Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations, By Eamon Duffy - Reviews - Books - The Independent

Bloomsbury, £20 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations, By Eamon Duffy

An erudite iconoclast, this historian overturns assumptions about the beliefs of the English in the age of holy wars.

Even amid north Norfolk's extraordinary treasury of medieval churches, Saint Peter and Saint Paul's at Salle (pronounced Saul) stands out as a jewel. Its 126-foot tower dominates the gently rolling landscape north of the market town of Aylsham. I've been there many times, and am always silenced by its sheer scale, austere beauty, and by its survival since the early 15th century in spite of the Reformation and the disappearance of its parish.

Or, at least, that is what I always thought had happened. More cathedral than church, with seating for 500-plus, it stands amid a handful of isolated houses. "Shifts of population," I can hear myself saying to friends I have taken there.

The note of authority in my voice, echoing in the vast silence of a church where one legend suggests Anne Boleyn may have been buried, sounds foolishly shrill now that I have read Eamon Duffy's Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition. In a chapter dedicated to this church, he explains that it was never intended for community use alone, and that its vast open nave was once filled not by local mass-goers but by the gatherings, altars, processions and liturgies of the seven medieval guilds, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Saints Thomas, Paul, Margaret, John the Baptist and others, to which it played host.

Now I need to rethink my impression of the place. Duffy, professor of the history of Christianity at Cambridge, has made a habit of challenging conventional wisdom when it comes to Reformation history. His award-winning 1992 book The Stripping of the Altars overturned the prevailing view that in the years leading up to Henry VIII's break with Rome, English Catholicism was a decaying, if not spent force, and that the new Protestantism was quickly established. Here, in a series of essays joined by the common theme of challenging readers to look more carefully behind the stereotypes of Reformation history, Duffy takes up that narrative again.

As well as his account of Salle – in which he carefully points out the fragments that have survived in the church of medieval Catholicism – he also takes a fresh look at some of the key players. Reginald Pole, the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, a distant relative of the royals and a cardinal before he was even ordained, is usually portrayed as co-worker with "Bloody" Queen Mary in her stop-at-nothing attempts to "restore" Catholicism. Duffy offers a much more nuanced picture, both of their relationship, and of the extent to which they had to put the clock back at all.

In 1549, Pole very nearly became the second Englishman to be elected Pope (the other being Adrian IV in the 12th century), but another Reformation figure, Cardinal John Fisher can claim a loftier title. He remains the only Catholic cardinal to have died a martyr's death, executed on the orders of Henry VIII in 1535. Fisher tends to be relegated to the part of good, pious but unworldly sidekick to Thomas More in their battle with the king in defence of the papacy, but Duffy's account demands a reappraisal.

Even in the potentially disjointed format of a collection of essays, there is something compelling and even thrilling about Duffy's combination of cutting-edge historical scholarship and effortless prose. At the heart of the story he tells is an account of the deep, deep roots that Catholicism had in England before, during and for a long time after Henry's decision to dispense with Rome. As one who grew up Catholic at the tail end of a 400-year period when my co-believers were routinely persecuted and regarded as somehow foreign, or unEnglish, it is remarkable to learn how much my faith is home-grown, part of the landscape, and of the nation's enduring religious sensibility, even if most traces of that have been obliterated and then denied. In Duffy's bottom-up approach to history, as in the fragments of stained glass that have survived in the otherwise clear panes in Salle church, there is a much bigger, bolder story.

Peter Stanford's 'The Extra Mile: A 21st-century Pilgrimage' is published by Continuum

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week