Wednesday, April 13, 2016

G. R. Elton

A while back, I bought a used copy of G. R. Elton's famous summary of the Tudor period, Reform and Reformation. It's a big book, and I won't lie: it sat on my bed-side table for quite a while. But for whatever reason, I picked it up last week, and, with sufficient background in the period, set out to read the chapters that interested me most. I must say: Elton did not let me down.

Reform and Reformation is as histories should be: readable, lucid, and persuasive. Elton knew a remarkable amount about the Tudor experience, and the result is an analysis rich in detail, but accessible to a wider audience. 

I appreciate, too, Elton's sense of honesty. Mary Tudor, for instance, does not fair well in his treatment. And yet, Elton makes no attempt to mince his words: he's clear and direct, and the reign of Mary Tudor comes across as something resembling a disaster. 

Two points that Elton makes have reverberated: 
  • The first is that late-medieval Catholicism in England was in a state of decline, and it's as a result that not much was done to counter Henry's assault on the monasteries. The English do not appear to have been overly distracted by this assault (nor do they appear to have lamented it enough to push for its reconstitution). 
  • And second: Elton argues that by the time Mary ascended the thrown in 1553, England had been firmly reformed. That is: the English people, while not Protestant in an intellectual sense perhaps, we certainly no longer Catholic. The roughly twenty years between the fall of Catherine of Aragon and the rise of her daughter, Mary, witnessed a profound shift in social and legal values. And the result was a nation that would not return to Rome: not even, argues Elton, had Mary's reign continued. 

For those interested in the Tudor period, let me recommend Reform and Reformation - not only for its content, but for its style. Elton's is a readable history, and for me, that's half the battle. My hat's off to him.

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