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on 30 June 2011
I have read and purchased several of Eamon Duffy's books - including"The Stripping of the Altars" and "The Voices of Morebath". Being extremely interested in the religious upheavals here in England during the mid sixteenth century, and especially in the Counter Reformation, I was delighted with this latest book.

For far too long, Mary's reign has been overshadowed by that of her half-sister Elizabeth, viewed as a dark and dismal period in English history; and a futile attempt to turn back the religious clock. This was how it was presented to me at school many years ago. However, that is patently untrue, something which I, and many others, have long suspected.

In fact, as Duffy has amply demonstrated here, and also in his other books, there was considerable support and yearning for the restoration of the Catholic faith along with all its attendant trappings. That this was so has been consistently overlooked (in my view deliberately) in the smoke rising from the fires of those burnt to death for their Protestant beliefs. I am no apologist for burning people to death for their religious faith (and neither is Duffy) but this episode must be viewed in the context of the sixteenth century and not from that of the twenty first.

In time, I suspect, that even the thorny issue of restoring the abbeys and priories and their lands would have been accomplished. Of course, for the time being (and as events turned out for ever) this was thwarted by those who had chiefly profitted from their enforced surrender and destruction - members of the House of Commons - many of whom were clearly as corrupt as many of their successors are today.

But time was not on Mary's side. The only reason that the re-founding of the abbeys and priories was so limited in number and that the restoration of the Catholic Faith here in England did not succeed was due to the unexpected deaths of both Mary and her cousin Cardinal Pole. Had they both lived longer, then the religious appearance and experience of mid-late sixteenth century England may have been markedly different than it ultimately was to be.

In the short space of some five years a very great deal had been achieved, with much popular support. That this was indeed the case is manifestly supported by the subsequent fear that the Elizabethan government had of the Catholics and Catholicism here in England in the latter part of the sixteenth century.

An excellent book and highly recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 February 2011
Mary I can be considered England's first undisputed female sovereign. In her five years as Queen (1553-1558), Mary repealed Edward VI's religious laws, re-established Catholicism, and burned 283 (or 284) Protestant martyrs, earning herself the name `Bloody Mary'. Her reign is often seem simply as a cruel and ultimately futile attempt to return England to Catholicism (for which an heir was required) or, at least, to arrest England's progress towards becoming a Protestant nation (which was inevitable once her half-sister Elizabeth was definitely her only heir). But is this a fair assessment of Mary I's reign?

In this book, Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge, argues that the management of the return to Catholicism was not ineptly handled. Instead, Professor Duffy puts forward a case that the process (largely driven by Reginald Pole, Cardinal and the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury) was well planned, and the arrangements put in place were both sensible and practical. Unfortunately, for Mary I's place in history, five years was not sufficient time to bed down these reforms and the pall cast by the burnings overshadows the fact that the Protestantism installed during Edward VI's reign was opportunistic, confused and destructive. The widely held view of Mary is also a consequence of the ultimate victory of Protestantism in England: history is written by the victors.

But looking beyond the fact of the Reformation to the possible causes of it (did the Roman Catholic Church need reforming, or did Henry VIII break with Rome simply to marry Anne Boleyn?) introduces some different possibilities for looking at Mary I's reign. Cardinal Pole was very much involved in the Roman Catholic Church's response to the theological and ethical issues posed by the Reformation, and was arguably well placed to lead a program of Roman Catholic restoration in England. And perhaps, given more time, such a campaign would have been successful.

I found this an interesting book, but it has left me with more questions than answers. I can accept that Mary I was motivated by her own beliefs and values and that, had she lived longer or had a Roman Catholic heir, her reign would undoubtedly be viewed differently. Reading this book is a reminder that historical fact and modern sensibilities are not always compatible. Professor Duffy's book has made me curious: I don't have a more favourable view of Mary I as a consequence, but I'm keen to read some other accounts of her reign.

'No 16th-century European state could easily imagine the peaceful existence of differing religious confessions.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on 24 July 2009
I chose this because of a lingering interest in Tudor history from my student days, and the fact that I had recently read another book (Faith of our Fathers) by Eamon Duffy. So, coming to this book as a general reader, how was it? Very interesting! Not only did it reawaken long-dead knowledge, it made me very much aware of prevailing "fashions" in history and the need to be open to new perspectives on the past. I remembered again what drew me to study history all those years ago!
From a student's perspective, I would think that this text is a valuable contribution when reassessing the impact of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in England. It is, I feel, a balanced account. He is not trying to excuse the inexcusable, and it is definitely not a pro-Mary rant! Eamon Duffy has painted a picture of aspects of the Catholic revival in the reign of Mary which goes some way to expose several of the sweeping generalisations and overwhelmingly negative appraisals of the past, while pointing his readers towards a number of historians who, like him, are currently engaged in re-evaluating the evidence soberly and justly.
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on 19 May 2012
The two pre-eminent historians of the Tudor Church, Eamon Duffy and Diarmaid MacCulloch, disagree on much, but in the 21st Century reassessment of the Reformation, they are united on one thing: Cardinal Pole deserves a much more positive perspective than he has hitherto been given.
After MacCulloch's monumental "Reformation", with a highly favourable excursus on Pole, we now have this, Duffy's book on the Marian church and its legacy. Mary herself is almost completely ignored; rather, Duffy's tome is ultimately a reconstruction of Pole's plan for the re-Catholicising of England, and a further argument that Pole's blueprint was not left behind in an English backwater, but rather highly influential in the Counter Reformation across Europe: for example, his plans on seminaries found their way into the contemporary Council of Trent's final text.
There remains an essential disagreement, however, between Duffy and MacCulloch. For MacCulloch and others, there was something much more inevitable about the Reformation event in Europe and in England. Duffy has never accepted this, arguing that such a view comes from secular/ Protestant bias.
In his famous "The Stripping of the Altars", Duffy argued that, far from being on its last legs when the Reformation happened, traditional Catholic religion was flourishing in England right up to the Henrician revolution. Most historians would now agree with him. Here, he extends his argument by three decades: deep into the 1550s, traditional Catholic religion was genuinely popular over most of England: the Protestant martyrs were only popular in London and Kent, and even there a campaign of repressive force was on its way to wiping them out.
Thanks to Pole's policies and patronage, the cathedrals were brimming with bright young things, of deep Catholic conviction (hundreds of them fled post 1558 and ended up in European universities and colleges), and England was well on its way to a secure Catholicism, in part because the people had never ultimately had their hearts converted to Protestant ways.
For Duffy, the only thing that stopped this was the monumental fluke of the deaths of Mary and her Archbishop dying on the same day, which allowed in a deconstruction of Catholic England under Elizabeth and a new archbishop that otherwise might never have happened.
It's a brave thesis. However, I believe this book only takes us halfway there. Yes, historiography has been skewed by ignoring the chance element of Pole and Mary's deaths and we may have therefore tended to see the Elizabeth settlement of Anglicanism as falsely inevitable, as it was true to the 'English spirit', in some way.
But, no, I don't think you can ignore the sheer number of martyrs Mary and Pole needed to slay: these had to have been conviction Protestants and must have been the tip of a pretty decent Protestant iceberg. And, no, I don't think you can ignore entirely the eventual success of the Elizabeth settlement (though some early Stuart/ Civil War historians would disagree.)
Duffy can challenge our view of grassroots religion, but he hasn't got the evidence to prove his case.

The other reviews make good points about the way this book is written. It's dense, and certainly assumes a decent knowledge of the basic historical events: this isn't for firsttimers. Also, it perhaps lacks the flair Duffy has brought to his other books. But even so, his ear for a telling turn of flair has not gone:
at the end of his chapter on burnings, he notes "On both sides, this was an ideological struggle inscribed in the quivering flesh of suffering human beings."( p123)
Strong history, albeit not ultimately convincing.
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VINE VOICEon 4 August 2009
This is an excellent book and one that needed to be written. With exhaustive research and an unbiased appraisal of the facts the author has succeeded in producing a book with a wide-ranging appeal.
The book confronts many unpalatable facts about the Marian renewal of Catholicism in England (some 300 people killed for their refusal to renounce their faith) but 16th century England is not today. The fear of harbouring enemies within our midst still exists. When Mary came to the throne in 1553 England was, despite Edward`s actions, still predominantly a Catholic country. The battle between the old and the new faith was real-man`s soul was at (often literally) stake. However, Mr Duffy carefully examines the role and importance of `the word`. Whether in the pulpit or the pamphlet argument is demonstrably seen to have been a vital weapon.
This is a book to be read for its historical interest of a formative period in England and for the legacy which reaches down to us to today
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on 30 December 2011
This book is aimed more at the academic than those looking for "easy-going" history but I got much from it nonetheless. As one tired of the popularist notions that place Elizabeth at the topmost postion on the victory podium of English monarchs, it was good to get some positive spin on Mary.

This is by no means the first book I have read about Mary and this is just as well, because this book is hard going with unnecessarily convoluted sentences that can be read three or four times and their meaning still indecipherable. I never understand why high-level academics seem to regard it as compulsory to write in this fashion. It is as if their writing will not be taken seriously if it can be easily understood. It also makes me suspicious. As if the writer is unable to explain his point in clear English.

If anyone is looking for a justification of the burnings, you'll be disappointed. It isn't that. Instead the nub of it is to explain that the burnings, and the policies of Mary and Pole and others, were much more succesful in achieving their objectives of counter-reformation than history has recorded. I got much from this.

The popularist legacy of the burnings, however, is that they were shocking and this has forever blighted any balanced view of Mary's reign, whatever the success or otherwise of the policy in countering the reformation. So what I was looking for was more of a discussion on the legacy. How much was it about numbers; how much of it was about the method of execution. Was it more about the concept of executing people for their beliefs? Why was burning thought to be the most appropriate method of execution for heresy? Was buring actually so terrible compared to say hanging, drawing and quartering? What was the thinking of the day about these issues.

As Duffy states himself, much of the legacy about Mary has been formed with the benfit of "moral hindsight" judged by the standards of the 20th and 21st century. Yet, depsite making this highly relevant point, the book fails to elaborate on this and to get inside the mind of the 16th century policy maker, and especially the Catholic policy maker, and explain more about WHY this was necessary rather than only considering the consequences.

Perhaps Duffy assumes this is obvious; it isn't to me.
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on 8 August 2009
This book is a must read for anyone interested in taking a fresh look at the reign of Queen Mary. Written in an accessible and clear, yet factually rich style, Fires of Faith brings alive many aspects of this fascinating era. Such an account was very much overdue.
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on 16 August 2009
Duffy"s new book is a superb interpretation and explanation of a very controversial period in English history.The persecution,which he does not condone,in combination with a pastoral approach by the bishops was achieving its purpose, the eradication of Protestantism.Some of their methods,etc, were adopted by the Council of Trent.Mary died prematurely and Elizabeth swept it all away in a matter of months.He handles the fires of his title with delicacy and empathy so in that sense Mary and Pole too,remain no less Bloody despite his nuanced interpretation.The book dispels many myths about the revival of Catholicism in Mary,s reign.
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on 2 March 2011
Not being an academic or a student of history, I suppose I have got used to popular history books. Having recently read Anna Whitelock's excellent (and very readable) biography of Mary Tudor, I was drawn to Eamon's Duffy's Fires of Faith. But a word of warning: don't be too seduced by the cover design or the rather racy title. This is a serious, academic defence of Mary and her regime based on a series of lectures. Duffy's prose is very hard going in places and he is not blessed with the common touch. Having said that, I quite enjoyed it and learned a lot.
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on 8 June 2010
As always, exceptionally informative and engaging [Eamon Duffy writes very well:] look at the Reformation from the Catholic side. It is clear that Duffy has his views, and Catholicism is his, but to me that in no way detracts from the suitability of such books: being informed of someone's stance makes the reading, and reaction, easier in my view.

This wonderful, and all-too-short [though they all seem short after the rather large "Stripping of the Altars"!], book takes a good look at what exactly the Marian reign and restoration of Catholic thought and worship sought to do. Duffy also informs us of its many successes, while not shying away from aspects we may find horrific, such as the burnings [on this, Duffy made a good point on us seeing things as they were rather than making judgement; I hate to think what people 500 years may think of us!].

With detailed research, fascinating photographs and prints, and engaging writing, this is another one of Eamon Duffy's works I will be reading again and again I am sure.
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