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Not his best work
on 22 June 2012
This is far from being Duffy's best book, rather it offers a short explanation (and justification) of his views on historical revisionism (and why he and others have started to swim against the tide of reformation historiography), an essay which proves to be informative and helpful. Otherwise some of the essays read as précis of or essays from his main (best and most famous) works `The Stripping of the Altars' or `Voices of Morebath'. Not least because the essays focus on particular areas of Church and national life, e.g. Rood Screens and the reformation experience of one local parish Church, something he has done already very well elsewhere - it seem would seem, therefore that there is not much that is new in this volume. That said, his argument that Protestant England begins at the end of Elizabeth's reign (rather than her reign serving as the apogee of English Protestantism) is a new and compelling one.
The sad thing is that Duffy doesn't really develop the arguments put forward in `Stripping of the Altars': that far from being moribund, the pre-reformation Church was vibrant and culturally engaged and that the reformation itself was a period of crisis for the Church, ripped from the comfort of the past and forced to radically alter its doctrines and liturgy. That said, Duffy is a very readable historian and he presents his arguments very well. He does, however, show how anti-Catholic historiography can still be found in English academia and in filmography (e.g. in Shekhar Kapur's `Elizabeth' - a film that, he argues not unreasonably, presents Catholicism as repressive and the final days of the rule of Mary, quasi-demonic). This is important to note, as it shows how much England remains a Protestant nation (albeit and increasingly Secular-Protestant one)) and the historiography of the reformation, still a Protestant one, led by historians such as MacCulloch (a secular-Anglican and former Deacon in the Church of England).
On a personal level, what I find particularly interesting in this volume, is his linking of the closure of the Chantries with the need of the King for cash, though he does not develop this argument further to explore the inflation the stripping and selling of ecclesiastical paraphernalia would have created. This is an argument, however, already explored in his other works and touched on, only briefly in this book.
If I were to be asked to recommend a good book on the reformation I would automatically point them to `The Stripping of the Altars', it is by far the best and most readable book in its field, if polemical and counter-cultural in its argument. This on the other-hand, isn't - it's for the diehard Duffy fan (there are no new arguments here). I would only recommend this book to those who have read and enjoyed Duffy's other books and are looking for more of the same.