Fires of Faith

Fires of Faith

Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press

Popular Protestant history has not been kind to Mary Tudor — the first female monarch of all England — portraying her as a priest-ridden bigot whose eventual marriage into Spanish royalty dragged her nation into an unnecessary war with France.

Above all else, this version of history has concentrated on the Marian persecutions, in which nearly 300 Protestants died gruesome deaths.

Eamon Duffy’s book, Fires of Faith, is not exclusively about the burnings under Mary’s reign, though they do play a central role. Instead he is interested in the whole range of policies pushed through by the Marian government to reconvert the English people to Mary’s Catholicism.

Critics (not just old-fashioned Protestant ones) have argued that these policies were ill-considered, retrogressive, out of touch with the vibrant new “Counter-Reformation” of the continent, often ineffectual, and sometimes downright unpopular.

But this is a verdict which Duffy cannot accept — either about the government (monarchical) programs in general or (more controversially) about the burnings in particular.

Duffy also links closely to Mary the rather neglected figure of Cardinal Reginald Pole, the aristocratic English theologian who was sent from Rome to oversee the reconversion of England. In highlighting the relationship of Pole to the monarch, Duffy seeks to emphasise the consistency of Pole’s principles and the energy and intelligence with which he applied them — with institutional reforms, preaching campaigns, plans for seminaries and so on.

Fires of Faith takes the reader on a journey — a journey with a new perspective and a new destination (what might the Anglo church be like if Mary – and the reforms begun with Cardinal Pole – had been allowed to continue?).

Peter Harvey

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