- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Tan Books & Publishers Inc.; New edition edition (10 Dec. 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0895554666
- ISBN-13: 978-0895554666
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1 x 21 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 434,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Characters of the Reformation Paperback – 10 Dec 1992
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Top Customer Reviews
Perhaps the artistry of the prose of Cranmer or Pascal (both subjects treated in the book) is lacking in Belloc's writing, but his style is remarkably precise and flowing (and therefore ideal for the communication of history). I do not think there is a single ill-judged sentence in this work.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
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.
The big surprise I learned was that the Reformation was successful because of the nobility's desire to confiscate church property for their own gain, which happened not only in England but all over Europe. (The trend started in Germany, where, for example, Martin Luther lived in a monastery stolen from the Catholic Church).
Also surprising was that I had always felt that Anne Boleyn was the victim of Henry XVIII...turns out she was way more in control of the situation than he was (for a time, anyway).
And I also never realized how much bloodshed occurred as a result of the Reformation. After reading this book I realized that in today's world the Reformers would be considered terrorists!
The real losers in the Reformation were the everyday people, and to some extent, that has continued over the years as we would never have had Naziism, Communism, or Socialism without the Reformation.
Belloc himself gives a concise bill of fare, or gallery guide:
"...With the typical figures here selected I shall to the best of my ability fill my gallery,
.. King Henry VIII, his Queen, Catherine, his Paramour, Ann Boleyn, his minister-master, Thomas Cromwell, Sir Thomas More, who withstood him, Thomas Cranmer, the king's ecclesiastical agent Gardiner, Clement VII, the Queens Mary and Elizabeth, Tudor Mary Stuart and the great William Cecil, Lord Burghley. So far the English Reformation on which all that was to follow turned.
I next describe the later men, the men of the seventeenth century, 'The Drawn Battle' or stale-mate: Henry IV of France; then James I of England; then the Emperor Ferdinand, Gustavus Adolphus and Richelieu; then Laud, to illustrate the internal difficulties of Protestanism, which unfortunately did not prove fatal to it; then Oliver Cromwell. Then I shall consider Descartes and Pascal; lastly William of Orange, and Louis XIV."
So, despite the Holbein portraits on both paperback and e-book, the English Reformation (which Phillipa Gregory and Hilary Mantel have found a fruitful mine for historical fiction) occupies only half of this quick overview of nearly two centuries of European history.-
And such a contrary historian should appeal to the "everything you know is wrong" crowd, whether or not one is prepared to go all the way with Belloc's thesis, that the Reformation was a total disaster which threatened to undermine European civilization.
Consider his account of Mary's reign:
"A ridiculous picture was drawn of a vindictive fanatical woman, attempting to repress the universal dislike of Catholicism by a sort of reign of terror. [...]All that, of course, is absurdly false: of all the falsehoods of our official history it is perhaps the one falsehood most widely divorced from reality. There was no national movement towards Protestantism; the Queen was popular; the prosecution and execution of the religious revolutionaries excited no national protest.
[...] Philip [Mary's Spanish husband, was] strongly in favour of dealing with the danger as a purely civil and political one; his Chaplain was ordered to preach a sermon advising toleration, his idea .. being that the revolutionaries should be dealt with as traitors rather than as heretics. But the Council, which in those days was the real governing power, was exasperated by seeing a foreign Prince acting as their rival and, largely out of opposition to him, they determined upon the opposite policy--... They would try to put down the revolutionaries as heretics, rather than as traitors. When, therefore, a sermon was preached by one of the fanatics praying for the Queen's death, instead of getting the culprit hanged for treason, which would probably have been the wiser course, they proceeded to inaugurate a policy of prosecutions for heresy."
His portrait of Elizabeth is just as contrarian. A fascinating, if necessarily sketchy overview of the 16th and 17th Centuries.
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.