Well, term has ended, and having been really struck by Mark’s idea of an early modern social history desert-island-style summer reading list, it got me to thinking: what are the five must-read books I would pick for my own specialism, the English Reformation? This is also the time of year when I start to get emails from students who are taking my modules in the autumn and keen to make an early start preparing for the new academic year. This post is therefore dedicated to them, and I might well direct a few of them this way!
1) Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (1992; 2nd edn. 2005)
Before 1992, English reformation studies was defined by an impassioned scholarly debate, between the ‘traditional’ interpretation of A.G. Dickens, outlined in his 1964 classic The English Reformation, and the revisionist interpretation of scholars such as Chris Haigh and Jack Scarisbrick. The Stripping of the Altars effectively won that argument in favour of the revisionists. If non-early modernists know any work of reformation history, it’s liable to be this paradigm-breaking breeze-block of a book. But this isn’t just a towering scholarly achievement: it’s a wonderful literary one too. The vastness of its scope is matched only by the richness of its detail; a labour of genius and love.
2) John Bossy, Christianity in the West 1400-1700 (1985)
If The Stripping is a breeze-bloc, then this is a beautifully crafted gem of a book. Perhaps never has such a short text both communicated and generated so much deep thought on a topic. This is another brilliantly written book: short, accessible, engaging, and it wears its erudition lightly. Still, this is a conceptual masterpiece, teasing out the broader (and often unexpected) significances of the religious conflicts that wracked Europe over the course of three centuries, and witnessed the disintegration of a united Latin Christendom into a series of fractured hostile Christianities. The chapter on ‘Migrations of the Holy’ inspired my work on music, but there’s so much more here as well.
3) Peter Marshall, Reformation England, 1480-1642 (2003; 2nd edn. 2012)
Quite simply the go-to textbook on the English Reformation, but so much more besides. This is an immensely readable book – the prose is not only informative, it is also a delight. Complex historiographies are expertly summarised, but this is an interpretive and analytical survey of the reformation, not merely a passive conduit for ‘information’. With clarity, wit and expert judgement, Marshall guides the reader through a dense jungle of literature, and leads them out the other side into the sunlight, invigorated and wanting more. I still regularly go back to this book, especially if I want to remind myself of a topic I haven’t taught a seminar on for a while, and it never disappoints.
4) Alexandra Walsham, The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (2011)
Perhaps not quite yet as influential or frequently cited as Providence in Early Modern England, Charitable Hatred, or Church Papists, this substantial tome nevertheless represents Walsham at her absolute best. The ambition and scope of this book – chronological, geographical, methodological, thematic – is simply breathtaking, and again it is a beautifully-written and lovingly-crafted exercise in exemplary scholarship. From holy wells to healing spas, from iconoclasm to ruin-tourism, from sermon-gadding to outdoor conventicles, this is post-revisionism at its scintillating best: complex, and yet packed with insight. There are pretty pictures too!
5) Alec Ryrie, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (2013)
I’ll tell you a secret: I bought this last year when it came out, and I only started reading it earlier this month… Needless to say, only a few chapters in and I’m already hooked! Like all of my choices, readability is a huge factor, and again this is wonderful, witty, readable, engaging prose. The premise is also a startlingly simple and yet utterly brilliant one. How did people be Protestant, in post-reformation England? How did their religious beliefs affect the way they ate, didn’t eat, drank, worked, played, rested, slept, thought, felt, and prayed? I’ve been looking forward to this for several years now, having heard snippets delivered at various conferences, and so far it certainly does not disappoint. P.S. Alec Ryrie is a fellow blogger, so why not check out his latest musings over at blogspot?
So there it is: my summer top 5. I had a hard job whittling this down, so come on, what have I missed out which you couldn’t bear to, and which of my choices do you disagree with…?