The English Reformation, 1500–1640: One or Many? (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a late-spring 2004 seminar.

The religious revolution that unfolded in Tudor and early Stuart England has been seen by some as a single "Reformation" and by others as a plural series of "Reformations." This seminar focused upon the most varied succession of Reformations in Europe, steered by royal decisions in two generations of that remarkable and talented dynasty of usurping adventurers, the Tudors. King Henry VIII first broke with Rome and destroyed much traditional religious life but did not decisively align what he was doing with any other Reformation. The Reformation in the reign of his son Edward VI was much more uncompromising, while Mary tried to reverse everything, and Elizabeth restored her own version of Protestantism. These official Reformations need to be understood against a background of popular enthusiasm and opposition, even rebellion, which those in power could never ignore. We observed how a renewed Church developed out of the official settlement of 1558–59, and how it gradually developed a theological identity unique in the European spectrums of Reformation. We sought to account for the implosion in English Protestantism in mid-seventeenth century civil wars, and to trace the fortunes of papalist Catholicism from monopoly status to persecuted minority, relating religious change to the structure and habits of life of early modern society. Lurking behind these particular issues is the question of whether scholars can properly describe the English Church as "Anglican" before Charles II's Restoration to the throne in 1660, and of how to position this Church and its people among the Reformations of northern Europe.


Director: Diarmaid MacCulloch is a Fellow of St Cross College and Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, and is a fellow of the British Academy. In addition to co-editing The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, he is the author of Thomas Cranmer: A Life (1996) and The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (2000). His general history of the Reformation throughout Europe, House Divided, is forthcoming.