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Heretics and Believers A History of the English Reformation by Peter Marshall

Heretics and Believers A History of the English Reformation

History   All Shortlists and Winners   The Wolfson History Prize 2018   

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Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018

Remarkably researched, incisively argued and brimming with authoritative verve, Professor Peter Marshall’s Heretics and Believers will surely become a seminal text on this seminal period, providing as it does a painstakingly laid path through a myriad of tangled theories, while positing a fresh approach.

Arguing that to see the English Reformation as an ‘act of state’ is ‘almost the most unhelpful thing that can be said’, he posits that religion be viewed as a driving entity in its own right, and considers the experiences of individuals who were affected by – and themselves affected – the religious upheavals of the period. The individual and personal is brilliantly positioned within the ‘bigger picture’ backdrop, with in-depth pre-Reformation contextualisation. This is a mightily exhaustive scholarly triumph, told with a storyteller’s touch. ~ Joanne Owen


Heretics and Believers A History of the English Reformation by Peter Marshall

A sumptuously written people's history and a major retelling and reinterpretation of the story of the English Reformation Centuries on, what the Reformation was and what it accomplished remain deeply contentious. Peter Marshall's sweeping new history-the first major overview for general readers in a generation-argues that sixteenth-century England was a society neither desperate for nor allergic to change, but one open to ideas of reform in various competing guises. King Henry VIII wanted an orderly, uniform Reformation, but his actions opened a Pandora's Box from which pluralism and diversity flowed and rooted themselves in English life. With sensitivity to individual experience as well as masterfully synthesizing historical and institutional developments, Marshall frames the perceptions and actions of people great and small, from monarchs and bishops to ordinary families and ecclesiastics, against a backdrop of profound change that altered the meanings of religion itself. This engaging history reveals what was really at stake in the overthrow of Catholic culture and the reshaping of the English Church.


'Peter Marshall has written a fine history of a momentous time as seen from the bottom up, drawing on a wide range of primary sources and his evident scholarship . . . a riveting account of the losers as well, the English zealots and cynics who wanted a better world, or an unchanging one.' -- Economist

'An eminently readable narrative that avoids flattening out irregularities in the story. . . . Marshall's analysis, his control of documentary material and his imaginative maneuvers between the corridors of power and the streets and alehouses is impressive.' -- Malcolm Gaskill, Financial Times

'A balanced and judicious account of the English Reformation.' -- Arnold Hunt, TLS

'A tour de force . . . readable, detailed, insightful, and creative . . . Marshall has delivered a volume that is intellectually solid, extraordinarily well researched, easily accessible, and enjoyably rewarding.' -- J. Patrick Hornbeck II, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

'A profound book with a light touch--and all the more impressive in that the author is covering almost a century of intellectual, social, and religious history. . . . It will be a long time before the book is surpassed.' -- Michael Coren, Globe and Mail

'Magisterial. . . . It is a significant achievement, notable not only for its depth and breadth but also for its sheer liveliness and flair, as Marshall masterfully guides his reader through this period of profound cultural change and transformation.' -- B. Shannon Gayk, Reading Religion

'Marshall has a gift . . . in his hands, history is good storytelling. . . . An important book offering a creative synthesis of decades of fruitful scholarship.' -- Anne T. Thayer, Journal of British Studies

'In a field crowded with exceptionally able histories, Heretics and Believers stands out as a treasure.' -- Mark Noll, author of Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction

'A magisterial, panoramic and compelling new account of a phenomenon that was never just a top-down, institutionalised and ordered act of state. Peter Marshall reveals how the English Reformation was nurtured within the religious beliefs, culture and polity that it profoundly transformed, and thereby recovers its momentousness.' -- Mark Greengrass, author of Christendom Destroyed: Europe 1517-1648

'A commanding re-interpretation of a deeply significant process of change: analytically subtle, thematically all-encompassing, and full of real people.' -- Steven Gunn, author of Henry VII's New Men and the Making of Tudor England

'A remarkable book that will, without doubt, become the definitive narrative of the English Reformation for years to come. Marshall writes with deep understanding and great panache, moving us masterfully beyond tired debates about whether the Reformation was 'good or 'bad' and bringing his subject vividly to life.' -- Christopher Marsh, author of Popular Religion in Sixteenth-Century England

About the Author

Peter Marshall

Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2018

Peter Marshall is professor of history at the University of Warwick, winner of the Harold J. Grimm Prize for Reformation History, and author of numerous books, including The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction. He lives in Leamington Spa, UK.

On Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation:

In writing Heretics and Believers I wanted to take a defining episode of England’s past and invite people to view it in a different way. ‘Narrative’ history sometimes gets criticised as naïve or unambitious, yet I deliberately chose a chronological and descriptive approach in order to underline the interconnectedness, as well as the open-endedness, of events – and to try to capture the lived experience of people with no idea of how things would finally turn out.

The challenge – which I hope I managed to meet – was to acknowledge the complexity without sacrificing clarity. Monarchs, martyrs, bishops and theologians, the great and the (sometimes) good, play their parts in my story. But I also wished to give full voice to the fears and hopes of ordinary women and men. A paradox near the heart of my account is that while English people often experienced religious change as coercive and traumatic, the Reformation simultaneously educated and empowered them, and recast the relationship between rulers and ruled.

I am genuinely surprised to have been short-listed for the Wolfson History Prize, though of course deeply delighted. The dialogue between professional scholarship and reading public that the Prize seeks to promote is one to which I have always been cheerfully and wholeheartedly committed.

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Book Info

Publication date

2nd March 2018


Peter Marshall

More books by Peter Marshall
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Yale University Press


672 pages


All Shortlists and Winners
The Wolfson History Prize 2018

Christian institutions & organizations

Early modern history: c 1450/1500 to c 1700
History of religion



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