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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must-read -- finally, the truth about the Reformation
This is the first book I've read by Belloc and I'm forever indebted to Belloc for the truth contained in his writings and his writing styles. I enjoyed the book so much that I immediately went online and ordered seven more books of his!

First, regarding his writing style: Belloc doesn't use boring footnotes or cite historical sources. This is actually...
Published on July 31, 2004 by Delgado

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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book, but one caveat
This book focuses primarily on the Reformation in England, not in Germany where it started or Scandinavia where it spread.

For that's what the "reformation" was: Germany, Scandinavia, and England vs. the rest of western Europe.
Published on May 4, 2011 by Kevin Bold


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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must-read -- finally, the truth about the Reformation, July 31, 2004
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This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
This is the first book I've read by Belloc and I'm forever indebted to Belloc for the truth contained in his writings and his writing styles. I enjoyed the book so much that I immediately went online and ordered seven more books of his!

First, regarding his writing style: Belloc doesn't use boring footnotes or cite historical sources. This is actually appreciated, rather than criticized, for, the footnotes and sources are often ignored by the reader anyway and get in the way of the writing's flow. Also, Belloc writes remarkably like a modern-day writer in, say, a magazine article. He is speaking to the layperson in an easy to read style that is almost like a conversation. You will breeze through page after page.

Second, regarding the substance of Belloc's writing: this is an INDISPENSABLE work. Belloc starts out by stating that the English Reformation cannot be overemphasized because if England had not become Protestant, all of Europe would be Catholic today. This is most certainly true and Belloc easily lays out why. A chapter is dedicated to each person who played a major role in the Reformation, or attempted to combat it: characters like Henry VIII, Thomas More, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth, Mary Stuart, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell, Steven Gardiner, etc. (23 individuals total). The chapters are small (a few pages each) and thus easily retain the reader's interest while still providing enough information for the reader to have an accurate picture of each individual.

Lastly, Belloc is writing from a Catholic viewpoint and, as such, the portrayals of the characters are devoid of the usual "the Protestant Reformation was a great and noble undertaking" bias and baloney. Some may say that, conversely, Belloc writes with a Catholic bias but, even if that is the case, such a work is necessary to counter the Protestant bias in nearly all works on the Reformation, written by Protestants.

If you're ready for the truth (that the Reformation was successful due to greedy, powerful Englishmen who had a perverse incentive to see it succeed -- to hold on to the enormous wealth they had acquired through confiscation of church property when the break with Rome occurred), get this book!! Get all of Belloc's books!!
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Readable, and Concise, December 12, 2003
By 
Arthem "arthem" (Knoxville, TN USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
Belloc does an outstanding job tracing a thread of continuity among the characters selected for this study. He is not wholly partisan, managing to achieve some slight pathos for Anne Boleyn & Elizabeth. To get this across to a partially educated Catholic reader is no mean feat, particularly when the last reformation history they read was Cobbett's polemic.
I did note that Belloc relies on Cobbett's History of the Protestant Reformation in England & Ireland as a source. And while this work is rousing, fairly convincing, and entertaining, it is too strong a piece of counter-propoganda to be relied upon.
Still, this has minor impact on Belloc's portrait. His assertion that the Reformation hinged in England is well supported. If anything, there is a subtle disdain for the Austrian/Spanish emporers (which I attribute to Belloc's Anglo-franco environment), particularly compared with the much more rigorous treatment by Warren Carroll.
This is an engaging read, and certainly provides an angle on the Reformation that is unlikely to be developed elsewhere. The book cannot be read without prior knowledge of Reformation & European history, or without a handy reference, as Belloc does not fully develop the historical context around his characters. Rather, the focus is on the characters themselves, and in this, Belloc is admirably successful in his efforts to rewrite the legacies of these individuals.
Finally, I found most impressive Belloc's assertions that Pascal and Descartes (as products of the Reformation) were the unwitting forebears of secularism, rationalism, and materialism. While Belloc's very brief argument needs further scrutiny, his division of Western Thought into Greek/Thomastic and post-Descartes is intriguing.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who's Who in the Reformation, July 15, 2000
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This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
Characters of the Reformation is a great insight into the motives of the folks who brought us the reformation. If you like Plutarch's Lives of famous Roman and Greeks, you'll like this book's style. Belloc examines each person's virtues and foibles, showing how they led to the split of Western Christendom. Luther, Calvin, various popes, and political figures are there. Belloc also includes overlooked characters, especially women like Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. Belloc, who was a close friend of G.K. Chesterton, puts a Roman Catholic spin on the Reformation which is too often considered only from a Protestant perspective. Whatever your perspective, if you like knowing what makes people "tick," you'll get a kick out of this book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Reformation Viewed by the Character or Lack of Character of Some of the Leaders, July 8, 2006
This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
Hilaire Belloc' CHARACTERS OF THE REFORMATION is an informative book that explains the religious upheaval through the individuals who either supported it or tried to stop it. Belloc is very clear that most of those who supported the Reformation were motivated more by greed and desire for political power rather than any religious conviction.

Belloc begins this study with a background of the Reformation, and explains how the Reformers and those opposed to the Reformation responded to the disunity of the Catholic Church. The historical background is important in that each of those who supported the different "reform" movements conform to the general direction of the Reformation. This early section of the book is important to comprehending the remainder of the book.

Belloc's sections regarding Henry VIII (1509-1547) is instructive. Henry VIII was an intelligent, vibrant man when he first took power in 1509. Yet, due to Henry VIII's lust, he ruined both the Catholic Church in England and his own life because of sexually transmitted diseases. Many uninformed Protestants argue that Henry VIII's break with the Catholic Church was due to his attempt at annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Belloc destroys this myth. Henry VIII's desire for Anne Bolyn was the reason for his break with the Catholic Church. Readers should also note that Henry VIII considered himself a good Catholic, and he merely replaced the Pope with himself. Henry VIII kept the Sacraments and Liturgy of the Catholic Church. What Henry VIII had to do to keep support of his nobility and members of Parliament was to either sanction or at least turn a blind eye to these people literally looting the Catholic Church's wealth and property including universities, orphanges, farm land, monastaries, etc. This is just one example of how greed was the basis of the English Reformation. Henry VIII's mental instability is reflected in his incrasing cruelty which he thought was power.

Belloc's portrayal of Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540)is one of the best this reviewer has ever read. Cromwell became extremely wealthy and increasingly greedy as he helped Henry VIII and the English nobility loot the Catholic Church's wealth. Belloc states that Cromwell had not religious convictions and was in the English Reformation "for the money" and the political power he gained. This may have been Cromwell's undoing. Cromwell antagonized members of Parliament and especially the English nobility who had the ear of Henry VIII. In other words Cromwell made too many enemies which resulted in the parliamentarians passing a bill of attainder requiring the death penalty.

Belloc presents Thomas More (1478-1535)as a man of honor, courage, and decency. Thomas More was appointed Lord High Chancellor, but More has scruples and religious convictions that could not be shaken. St. Thomas More conceded position, wealth, power, and eventually his life to keep the Faith. More was an intelligent man whose intellect gave him the direction he needed to keep the Faith. One should note that More had doubts about his firm convictions, but he never wavered even when he faced the prospect of execution after a rigged trial. One should note that Mary Queen of Scots was convicted after a rigged trial where she was not permitted to present evidence that would have exonerated her. Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603)did not want the execution to take place, but she was so politically compromised by her parliamentarians and nobility who supported the Reformation to keep their loot that she was powerless to stop the execution.

Belloc also presents some of the European Reformation characters. This is an interesting section of the book. For example, Belloc presents the French Cardinal Richleau (1585-1642)as advisor to King Louis XIII (1610-1643)as one who stifled the Reformation in France but abetted it in other areas of Europe. Richleau moved to severely limit the French Protestants, but he helped subsidize the Protestant King of Sweden Gustavus Adolphus (1611-1632)during the Thirty Year War (1618-1648). This war may show that the Reformation became increasingly political. Richleau helped reduce the power of the Catholic Hapsburgs in Germany and Spain by enlisting Protestant support. Richleau feared Hapsburgh power against France more than he feared the Reformation. As an aside, King Gustavus Adolphus may have been the only ruler who was a fanatical Protestant, and his soldiers were very brutal in their massacres of Catholics. His death on the battlefield in 1632 may have been unintended justice.

Belloc's incluson of Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and Pascal (1623-1662)may have been overdrawn. Belloc chides Descartes for placing to much emphasis on reason, and Belloc condemns Pascal for his emphasis on emotion. By the time these two men wrote philosophy, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation had exhausted Europe, and their ideas were not that much of a factor. Yet, Belloc gives his readers good accounts of both men's ideas.

Belloc gives accounts of other Reformation figures which readers should follow. Belloc should have presented studies of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556). These men were "major players" during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This would have effectively enhanced his study.

Hilaire Belloc wrote a solid book. Even though one may disagree with him, Belloc's lucid writing style should attract readers' attention. Belloc states his thesis that the Reformation was much more a politcal and economic phenomena than religious. He cites the individuals who were notable figures, and he explains their motives in light of historical developments and subsequent events. This reviewer highly recommends this book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The true story, April 6, 2004
This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
Through the lives of 23 people of the era Hilaire Belloc explains very well how each one played a role in causing the Reformation. This book isn't about the Reformers themselves but the politics behind it, and is mostly about the English Reformation, for he believed, had English not left the Church, Protestantism would have died.
The largest flaw is a lack of cited sources.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!, April 3, 2005
By 
Michael Tozer (San Antonio, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
This is a beautifully written and fascinating account of the twenty-three main protagonists of Reformation Europe, from Henry VIII to Louis XIV. Belloc includes incredible detail around the lives and times of such as William Cecil and his dwarfish son, Robert, the true rulers of Elizabethan England. This book further expands on Belloc's theory, first put forth in "How the Reformation Happened", that the Reformation was really a rising of the rich against the poor. Belloc provides startling revelations relative to the looting of Church properties in Reformation England that led its looters to becoming the new landed gentry, who then ran the Parliament and ultimately usurped the throne of England with the elevation of William III, of Orange. This work is outstanding and essential. I recommend reading Belloc's "How the Reformation Happened" first and then reading this great book.

To read Belloc is to have the feeling of listening to a remarkably wise and talented story teller, who has the patience and grace to speak to you from his heart relative to matters about which you should care deeply. Before reading Belloc, I do not think I truly understood European history. Thanks to his wonderful work, I feel as if I am beginning to discern the great truths of this all important saga of human history.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally the Truth!, February 3, 2006
This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
After several people at my church advised me repeatedly to read Belloc, I finally complied. I am very happy that I did. Hillaire Belloc lays bare the sordid motivations of the Protestant "Reformers" and proceeds to rake them over hot coals. It is very easy to complain about priestly corruption, but if you seize land from monasteries, sell the lead from the stain glass windows, and keep the profits, you gain a great deal of money and power. Although Belloc tends to be very "Anglo-centric," his conclusions are very well supported. According to him, England's Protestant regime was so influential in exporting Protestantism through arms sales, money, and military advisors that if England had not become Protestant, the whole revolt would eventually have fizzled out. This is not to say that he never covers other nations. His descriptions of Germany, Scotland, Sweden, and the failed attempts to impose Calvinism on France make for fascinating reading. For those of us brought up with the "traditonal" interpretation of the "REformation," Belloc proves invaluable. To all you Catholics out there, I say "Read this book!!!"
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good intro to the Reformation from a Catholic viewpoint, July 15, 2002
By 
Florentius (New Jersey, USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
Ordinary Catholics like myself know little to nothing about why there exist such a multitude of Protestant churches standing outside their Church. Thanks to my deficient education in modern Jesuit schools, I picked this book knowing only the 'traditional' interpretations of the Protestant Reformation and its principle characters such as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Cardinal Richelieu, Oliver Cromwell, etc. Offering brief biographies of 23 men and women central to the Protestant Reformation, Belloc attempts to demonstrate that the Reformation, at least in Britain, was driven more by political and economic forces than by a genuine pious desire to reform the Catholic Church. The central theme established throughout the brief bios is that the Reformation would never have succeeded in dividing Christendom permanently without the victory it achieved in England. And, that this victory in England would never have been achieved if not for the avarice of those Britons whose fortunes were derived directly from the looting of Church property.
I found Belloc's thesis to be well-buttressed and compelling. I would recommend this book to those who, like myself, have only ever heard the traditional (ie. Protestant) interpretation of the Reformation. It would also be useful to someone with little knowledge of the subject looking for a readable and interesting starting point.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review from the Publisher, March 7, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
Perhaps the most fascinating book ever written by this great Catholic historian. Here in bold, living colors Belloc sketches the destructive results of the greed, lust, weakness, tenacity, blindness, fear and indecision of 23 famous men and women of the Protestant Reformation period, analyzing their strengths, mistakes, motives and deeds which changed the course of history. Belloc cites Anne Boleyn, not the weak-willed Henry VIII as the "pivot figure" of the English Reformation, for it was her iron will to be Queen which started the movement. He describes Cromwell, the monastery looter and destroyer, as "the true creator of the English Reformation." He shows how the crafty William Cecil accomplished the task of "digging up the Catholic Faith by the roots" and "crushing out the Mass from English soil." Belloc also highlights the fatal error of Cardinal Richelieu in putting France before Catholicism and thus torpedoing Europe's last great chance of keeping Christendom united. Belloc warns that this breakup of Christendom may still destroy our Christian civilization. Even those who think they do not like history will be unable to put this book down. Brings history vividly to life!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Catholic insights on Western European history, November 30, 2013
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This review is from: Characters of the Reformation (Paperback)
If Western history and religion interest you - particularly the idea that with the dissolution of Catholicism as the unifying force in Europe total anarchy characterized by endless war and rampant greed has since become the norm - you are the person for whom Hilaire Belloc wrote this book. While I recall the Hundred Years War went on while all Europe was Catholic, apparently Belloc considers what followed to be even worse.

Hilaire Belloc graduated from Oxford with first class honors in History. He authored "over a hundred books on history, economics, military science and travel, plus novels and poetry" (from inside rear flap). This book is, as it were, a sampler of Belloc's historical work on the Reformation (1517-1715). Throughout, Belloc declares his wish to present a brief biographical history and interpretation of the Reformation period freed of Protestant bias:

"This change was primarily caused by the great effect of Calvin, who set out with the greatest lucidity and unparalleled energy to form a counter-Church for the destruction of the old [Catholic] Church. He it was who really made the *new* religion, wholly hostile to the old one. At the same time the temptation to loot Church property and the habit of doing so had appeared and was growing; and this rapidly created a vested interest in promoting the change in religion.... The property of convents and monasteries passed wholesale to the looters over great areas of Christendom... The endowments of hospitals, colleges, schools, guilds, were largely though not wholly seized.... Such an economic change in so short a time our civilization had never seen" (pp. 3-4).

"It is about this time, therefore, a generation after the first revolt, that there arises a distinct effort to impose in various places new laws and institutions to the destruction of Catholicism.... On the issue of the religious wars in France depended the preservation or destruction of Catholicism in Europe.... But neither the Counter-Reformation nor the active fighting which succeeded in preserving a part of Christendom intact would have been necessary but for the difficult success of the Protestant movement in England. This is the most important point to seize in all the story of the great religious revolution, and it is the point least often insisted on.... All that descended directly from the ancient foundation of our culture, the Romanized, civilized core of Europe, held out - save for one province: Britain" (p. 5).

The twenty-three biographical sketches (Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cranmer, St. Thomas More, Richelieu, Louis XIV, Descartes, etc) in this book are quite brief (~6-12 pages) but fascinating and informative. Belloc's style is simple, clear, a pleasure to read, and the story is very engaging. If you are put off by the "reluctant atheism" and dialectical materialism of Will Durant's Story of Civilization series, Hilaire Belloc is an ideal alternative. This book also is ideal for Protestants questioning the true nature of the origin of their beliefs.

See also If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets Rome, and The Permanent Instruction of the Alta Vendita.
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Characters of the Reformation
Characters of the Reformation by Hilaire Belloc (Paperback - October 3, 1992)
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