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Reformation Divided

Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England


Eamon Duffy


London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2017

Hardback, vi + 441 p. ISBN 978- 978-1472934369. £30


Reviewed by Jacqueline Rose

University of St Andrews




Eamon Duffy’s Reformation Divided reprints a range of his essays published in the last forty years on aspects of early modern English religion. Heavily weighted towards Catholic topics – no surprise, given Duffy’s previous scholarship – it is organised into three sections: on Thomas More and heresy, on Counter-Reformation England, and on the godly and the conversion of England. These are prefaced by a short commentary on recent historiography, especially Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation. Yet the historian with whom Duffy is most often in dialogue in these articles is John Bossy, both due to Bossy’s account of the rise of a new Catholicism in the Elizabethan era and, at times, because of his description of the change from a late medieval church keeping the peace to an early modern one emphasising obedience and instruction. While Duffy says [13] that his direct engagement with Bossy only appears in a few chapters, these themes come up throughout the book.

For a collection of republished essays (one, on Gregory Martin, is new), there is a reasonable degree of coherence: greatest in the first triad of essays on More, and with some links between chapters later in the book as well. The potential readership may include, but also go beyond, university students and staff. For an academic reader, this provides a usefully accessible collection of some of Duffy’s essays (along with his reflections on some recent work). For readers unfamiliar with the Tudor Reformations, the writing is very accessible, but perhaps less useful – due to the nature of a volume of collected essays – than a single monographic work. Indeed, for such readers, Duffy’s fascinating account of a Devon parish, The Voices of Morebath (2003) might be a better starting point.

Duffy’s other monographs have illuminated the material culture of Catholicism and its destruction. The focus of some of these essays, at least ostensibly, is far more textual. This is most prominent in the first section’s detailed dissection of More’s anti-heretical writings, so often neglected in favour of Utopia. Duffy argues that these long and seemingly sprawling texts did have a coherent and deliberate aim and format, partly utilising a Renaissance strategy of copia, and partly from being envisaged as a reference collection rather than as works to be read from cover to cover. However, the texts that Duffy analyses in the second part of the book often draw him into the wider culture and performance of Catholicism. He describes Pole’s sermons as sensitive to their audience, deliberately targeted at London heretics and debates in London over re-appropriating former church lands that had been used to endow Edwardian hospitals, and deploying More and Fisher as local martyrs. Pole’s commitment to preaching (the frequency of his sermons ‘compares favourably’ with that of Elizabeth I’s first archbishop, Matthew Parker [111]) could be fulfilled in the promising days of the Marian restoration – that movement whose success Duffy described at greater length in his book Fires of Faith (2009). Later Catholics survived in darker circumstances.

William Allen, one of the most prominent Elizabethan Catholics, shared Pole’s theological adeptness. Duffy claims his resource and vision were tantamount to Borromeo’s [163]. Yet England was far from Milan – and Allen was often far from England. He might have maintained, in his own mind, a strict division between the clergy who were martyred for their ministry and the lay Catholics who would fight for their faith, but the former were nevertheless advisers to the latter. In fact, Allen’s career appears to show just how hard it was for Catholic exiles to recognise another Marian restoration was not going to happen. In contrast to the famous Allen, the author of Roma sancta, Gregory Martin, is now obscure. His text takes Duffy from words on a page to the culture of Counter-Reformation Rome – a city increasingly in contact with its early Christian heritage as a living past in the present. Catholic spiritual practices are also discussed in an analysis of how devotional texts were carefully edited to mingle the late medieval past with new Tridentine devotions, integrating pre-Reformation England with Counter-Reformation Catholicism. It is a shame that, at the end of the chapter on ‘Praying the Counter-Reformation’, Duffy does not return to the intriguing lay case study with which he opens it: the will of William Lenthall that mixed Catholic devotion with the Church of England’s liturgy, and funded the resulting devotional practices with ex-chantry lands.

No account of post-Reformation English Catholicism (or perhaps of Counter-Reformation Catholicism generally) would be complete without a sense of conflict within the clergy, placed here in a wider context and framed by debates about the care of souls. Such conflicts were heightened in the seventeenth century by quarrels over Jansenism, which Duffy shows to have fractured post-Revolution (i.e. post-1688) English Catholicism. The anti-Jesuit tone of some resulting works, especially that of Charles Dodd (Hugh Tootell), affected the writing of Catholic history into the nineteenth century. Indeed, Duffy shows the attack on Henrician tyranny first established by Reginald Pole and propagated by Nicholas Sander to have echoed down the centuries. His terse comment on the claim by the Cisalpine Joseph Berington that the Elizabethan state was forced unwillingly into anti-Catholic action (‘hopelessly naïve’ [307]) is followed by a more detailed demonstration of how John Lingard’s early-nineteenth-century history told an older Catholic story in newly persuasive judicious language.

The final part of this collection moves away from the history of Catholicism to consider Protestant reforms. The focus here is not the Church of England, or at least not those within it who embraced the Prayer Book, but the godly Puritans and Dissenters who criticised the half-hearted official Reformation. The potentially divisive strains within predestinarian theology and godly piety are noted, along with the ways in which they were mitigated – Duffy points to the penny-godlies that were part of popular reading, and the overlap between some Anglican and Dissenting reading during the Restoration. This was, nevertheless, limited by the liturgical commitment of Restoration Anglican piety and the difficulties in eroding the suspicion with which Puritans and Anglican churchmen regarded one another.

Many readers might be surprised to see Duffy commenting on the ‘runaway success’ of the Reformation within two generations. Yet this dates to the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods – the time when a Protestant nation became a nation of Protestants. Yet this was a divided nation: the tensions between different Protestant religious societies in the 1690s were, according to Duffy, built on the ‘wreckage’ of the endeavour to combine personal godliness with parish Christianity [407]. For him, the Counter-Reformation still had some advantages when converting the populace: missions that were distinct from parish structures, an embrace of drama and theatricality, and a restructured system of confession. None of these were uncontested. Yet, as the work of Duffy and his fellow revisionists have shown, English Catholics after Mary I’s death did not lack energy or initiative. Indeed, they had a vision, but their exclusion from power, and the divisions within the Catholic community that resulted from their negotiation of this position, thwarted its realisation.


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