The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation by Peter Marshall (ed) - review by Paul Lay

Paul Lay

‘Re-enchanting the World’

The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation

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Oxford University Press 303pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

The word ‘illustrated’ suggests, if not an easy ride, then at least an easier one than most histories of the Reformation provide and this volume, brilliantly assembled by Peter Marshall, has the feel of a primer. But it is much more than that. The seven contributors, including Marshall himself, are at the top of the tree and this volume is primarily a summary and assessment of recent scholarship on the Reformation, which began with Martin Luther’s posting of the Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg in 1517. The picture painted is of a process of greater complexity and breadth than previous generations were aware of; in the words of Marshall, it is ‘an old topic with a new face’.

Although thematic, the chapters are also broadly chronological. Bruce Gordon portrays the enchanted world of pre-Reformation Christianity, a time and place populated by ‘angels, demons, saints and heretics, nepotistic popes, and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’, and one seemingly in the ascendant. By the end of the 15th century, Catholicism had

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