Review of Christopher Haigh’s ‘English Reformations’

English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors
by Christopher Haigh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £32.00

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5.0 out of 5 stars England’s ‘interrupted and difficult’ Reformation, 15 Aug. 2008
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This review is from: English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors (Paperback)

Haigh argues there were Reformations rather than one Reformation and that the process was interrupted and difficult. That implies that the populace held to Catholicism – which Haigh argues was a functioning framework – through choice. England already had an anti-Catholic underground in the form of the Lollards but they lacked credibility after the Oldcastle Rebellion (1414).

English Lollardy and imported Lutheranism came out of the closet under the protection of Cromwell, Crammer and Anne Boleyn. The two Universities did most of the legwork through Cardinal’s College in Oxford and the White Horse Tavern in Cambridge. The arrival of Bucer from Strasburg and Martyr from Italy (a defender of Zwingli) accentuated this. Stereotyping early critics of the religious regime helped to unify opposition. Bilney was characterised by the authorities as `Lutheran’ whilst only sharing some common ground with them such as the prohibition of veneration of images. Although found guilty, Tunstall kept the case open as Wolsey wanted a repentant conformer not a martyr. Facts about his relapse and subsequent burning in 1531 are confused.

Haigh argues that the preaching of Protestantism remained `limited and patchy’. We need to deal with one of the most contentious claims head-on. According to Haigh, Protestantism did not appeal to women. 30% of men could read but only 10% of women. Why should it be a surprise that there were more male Protestants than female? Certainly, Protestantism had a spatial bias, being concentrated in the Kent, London, Essex and around the Universities. Haigh claims that even in Colchester in 1553, Protestants were a minority.

England’s `Reformation’ began in Henry VIII’s reign through political accident. The fall of More in 1532 was followed by the release of people formerly considered heretics. In 1538 injunctions ordered the destruction of devotional images. But Henry was responsible for stopping his own Reformation, starting with the case of Lambert. The Act of Six Articles was a personal disaster for Cranmer and Cromwell – particularly as Cranmer had a wife who had to be packed off to Germany. It made denial of transubstantiation a burning issue. Cromwell was executed in 1540 and Barnes, Garrett and Jerome also died at the stake. After Cromwell’s fall, the Reformation was not only stoppable but reversible. The revision of the Bishops’ Bible demonstrated no `justification by faith’, the central tenet of Lutheranism. Cranmer tried to salvage faith even if it would not be `faith alone’ but the final Act restricted even the reading of Bibles. Only the break with Rome and suppression of monasteries survived.

Henry might have died in 1546 but over 4 months everything changed. His unsigned will was probably doctored by Paget as Protestants tried to push through their plans for Lady Gray. Elsewhere in the book, Haigh rubbishes the importance of will preambles but here he suggests that Henry’s is essentially Catholic. Recent scholarship challenging the assumption that Edward VI was a sickly child is not incorporated. Over the next 6 years church images were ripped down, Protestant Prayer Books were enforced, clergy married and English prayers were introduced. Haigh argues that this march of Protestantism is an illusion. The 1549 Prayer Book was a compromise pleasing neither side. However, the 1552 Act of Uniformity made a decisive break with the past being essentially Calvinist in outlook. The new Book of Common Prayer that year was designed to exclude Papist errors but also responded to the threat of Anabaptism. Its position on predestination was also deliberately vague.

Edward died on 6th July 1553. Six days later there were reports that Mary had been proclaimed Queen in Suffolk. Haigh claims that she had overwhelming support in the country and was swept to power in a revolution. Under Mary, Protestants tried to present a `united credal front’. However, there were separate Zurich and Lutheran camps – amongst others. Henry Hart, an old Lollard from Kent, turned up in Essex preaching that salvation is available to all not just an elect – a thoroughly anti-Calvinist message. According to Haigh, Mary never intended the brutal holocaust she instigated. She wanted to act `without rashness’ but there were major miscalculations on Gardiner’s part in his choice of burnings.

Mary died in November 1558 by which time it seemed certain that Elizabeth would be Queen as Mary Queen of Scots, the most likely Catholic contender, was married to the French Dauphin. Policy advisers warned Elizabeth that anything other than gradual reform carried severe risks but she threw her lot in with the Protestants. The Parliamentary struggles of 1559 not only produced another ambiguous Book of Common Prayer, they frightened Elizabeth into a conciliatory position. However, the Royal Visitation proceeded along Cranmer’s example of 1548. Elizabeth was outraged at the results and quickly moved to restore roods in churches. Yet she was forced to agree to another phase of official iconoclasm.

Nearly all early Elizabethan parish clergy were recruited as Catholic priests. Gradually this Catholic-rooted old guard died off and was replaced by Protestants. Catholicism became either a religion in exile as at Louvain or an underground, `country house’ religion at home. Critical to this was Pius V’s hard line on Catholics attending church services in England. By the middle of Elizabeth’s reign there is mounting evidence of Protestant breakthroughs. By the end, Catholicism had disintegrated into a small sect.

Under pre-Reformation Catholicism, both thinking and unthinking Christians were all Catholics. But Protestantism had an exclusivist model with a single route to salvation. Yet, in spite of all the legislative changes, the new service acquired the appeal of the old; the Book of Prayer took on the role of the mass. England after the Reformation had 4 types of Christian: godly Protestants, recusant Catholics, Old Catholics and `parish anglicans’. The last of these were despised by both sides and were seen as potential Papists by the Protestants. For Catholics several decades had changed everything. Many Protestants wondered how so little could have changed.

Testimony of Giles Creech, Lambeth Feb 1637/38

1637/38 Giles Creech who had clearly been mixed up with Familist or Antinomian views, decided to spill the beans on his former associates. He claimed that he had been forced to turn informant becau…

Source: Testimony of Giles Creech, Lambeth Feb 1637/38

Theologia Germanica: what it is and how it was translated

1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent. ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.:

Sloane MS 2538 : 17th century


  • Title:
    Owners of Manuscripts: Guide, Family of.includes:ff. 1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent. ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.:
  • Collection Area: Western Manuscripts
  • Reference: Sloane MS 2538
  • Creation Date: 17th century
  • Extent and Access:
    Extent: 1 item
  • Contents and Scope:
    Owners of Manuscripts: Guide, Family of.includes:

    • ff. 1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent.
    • ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.: Imperf.
    • f. 91 Johann Tauler, Dominican Preacher: Communication of, with a poor beggar: 17th cent.
  • History:
    Custodial History:
    Guide family: Formerly owned MSS.

The Theologia Germanica – what is it? Basically it is an anonymous mystic text probably written in the mid to late 1300s (although the earliest extant copy is 100 years later) somewhere in the area surrounding Frankfurt. It may well have had its roots in the Friends of God movement originally from Basel, Switzerland but also very closely tied to the emergence of the German Spiritual movement, familiar still through the work of Thomas A Kempis.


Why was it considered so important? It was discovered and named by Martin Luther in 1516 and that fact in itself hugely raised its status. The Germanica name (or Theologia Deutsch) is Luther’s wording. Initially he wanted it right at the heart of the Reformed Church. And, of course, he called it what he did because, unlike most ecclesiastical texts of the period which were in Latin, it was in German.

But, of course, it was obvious enough to many that whilst German functioned well enough as a lingua franca in Central Europe, beyond it, it would be precious little use as a medium. The first translation into Latin was undertaken by Ludwig Haetzer, a real early radical of the religion. Haetzer had initially been in close contact with Hans Denck before the latter expulsion from Strasbourg. This is the point at which some might say that the Theologia got hi-jacked: Denck (essentially a Spiritist but seen as Anabaptist) replaced the Luther introduction. Meanwhile Luther’s main concerns switched from the radical to consolidation, leaving no further room for the Theologia. Under accusations of antinomianism by Catholic adversaries, Protestants developed a ‘third use of the law’ whereby Law was still binding. There were some objectors such as Johannes Agricola who rejected any place for Law.

And the Haetzer translation clearly influenced the later Castellion Latin translation (left). Sebastien Castellion was a French proponent of freedom of thought and translator of some important mystical and heterodox texts whose fortunes went through the most remarkable ups and downs. Denck’s ‘Hauptreden’ (‘Certain grave sayings’) survived the change of translator for inclusion. And it is this Castellion translation which seems to have found its way into England at some point during the first half of the 1600s.


By 1638 Giles Creech had clearly been directly involved with the Mount or ‘Of the Mountains’ …or whatever name you care it to go by. But he also openly admitted that he had done the full round of underground conventicles including the Valley, the oddly-named Essentualists and the eponymous Antinomians. There is no sign of the Castalians, the Caps or the Scattered Flock – unless they also carried the Essentualist name? At that point Creech decided that he might be best served ditching the Familists and sneaking on them to the ecclesiastic establishment at Lambeth Palace. He would not have known it at the time but he was not the first to do so. The records show us that Lambeth already had an informant. Creech knew her too and trotted out her name – Jane Farthing (or Farthing Jane) – dutifully enough. She had actually led them to the Cloth Fair perfumiers Callow (Callon – took me a while to link those two names) and Cox who had actually both been picked up on the streets of London in separate places.


He was young, still an apprentice (that lasted seven years in those days and often started at age 14), and his memory was either excellent or it was some sort of ploy. For the scribes could hardly keep up with him. There were two of them and they are sometimes inconsistent in their records. Creech was also fully aware of the underground’s connections with the nominally mainstream ministry who had fallen for the same ideas.


That was what Sir John Lamb was actually more interested in. He was convinced that Thomas Hodges ran some kind of conventicle called ‘The Hodgekin’ – for which there is absolutely no evidence. He would later ditch his younger beliefs in favour of a very cosy CoE career. He was not spotless though for he possessed both the Theologia Germanica and Fitch’s Rule of Perfection and he had the admiration of Robert Towne. But Lamb’s central concern was not even Hodges but John Everard who had also been operating a private conventicle for two nobles. The scribes missed something altogether and Lamb himself had to intervene to record the most important of findings: that the underground had got hold of Theologica (sic) Germanica via the barber-gone-bookseller, Edward Fisher, and that it had been translated by either Brierley or Tennant, a minister from ‘Grendleton’…