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The Pre-Reformation Church

For discussion:

1. How useful is the concept of ‘anticlericalism’ for understanding the problems of the pre-Reformation Church?

2. How, if at all, can one measure the extent and nature of lay commitment to the Church before the Reformation?

3. Was pre-Reformation religion based on fear?


C Harper-Bill, The Pre-Reformation Church in England (1989) - useful short introduction.

P Marshall, Reformation England 1480-1642 (2003), ch 1 - ditto

JJ Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People (1984) - early chapters contain classic statement of the ‘revisionist’ position.

C Haigh, English Reformations (1993) - chs 1-2 endorse Scarisbrick view

E Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (1992) - massively detailed elaboration of the revisionist case; essential reading.

-------, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (2001) – compelling microstudy of one rural community.

--------, Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers 1240-1570 (2006) – further exploration of one of the main themes of Stripping.

AG Dickens, The English Reformation (2nd ed 1989) - early chapters outline the pessimistic view of the pre-Reformation Church which has been the target of the revisionists.

C Haigh, ‘Anticlericalism and the English Reformation’, History (1983) and in Haigh ed., The English Reformation Revised (1987) - argues against Dickens for virtual absence of anticlericalism.

AG Dickens, ‘The Shape of Anticlericalism and the English Reformation’ in E Kouri and T Scott eds. Politics and Society in Reformation Europe (1987) and in Dickens’ Late Monasticism and the Reformation (1994) - riposte to Haigh.

RN Swanson, ‘Problems of the Priesthood in Pre-Reformation England’, English Historical Review, (1990) - takes rather more subtle approach to the problem of anticlericalism.

P Marshall, The Catholic Priesthood and the English Reformation (1994) - attempts to analyse lay-clerical relations in pre-Reformation England and assess the effect on these of the early Reformation.

------------, ‘Anticlericalism Revested? Expressions of Discontent in Early Tudor England’, in C. Burgess and E. Duffy (eds.), The Late Medieval English Parish (2006) – a refinement of the argument.

C Harper-Bill, ‘John Colet’s Convocation Sermon and the pre-Reformation Church in England’, History (1988) and in P. Marshall (ed), The Impact of the English Reformation 1500-1640 (1997) - defends parish clergy from Colet’s strictures.

C Burgess, ‘A Fond Thing Vainly Invented: an Essay on Purgatory and Pious Motive in late Medieval England’ in S Wright ed., Parish , Church and People (1988) - argues fear not the main motive in establishing prayer for the dead.

P. Marshall, ‘Fear, purgatory and polemic in Reformation England’, in W. Naphy and P. Roberts (eds) Fear in Early Modern Society (1997), and reprinted in Marshall, Religious Identities in Henry VIII’s England (2006) - warns against taking claims about fear of purgatory at face-value.

----------, Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England (2002) – ch. 1 surveys social and cultural implications of doctrine of purgatory.

K Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) - ch 2 sees late medieval Catholic ritual in terms of protective magic.

RN Swanson, Church and Society in Late Medieval England (1989) - thorough and sensible survey, especially ch 6 on spirituality. See also the introduction to Swanson’s Catholic England (1993)

JAF Thomson, The Early Tudor Church and Society (1993) - good on parish religion

G Rosser, ‘Communities of Parish and Guild in the late Middle Ages’ in Wright ed., Parish, Church and People - sees parishes and guilds as to some extent in competition for the loyalties of lay people.

B Kümin, The Shaping of a Community: The Rise and Reformation of the English Parish (1996) - important work based on thorough analysis of churchwardens’ accounts.

R Lutton, Lollardy and Orthodox Religion in Pre-Reformation England (2006) – post-revisionist study, emphasising diversity and fracture in pre-Reformation religion.