My favorite books about the impact of the English Reformation

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of early modern Britain, with particular interests in the cultural and religious history of the English Reformation, as well as in the fields of historical memory and time. I enjoy pursuing these subjects not only through research and reading, but also teaching. I am currently the J. H. Plumb College Lecturer in History at Christ’s College, University of Cambridge. 


I wrote...

Memory and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Early Modern England

By Harriet Lyon,

Book cover of Memory and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in Early Modern England

What is my book about?

England was a different place after the dissolution of the monasteries. Between 1536 and 1540, Henry VIII’s government suppressed some 800 religious houses. In doing so, it disrupted not only religious worship but also patterns of daily life that had existed for centuries. It transformed the physical landscape, as well as the ways in which people thought about the medieval past and the ongoing Reformation.

My book explores the legacies of the dissolution in religious debate, historical writing, and local tradition over the course of two centuries. It reveals that this episode was remembered as one of the most profound and controversial ruptures of the entire English Reformation, and a defining moment in English history that separated the medieval past from the early modern present.

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The books I picked & why

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

Harriet Lyon Why did I love this book?

There have been many histories of the English Reformation, but Peter Marshall sets the standard in this engaging and profoundly human take on the religious changes of the sixteenth century. I admire the way in which he balances the sweeping story of the legislative Reformation with small details and anecdotes that really bring the period to life.

This book reminds us that the Reformation cannot be understood simply as an institutional transformation but also as a cultural phenomenon and that real lives and livelihoods were at stake in the process of religious change.

By Peter Marshall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Heretics and Believers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2018 WOLFSON HISTORY PRIZE

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.

With sensitivity to individual experience as well as masterfully synthesizing historical and institutional developments, Marshall…


Book cover of The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity, and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland

Harriet Lyon Why did I love this book?

This book changed the way that I thought about the Reformation landscape. Alexandra Walsham shows that it was not only a terrain of ruins and fragments but also of converted and adapted structures, as well as of the memories and folk stories embedded in physical sites.

It taught me a lot about how the dissolution specifically was remembered, but also about the broader transformations within which it took place. The details in this book are endlessly rich and fascinating, and it is a great example of writing that takes serious the idea that history is rooted in space as well as time.

By Alexandra Walsham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Reformation of the Landscape as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Reformation of the Landscape is a richly detailed and original study of the relationship between the landscape of Britain and Ireland and the tumultuous religious changes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It explores how the profound theological and liturgical transformations that marked the era between 1500 and 1750 both shaped, and were in turn shaped by, the places and spaces within the physical environment in which they occurred. Moving beyond churches, cathedrals, and monasteries, it investigates how the Protestant and Catholic Reformations affected perceptions and practices associated with trees, woods, springs, rocks, mountain peaks, prehistoric monuments, and other…


Book cover of Being Protestant in Reformation Britain

Harriet Lyon Why did I love this book?

For all the books about the Protestant Reformation, very few stop to consider what it meant to be Protestant – how it felt, or what daily life was really like. Alec Ryrie tackles these questions both with empathy and analytical rigour, exploring the struggles and triumphs of individuals seeking to live godly lives against a background of ongoing religious change.

This book really foregrounds "ordinary" people and, in doing so, highlights the extraordinary quality of the everyday. It helped me to reach a better understanding of Protestantism as a dynamic and sometimes contradictory movement, and of its emotional resonance for those who embraced the reformed faith.

By Alec Ryrie,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Being Protestant in Reformation Britain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Reformation was about ideas and power, but it was also about real human lives. Alec Ryrie provides the first comprehensive account of what it actually meant to live a Protestant life in England and Scotland between 1530 and 1640, drawing on a rich mixture of contemporary devotional works, sermons, diaries, biographies, and autobiographies to uncover the lived experience of early modern Protestantism.

Beginning from the surprisingly urgent, multifaceted emotions of Protestantism, Ryrie explores practices of prayer, of family and public worship, and of reading and writing, tracking them through the life course from childhood through conversion and vocation to…


Book cover of Memory's Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England

Harriet Lyon Why did I love this book?

This is not just a book about the destruction, dispersal, and re-organisation of medieval libraries after the Reformation; it also encourages us to interrogate the very nature of the collections upon which historians rely.

From Jennifer Summit, I learnt that it is misguided to think of early modern libraries and archives as neutral spaces; rather, they shape and change the meaning of the works displayed on their shelves.

In her book, we come to see such libraries, including the foundational collections of the British Library and the Bodleian Library, as distinctively post-Reformation in character, paving the way for accounts of the triumph of Protestantism across the centuries.

By Jennifer Summit,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Memory's Library as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Jennifer Summit's account, libraries are more than inert storehouses of written tradition; they are volatile spaces that actively shape the meanings and uses of books, reading, and the past. Considering the two-hundred-year period between 1431, which saw the foundation of Duke Humfrey's famous library, and 1631, when the great antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton died, "Memory's Library" revises the history of the modern library by focusing on its origins in medieval and early modern England. Summit argues that the medieval sources that survive in English collections are the product of a Reformation and post-Reformation struggle to redefine the past by…


Book cover of Monks, Miracles and Magic: Reformation Representations of the Medieval Church

Harriet Lyon Why did I love this book?

This book explores post-Reformation attitudes to the medieval past, which was continuously debated and rewritten according to the shifting religious landscape of the sixteenth century and beyond.

Helen Parish’s work helped me to see the merits and benefits of crossing the rather arbitrary divide between the medieval and early modern periods, since it so deftly places medieval and Reformation sources in dialogue.

Her book also makes fascinating reading for anyone wanting to better understand reformed Protestantism as a culture of adaptation and accommodation, as much as of destruction and the outright rejection of the Catholic past. 

By Helen L. Parish,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Monks, Miracles and Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Helen L. Parish presents an innovative new study of Reformation attitudes to medieval Christianity, revealing the process by which the medieval past was rewritten by Reformation propagandists. This fascinating account sheds light on how the myths and legends of the middle ages were reconstructed, reinterpreted, and formed into a historical base for the Protestant church in the sixteenth century.

Crossing the often artificial boundary between medieval and modern history, Parish draws upon a valuable selection of writings on the lives of the saints from both periods, and addresses ongoing debates over the relationship between religion and the supernatural in early…


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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…


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