- Paperback: 700 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 2nd edition (May 10, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300108281
- ISBN-13: 978-0300108286
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 94 customer ratings
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 Paperback – May 10, 2005
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"This book will afford enjoyment and enlightenment to layman and specialist alike. Duffy sweeps the reader along through its six hundred pages by a style which eschews both jargon and pedantry, by his lively and absorbing detail, his piercing insights, patient analysis, and his vigor in debate."―Peter Heath, Times Literary Supplement
"With the publication of this book, a kind of map or illustrated atlas of late medieval English Christianity, English Reformation studies will never be the same again."―Patrick Collinson, Times Higher Education Supplement
"A magnificent scholarly achievement, a compelling read, and not a page too long to defend a thesis which will provoke passionate debate."―Patricia Morison, Financial Times
"Sensitively written and beautifully produced, this book represents a major contribution to the Reformation debate."—Norman Tanner, Times
"Unfailingly temperate, judicious, and scholarly. . . . [The book] has a fascinating story to tell."—James Bowman, Sunday Telegraph
"The first serious attempt by a historian to restore Mary's reputation in more than four hundred years."—Simon Denison, Sunday Telegraph
"[This book] at last gives the culture of the late Middle Ages in England its due, and helps us to see the period as it was and not as Protestant reformers and their intellectual descendants imagined it to be. . . . A monumental and deeply felt work."—Gabriel Josipovici, Times Literary Supplement
"This is a remarkable and significant work of historical 'revision,' which cannot be dismissed as a product of nostalgic longing for a Catholic past."—Anne Murphy SHCJ, John Pridmore, The Way
"[A] vigorous and eloquent book, a work of daring revision and a masterpiece of the historical imagination. . . . At once meticulous and lush. . . . A wholly compelling book, this will appeal to any reader who wants to enter and understand another world."—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly
"Revisionist history at its most imaginative and exciting. . . . [An] astonishing and magnificent piece of work."―Edward T. Oakes, Commonweal
"A valuable source of information supported with excellent illustrations and bibliography."―Choice
"The importance of this book is that it affords opportunity to look broadly and comprehensively at the religious life of women and men before and after the separation from the Roman obedience and so take the measure of that life that in the continuum of English church history it can be noted and honored."―David Siegenthaler, Anglican Theological Review
"Deeply imaginative, movingly written, and splendidly illustrated."―Maurice Keen, New York Review of Books
"A landmark book in the history of the Reformation."―Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Sixteenth Century Journal
"A moving elegy for the pre-Reformation Church, full of evocative detail."―Thomas Cocke, Churchscape
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He also argues, more controversially, that Protestant reform was forced upon England by a small number of intolerant reformers. The only real weakness in his work is a failure to consider seriously the Protestant point of view, and the popular nature of Protestant reform. If Catholicism was popular, there is no contradiction to claim that reform was popular also. Duffy tends to paint the reformers as irrational destroyers of traditional Christianity.
If we set aside his sometimes one-sided perspective, this work stands as an effective corrective to previous histories. The truth of the reformation, however, stands somewhere in-between the two extremes.
Duffy makes no real attempt to offer explanations for the eventual success of the Reformation. Reading through this book, I am more amazed than ever that the Reformation ever succeeded in England. Duffy shows how Cromwell, Cranmer and their few allies were fighting an uphill battle in which even Henry VIII seemed a somewhat reluctant participant.
The vast reference and quotation of primary sources makes this a somewhat lengthy read. I listened to it in audio format while working on plumbing and splitting firewood. I would highly recommend this option!
Duffy's thesis is that, contrary to what has been taught and generally believed about the Protestant Reformation in England, satisfaction with the Roman Catholic "traditional" religion, its fêtes, rituals and observances was almost universal at the time of the Reformation and that the Reformation, itself, was imposed upon the people by royal and civil authority, not popular will. Early on and fairly enough, Duffy describes his irish Catholic background, yet while that outlook must be constantly borne in mind while reading his book, the fact is that he makes a convincing case.
He does so systematically, painting the nature of English existence at the time, largely rural, generally peaceful in the wake of the Hundred Year's War, isolated, provincial and soaked in pervasive religiosity. Suggesting that the abuses, indulgences and corruption of the Continental church had few echoes in England, Duffy works through the nature of categories of traditional practice -- liturgy, catechesis, mass, gild, prayers, primers (in preference to Bible study), and the sometimes cultish fixations on death and purgatory -- and in doing so creates an image of an idyllic world, cohesive, communal and warmly and constantly involved with its faith. In the process he uses plentiful plates and illustrations that correlate with specifics in the text and which, themselves, are a pleasure to review.
Voices around Henry VIII, who despite his quarrels with the papacy remained ambivalent about his religious identification, radicalized his policies in the persons of ranting Hugh Latimer and Machiavellian Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, culminating in 1533 in the ultimate break with the Roman church and, in the name of removing idolatrous objects, the subsequent eponymous stripping of the altars, art, and statuary of the churches and the destruction of abbeys and monasteries, a sad price to pay for the concepts of religious individualism and personal responsibility for salvation.
The reaction of the traditionalists was varied. Some resisted while others went underground or accommodated and accepted the new authority; however, given the opportunity, Duffy emphasizes, the "vast majority" of the people quickly reverted to traditional religion after the deaths of Henry in 1547 and of the young King Edward VI in 1553 and the brief accession to the throne of Catholic Mary Tudor. As the reign of Elizabeth I began in 1558 and the Protestant Church of England was reinstated, many quickly changed sides of the aisle again, but, Duffy asserts, the ultimate defeat of the traditionalists was the result only of lengthy systematic repression, an effort that finally subverted the true will of the people. (There is some irony in the fact that in two brief paragraphs Duffy passes over, almost with a "boys will be boys" flippancy, the burnings of "heretics" under the Marian regime.)
So be it. Duffy's is an interesting concept. Yet questions remain: Why if the dedication to traditional religion was so deep, did it virtually disappear in well less than a century as a significant factor in English life? Were the Protestant propagandists that convincing or their "draconian" measures that intimidating? To what extent was the acceptance of traditional religion itself, as opposed to deep faith, an accommodation to existing authority, its methods and its mores, and a reflection of humanity's characteristic inclination to adapt to surroundings and make the joyful best of them?
Those last are comments, not criticisms, issues that should not detract from appreciation of this work. "The Stripping of the Altars" is a magnificent book.
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Henry VIII sought separation from Rome and removal any references to the Pope, but he did not want to provoke revolution. Cromwell, and then Cranmer (who also led the changes through the reign of the juvenile Edward VI) went much further is dismantling and reshaping the liturgical practices and calendar. Latin was replaced by English. Symbolism was replaced by Bible reading. They attacked of the cult of saints, abolishing a multitude of national, local and saint’s days associated with occupational patrons. They did away with local gilds. They outlawed burning of candles before images and the use of rosaries. Prayers for the dead were abolished. Pilgrimages and processions were banned. Eventually even altars were removed. All the paraphernalia and riches of churches, much of it left by parishioners, was first inventoried and shortly afterwards confiscated.
The arrival of Catholic Queen Mary, who reigned for 5 years before Protestant Queen Elizabeth, showed that Protestantism had not had its way as much as has been assumed. There occurred a telling rapid resurgence of Catholic elements in wills as well as a flood of printed primers that reflected a reversion to more traditional catholic practices. Returns from diocesan visitations during Elizabeth’s reign, even in strongly Protestant Kent, showed how much was yet to be done to firmly establish Protestantism once and for all.
I wondered during my reading of the book what that missing element might be, and eventually came to the conclusion that being a revisionist text it simply lacks what modern history demands, namely balance. Duffy presents and articulates powerfully an argument for the deep Catholic sentiment that continued to hold sway over the majority of England’s parishes during the turbulent Tudor years. Well, no surprises there; after more than a thousand years of adherence to Rome, the religious sensibilities of the nation...it’s spiritual DNA...was being re-engineered by powerful political forces that were capable of crushing anything or anybody that got in the way.
Duffy’s argument is that most ordinary people remained stolidly traditionally Catholic, and that it was purely by means of the removal of the vestiges of traditional religion, the energetic preaching of homilies against the papist cause, and the ‘relentless torrent carrying away the landmarks of a thousand years’ (p.593) that eventually overcame the ‘instincts and nostalgia’ of the people; that the Protestant faith succeeded, ultimately, by means of wearing away at traditional catholic faith and tradition in Tudor England. It’s a reasonable argument to make and not rocket science...and as a revisionist historian Duffy has every right to counter previous historical presentations which present the Reformation as both welcomed and desired by the commonality of the people. Both views are polar opposites I suggest, and neither is particularly correct.
However, if you want to read an in-depth account of the religious mores in Tudor England then get this book...it has a lot to tell us about the way the reformation in England was both implemented and responded to.
The second part falls off slightly as an assumption of knowledge of the narrative history of the period is made, but this is a minor quibble for such a gorgeous book.