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Chapter Nineteen. England: Piety, Heresy and Anti-clericalism

Matthew Groom

Subject History

Place United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland » England

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1100-1199, 1200-1299, 1300-1399, 1400-1499

Key-Topics clergy, heresy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631217855.2003.00024.x


Until quite recently, most historians took a somewhat negative view of the spiritual condition of the late medieval church in England. The speed and relative ease with which the Reformation swept away the fabric of established Catholic order, so the argument ran, reflected the unpopularity and weakness of the traditional church. Adopting the views of sixteenth-century reformers, historians considered that the medieval church had lost its way, burying the truth of the gospels under a morass of vain and empty rituals and beliefs that had no authority in scripture, and that when radical changes in religion were set in motion, most people were only too keen to reject the old order for the new. While those working in this field still debate keenly the relative level of success that the Reformation enjoyed in different parts of the country, historians have increasingly regarded the religious changes of the sixteenth century as being neither popular nor inevitable; on the contrary, they have now come to a broad consensus that sees such changes as both generally unpopular and unexpected. It was Jack Scarisbrick who, in 1984, first developed this view. According to Scarisbrick, the Reformation was simply an act of state, vigorously and sometimes forcibly imposed on the people by the crown and certain key members of the clerical hierarchy, yet it was a movement that had very few advocates ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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