survive and adapt.


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The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society, and Culture in Early Modern England

By Naomi Tadmor

The Social Universe of the English Bible: Scripture, Society, and Culture in Early Modern England

Why this book?

At the heart of the Reformation in England was an insistence that people be allowed access to Scripture in their own language, but translation was invariably a selective and creative process. Tadmor brilliantly shows how the translators of the Hebrew Bible (‘Old Testament’) remade the ancient world in the image of contemporary Tudor society, editing out many references to slavery and polygamous marriage, and merging together distinct forms of political governance through consistent reference to the authority of a ‘prince’. The findings are eye-opening, and the book should be required reading for modern biblical fundamentalists.


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