What Have Historians Been Arguing About... the impact of the English Reformation

Teaching History feature

By Laura Sangha, published 21st September 2022

The impact of the English Reformation

Since the first stirrings of religious reform in the sixteenth century, people have been writing the history of the Reformation, debating what happened and why it happened. John Foxe arguably became the first historian of the English Reformation when he published Actes and Monuments in 1563. Better known as ‘The Book of Martyrs’, Foxe’s polemical narrative of heroic Protestant martyrs challenging a corrupt and dysfunctional Catholic Church was enormously influential in its time. Its invigorating tale of a false church swept away by enthusiastic true believers was reproduced in historical works for centuries to come. In the nineteenth century, this triumphant history, in which Protestantism overcame ‘popery and tyranny’, was perceived to have played a key role in England’s emergence as a leader in global affairs: it had allowed the English to shake off superstitious belief, foreign influence and backward medieval ways of thinking, paving the way for the fulfilment of an imperial destiny... 

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