The best books on the English Reformation

Peter Marshall Author Of Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation
By Peter Marshall

Who am I?

Peter Marshall is Professor of History at the University of Warwick, co-editor of the English Historical Review, and the author of nine books and over sixty articles on the religious and cultural history of early modern Europe. His authoritative account of the Reformation in England, Heretics and Believers, was awarded the Wolfson History Prize in 2018. Peter is a native of the Orkney Islands, and currently writing a book on the islanders’ experiences in the Reformation era.


I wrote...

Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation

By Peter Marshall,

Book cover of Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation

What is my book about?

Centuries on, what the Reformation was and what it accomplished remain deeply contentious. Peter Marshall’s sweeping new history—the first major overview for general readers in a generation—argues that sixteenth-century England was a society neither desperate for nor allergic to change, but one open to ideas of “reform” in various competing guises. King Henry VIII wanted an orderly, uniform Reformation, but his actions opened a Pandora’s Box from which pluralism and diversity flowed and rooted themselves in English life.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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

By Patrick Collinson,

Book cover of 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.


Providence in Early Modern England

By Alexandra Walsham,

Book cover of 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.


Thomas Cranmer: A Life

By Diarmaid MacCulloch,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Eamon Duffy,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Naomi Tadmor,

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Reformation, the English Reformation, and protestantism?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Reformation, the English Reformation, and protestantism.

The Reformation Explore 16 books about the Reformation
The English Reformation Explore 5 books about the English Reformation
Protestantism Explore 26 books about protestantism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Reformation Unbound, John Knox, and The Irish Church and the Tudor Reformations if you like this list.