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The recent celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the European Reformation have launched a steady stream of publications analysing almost every facet of the English Church at the start of the 16th century and beyond.
In theory, ‘ecclesiastical history’ is just a polysyllabic synonym for ‘church history’. In practice, however, it connotes something more precise: the history of the church institutional. Like other forms of institutional history, it has become something of a historiographical backwater – very respectable and much loved backwater, I hasten to note – in the last generation or so.
The renewed focus of many historians on post-Reformation English Catholicism in the last few decades has meant that the expatriate English Catholic community in Continental Europe, which produced and preserved many of the records of the English Catholic community, is often a main source of evidence.
With so many publications on religion in the early modern period it is hard even for the most assiduous reader to keep up with the constant supply of new publications. And yet, there are many reasons why W. B.
Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury (1120–70) is one of the iconic figures in British history – a man who most people have not only heard of, but also have an opinion on. Yet, despite the brutality of his murder, such opinions are not always positive. In fact, this medieval archbishop is an unusually divisive figure, and always has been.
As is often the case with (in)famous remarks attributed to prominent personages, there is some doubt about whether Winston Churchill ever did describe the traditions of the Royal Navy as comprising ‘nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers and the lash.’ Churchill himself reputedly denied that he had, confiding to his private secretary that ‘I never said it. I wish I had’ (p. 1).
Virtually every major male figure involved in England’s reformations was a product of one of England’s two universities, and biographers rightly recognise the importance of understanding people’s careers at Oxford and Cambridge to their later lives. Yet the institutional history of the universities themselves, especially Cambridge, has been neglected.
In 2017, many people around the world either celebrated or lamented the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. According to the standard narrative, on 31 October 1517, a young German monk named Martin Lütter nailed a set of theological theses for debate upon the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.
Many years ago, J. H. Overton drew a fine line between Non-Jurors on the one hand and Jacobites on the other. The former, according to Overton, were ‘in no active sense of the term Jacobites’ because they were ‘content to live peacefully and quietly without a thought of disturbing the present government’.
Brian Fitzgerald begins this timely, useful and extremely interesting book by stating what should be pretty obvious to scholars of medieval prophetic texts; that prophecy in the Middle Ages took a wide variety of forms, right across Europe and beyond.