The Protestant Revolution

In a new four part series on BBC 4, the Protestant Revolution, Tristam Hunt casts his historian’s eye over the impact of the Reformation. The programme argues:

It is a revolution which influences the very fabric of existence – from what we do for a living, to who we vote for, who we go to war with and how we see ourselves as individuals and as nations.

  • Pete Baker

    Fair Deal

    Here’s a recent article [that] might provide something of a focus for discussion.

    It’s Tristam Hunt’s recent trailer for the series at the Guardian

    Including this section

    For Protestantism in Britain was always about a broader sense of deliverance from the corrupting, Catholic ‘other’. It was, according to historian Linda Colley, one of the essential ideologies, along with empire, militarism and commercial ambition, that forged a British sensibility in the 18th century.

    Today, when politicians glibly talk of our national identity, the Protestant inheritance is usually glided over out of obeisance to today’s multifaith society. But that puritanical sense of purpose, which underpinned civic life from abolitionism to the Labour party, is an essential part of our national memory. And the cultural framework of the British people remained consciously Protestant – in chapels and churches, Orange Order lodges and Royal British Legion clubs, in support of king and empire – right through to the Second World War.

    Only in loyalist east Belfast, where murals exist with portraits of Luther, Calvin and John Wesley under the legend ‘the Protestant Reformation’, does the instinctive conjunction of Protestantism and Britishness still exist. Contemporary anxiety over the nature of our national identity is, in part, a reflection of the weakened state of traditional Protestantism.

    It is the maligned image of Northern Ireland, with its stereotype of prudish reserve and anti-Catholic bigotry, which still infects popular perceptions of Protestant culture: a medley of covered table-legs, Plymouth Brethren and Ian Paisley’s election-night hymnals. But much of our modern cultural life, from the novels of Ian McEwan to the iconoclastic art of Rachel Whiteread, owes a curious debt to the Protestant legacy.

  • fair_deal

    Cheers pete

  • Garibaldy

    FD and Pete,

    Cheers for this info and links. The press release and article are absolute, total and utter nonsense. I’ve yet to find anything Hunt says remotely convincing.

  • Pete Baker

    Garibaldy

    I didn’t say I agreed with Hunt.. although I can see the connections he’s trying to make.

    I’m just not convinced that he’s got a compelling argument for his over-arching thesis.

    It would be better, however, to point out the “absolute, total and utter nonsense” rather than simply declare it to be so.

    But if you’ve “yet to find anything that Hunt says remotely convincing” that’s probably not likely to happen.

    I have, on the other hand, previously found at least one of his articles worth noting.

  • Aquifer

    Assertive and sceptical. Very Prod.

  • Pete Baker

    Aquifer

    Assertive and, more importantly, sceptical are triats that should be encouraged.. not labelled

  • Garibaldy

    Pete,

    I hadn’t intended to suggest you agreed with him, and hope you don’t feel misrepesented. As for what is wrong with the press release and article, just quickly: the misunderstanding of Weber’s thesis, the backing of Linda Colley’s thesis which has come under substantial revision – and which specifically excludes Ireland, unlike Hunt’s article – the idea the British legion is or was somehow Protestant, Bridget Jones as John Bunyon, the abusrd idea the commercialisation and what we might call the “vulgarisation” of grief is somehow related to pre-Reformation Catholicism, and of course as you say yourself the very thesis. Very little of it stands up to scrutiny. I didn’t really have the time to go into it in my earlier post, but will elaborate further if you wish.

    I did in fact comment on the previous thread you posted, and I think another one before that on Britain’s radical tradition that I think Mick might have posted. He’s worth discussing, if only to point out how politically-motivated and superifical much of his work is.

    And the fact that I’ve yet to find anything he says convincing is due to my assessment of the evidence on a range of material, not based on personal animus.

  • Pete Baker

    Garibaldy

    “I hadn’t intended to suggest you agreed with him, and hope you don’t feel misrepesented.”

    Not at all. Just pointing out that your comment was less than enlightening about the reasons for your disagreement with Hunt.

    Unlike your equally laconic comment on the previous post I linked to. ;o)

    But by all means elaborate. Fair Deal did post in order to stimulate a discussion on the topic after all.

  • Garibaldy

    My disagreement on the previous thread was due to the naked New Labourite misuse of history. Which isn’t actually the case here. Here it is just because this is bad history. Now if you want to discuss his take on Engels, that’s a combination of the two.

  • Pete Baker

    My suggestion for elaboration was intended for the benefit of others – as I’ve already said that I don’t agree with his over-arching thesis here.

    The point being that otherwise you, and anyone else for that matter, run the risk of being accused of claiming authority on the topic.

  • kensei

    Which Protestant Reformation? The initial effect of the English Reformation was to plunge the country into over a Century of on and off religious warfare. The trouble with the English Reformation is that a lot of its force comes from the uniting of temporal and religious power and the subsequent elevation of the crown, and I’m not sure you can separate it out quite so easily.

    The effects on Empire would be more the legacy of the Glorious Revolution, which while yes, owes more than to just religious attitudes and reaction to Rome.

    I find this curious as well:

    “For Protestantism in Britain was always about a broader sense of deliverance from the corrupting, Catholic ‘other’.”

    as it was the Protestant Reformation and the aftermath that created this sense of “Catholic other”.

    It was undoubtedly extremely significant and still has resonance today, but there is plenty of curious legacy, even in England, from the Catholic Church. And the imapct of Islam remains current.

  • kensei

    “The effects on Empire would be more the legacy of the Glorious Revolution, which while yes, owes more than to just religious attitudes and reaction to Rome.”

    should be

    “The effects on Empire would be more the legacy of the Glorious Revolution, which while yes, is a product of the Reformation, owes more than to just religious attitudes and reaction to Rome.”

  • Belfast Gonzo

    So if Tristam’s spouting bunkum, what has Protestantism done for us?

    (Positive stuff, I mean. The Watcher and Darth Rumsfeld are usually interesting on this subject.)

  • Pete Baker

    That’s an interesting, if flawed, take on the Protestant Reformation, Ken. As if there was a separation of church and state at that time.. tell that to James II – “From God comes the King, from the King comes the Law.”

    And you neglect the wider European dimension.. including the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

  • kensei

    “That’s an interesting, if flawed, take on the Protestant Reformation, Ken. As if there was a separation of church and state at that time.. tell that to James II – “From God comes the King, from the King comes the Law.””

    I am not suggesting that there was a modern separation of powers or a secular state. But the Church clearly provided another centre of power that was capable of rivaling or chastising the monarchy in the correct circumstances – think of Thomas Becket, and while England remained Catholic what the Pope said clearly had some weight.

    Henry VIII Reformation removed those barriers – the King is now Head of the Church, who can gainsay him? – and vastly increased the power of the Crown – firstly by conflating monarchism, nationalism and religion to create a potent mix, and secondly by expanding the estates of the Crown. Suffice to say that I feel this was a disaster, shown by the Century of religious war that followed and it wasn’t really rectified until the Glorious Reformation weakened the Monarchy sufficiently to reign in the excesses.

    It’s what I got off watching David Starkey’s Monarchy about the period, anyway.

    That’s not to say that Protestantism didn’t have positive impacts. The idea of a personal conscience and personal relationship with God is important, and it is really important in developing ideas of freedom and Republicanism, but to me that seems to be more the Presbyterian variety. I’m not entirely sure what Anglicanism is good for, other than providing glue for the British state. Perhaps others can enlightening me.

  • Pete Baker

    “Henry VIII Reformation removed those barriers – the King is now Head of the Church, who can gainsay him?”

    Rather than the arrangement James II would have preferred? Where a Pope could have gainsayed him?

    But I was actually more taken by your assertion that “The initial effect of the English Reformation was to plunge the country into over a Century of on and off religious warfare.”

    Combined with “as it was the Protestant Reformation and the aftermath that created this sense of ‘Catholic other’.”

    Which, as well as placing responsibility for that aftermath in the court of the Protestant Reformation, ignored the positive aspects you now speak of.

  • sammaguire

    Looked up the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre link. Was shocked to see 10,000 to 100,000 French Protestants were slaughtered. I had heard about it from my history studies at school (in Dublin) but we never dealt with it in detail. Don’t usually associate the French with sectarianism. Probably partly explains why the Catholic Irish were treated so disgracefully by the Protestant Establishment in Ireland (Penal Laws etc) over the next few hundred years.

  • Pete Baker

    What it should do, sammaguire, is mitigate against simplistic analysis of the period.

  • Garibaldy

    Sam,

    St Bartholomew’s was certainly one of the excuses given for the Penal Laws as proof Catholics were inherently bloodthirsty, intolerant and untrustworthy. Tied into 1641, then Wexford in 1798 to create a nice narrative that thrives in certain sects today. Just ask the First Minister.

    BTW, there were massive wars of religion in France, and sectarian conflict helped shape attitudes to the Revolution in some areas.

    Pete,

    surely James II had as his model Louis XIV. No-one, not least the Pope, told him what to do. After all the Pope backed his enemy William III. I suspect, like many other monarchs in Europe and especially Louis, the aim was to subordinate the church to the state, not the other way round.

  • Pete Baker

    Garibaldy

    “I suspect, like many other monarchs in Europe and especially Louis, the aim was to subordinate the church to the state, not the other way round.”

    I suspect likewise. And it’s a suspicion that’s supported by the attempt to maintain a single source of theological authority.

    And, as I’ve already suggested, all that should mitigate against simplistic analysis of the period – including, btw, the leap from 1572 to 1641 to 1798.

  • kensei

    “Rather than the arrangement James II would have preferred? Where a Pope could have gainsayed him?”

    I don’t really see your point, Pete. The Reformation set off a chain of events that strengthened Parliament, but that was an unexpected side effect that probably would have killed it if Henry VIII could have saw the future.

    I feel you are comparing apples with oranges a bit as well – James II was a Catholic monarch heading a Protestant nation, and had already made some attempts towards religious freedoms to shore up his position. Anyway, demanding obedience is a feature of absolute monarchy be it Tudor or Stewart. I merely feel the immediate aftermath of the English Reformation heightened the ability to do that.

    “But I was actually more taken by your assertion that “The initial effect of the English Reformation was to plunge the country into over a Century of on and off religious warfare.”

    Combined with “as it was the Protestant Reformation and the aftermath that created this sense of ‘Catholic other’.””

    Actually, they were meant as separate observations, because a lot of the religious fighting was between various strains of Protestantism.

    I still don’t understand his point. It’s only true after the fact.

    “Which, as well as placing responsibility for that aftermath in the court of the Protestant Reformation, ignored the positive aspects you now speak of.”

    There have been suggestions that the English Reformation was forced through by a small band of zealots in influential positions:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stripping-Altars-Traditional-Religion-1400-1580/dp/0300060769

    A lot of the responsibility of the Aftermath of the English reformation does go in the reformers court, and really, that goes across Europe. No one particularly walks away with a great deal of glory.

    Besides, I felt a counterpoint was need to the glowing article linked.

    Oh, and on positive aspects: I actually have a sneaking admiration for Cromwell, based on his belief on religious freedom and building an army based on merit. It’s just a shame he couldn’t take his arguments to their logical conclusion, and extend the same freedoms to Catholics, rather than you know, using said army to completely fuck Catholic Ireland.

  • james orr

    The programme wasn’t bad, but a scandalous omission in avoiding the Glorious Revolution and a rather bizarre emphasis on George Bush at the end.

    Bush is an example of many things, but the ultimate Protestant? I doubt it. Lightweight commentators often obsess on Bush’s claimed faith but anyone with wit can see its just another vote-catching ploy. I would have hoped that Hunt was smart enough to see past the Bush scam.

    After all, “By their fruits ye shall know them”. Roll on programme 2

  • Pete Baker

    There’s really only one point worth picking up on, Ken, since you claim that you don’t understand the other points.

    “The Reformation set off a chain of events that strengthened Parliament, but that was an unexpected side effect that probably would have killed it if Henry VIII could have saw the future.”

    Only because James II was defeated in battle and a constitutional monarch, William and Mary, were “elected” in his place – to use David Starkey’s turn of phrase.

  • Garibaldy

    William and Mary, Elected or not? Well there was the rub for much of the C18th, and especially for Edmund Burke. Surprised to see that Starkey disagreed with Ed on that one.

  • kensei

    “There’s really only one point worth picking up on, Ken, since you claim that you don’t understand the other points.”

    No, I don’t understand the bit I highlighted. the rest I follow.

    “Only because James II was defeated in battle and a constitutional monarch, William and Mary, were “elected” in his place – to use David Starkey’s turn of phrase.”

    Of course, we don’t know how things would have panned out if James II had remained on the throne. Perhaps England would have wound up as a Republic, a far superior form of government.

    Nor is the Divine Right of Kings necessarily tied to Catholicism, as I have pointed out. Scotland had proto-ideas of Constitutional monarchy and popular sovereignty in the Declaration of Arbroath, long before the Reformation.

    And, btw, we’re now discussing the Glorious Revolution, rather than the Reformation. Which is linked but a bit different. Are we back to my original point? Oh look, yes we are.

  • Pete Baker

    “we don’t know how things would have panned out if James II remained on the throne”?

    Yeah.. after a parliament had elected an different monarch to the throne.

    Kinda crucial to anyone claiming to be republican given James II’s declared beliefs.

    “Are we back to my original point?” I wish you would.

    As I said at the time

    That’s an interesting, if flawed, take on the Protestant Reformation, Ken. As if there was a separation of church and state at that time.. tell that to James II – “From God comes the King, from the King comes the Law.”

    And you neglect the wider European dimension.. including the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

  • kensei

    “Yeah.. after a parliament had elected an different monarch to the throne.”

    Suppose they hadn’t. We’re already supposing hje remained on the throne. My, that was hard.

    “Kinda crucial to anyone claiming to be republican given James II’s declared beliefs.”

    I have no particular love or otherwise of James II. Just that it’s not quite as clearcut as the “Glorious” Revolution stuff makes out, and the original point was that in general it’s more complex than the original article makes out.

    ” That’s an interesting, if flawed, take on the Protestant Reformation, Ken. As if there was a separation of church and state at that time.. tell that to James II – “From God comes the King, from the King comes the Law.”

    And you neglect the wider European dimension.. including the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.”

    And as I said at the time, I wasn’t talking about modern separation of powers, and James II isn’t directly relevant to Henry VIII. Actually, try just reading back, saves me time.

    On the wider European dimension, I deliberately choose to ignore it because I wanted to focus my points on some aspects of the English Reformation. How about that?
    And by the by, The St Bartholomew’s Day massacre occurred in 1572. The English reformation began in 1531. The idea of Catholicism as the “corrupting other” only came about as a result of the English Reformation, not as a cause so it couldn’t have always been about deliverance from the corrupting Catholic other.

    He’s right about it being a cornerstone of Empire but he mixes up the English Reformation, the Glorious Revolution and Empire into a giant mismash. I’m not totally convinced.

  • Aquifer

    Pete:

    ‘Assertive and, more importantly, sceptical are triats that should be encouraged.. not labelled’

    Yes Pete. My comments were meant to arrive after Garibaldis piece, by way of suggesting that the Proddie take on the world is now hard wired into a lot of our discourse, but you commented on it first.

  • abucs

    Spent yesterday travelling around the rural areas of Siquijor island in the Philippines visiting some of the centuries old Spanish Churches along the way.

    You couldn’t help but get a feeling of past Ireland with the idea of a simiilar culture.

    Communities main focus of education and charity from one set of volunteers to another, all focused through the church, generation after generation. For centures influenced by the idea of a call to something better and stronger and wiser with the way to that being to lead a moral life, be charitable and self sacrificing for the community.

    It’s a sobering realisation of how community was established and maintained.

    Now we have so many things to distract us from where we came from and why. And perhaps we are rich enough now to temporarily paper-over societies lack of spiritual focus these days ??

  • DK

    “Oh, and on positive aspects: I actually have a sneaking admiration for Cromwell, based on his belief on religious freedom and building an army based on merit. It’s just a shame he couldn’t take his arguments to their logical conclusion, and extend the same freedoms to Catholics, rather than you know, using said army to completely fuck Catholic Ireland.”

    Well Cromwell was a religous extremist, sort of like Ian Paisley with a large army…. now there’s a thought for anyone with notions of an independent Northern Ireland with an independent army!!!!

  • Alan

    “Communities main focus of education and charity from one set of volunteers to another, all focused through the church, generation after generation. For centures influenced by the idea of a call to something better and stronger and wiser with the way to that being to lead a moral life, be charitable and self sacrificing for the community.”

    Now this reminded me of an excellent book on the workings of the protestant reformation at a very local level. It is “The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village.” by Eamon Duffy ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Voices-Morebath-Reformation-Rebellion-English/dp/0300098251 ). It explores the period 1530-1580 through the churchwardens accounts, minute books, journals and bequests of the remote Devon village of Morebath.

    What was interesting was the seeming abundance of work done for the church that was suddenly turned to personal profit. It was clearly a top-down process, but one in which many people acquiesced. Mind you, they also went to war about it too.

  • Philip McNeill

    It was convenient that in the 1600s Holland had invented the Stock Exchange which allowed them to build an empire based on borrowed money for their navy. Hence when it came to contracting out the English monarchy England got an improvment to their economy. Economic improvement via the guise of religious zeal.

  • bollix

    two things that i think are factually incorrect about the article by hunt.
    Firstly, although he correctly identifies protestant salvation as being through faith alone (sola fide) he then goes on to say that catholic salvation is through the man made rituals of the church. This is not catholic theology, catholic theology is that salvation is through “good works”.

    Secondly he imputes that the “mass hysteria” occasioning princess diana’s death was influenced or inspired by a “catholic” mindset of death. Aside from the obvious point that royalty and protestantism are co-terminous in the UK and constitutionally in opposition to catholicism, i see nothing of catholicism in such hysteria.

    I see one of the most positive advances of the protestant reformation as being the rise of the individual conscience and the questioning of authority – if the pope can’t tell you how to reach your god, then on what basis can a king tell you how to run your life?

  • Ginfizz

    “i see nothing of catholicism in such hysteria.”

    Images of Diana with a halo round her head placed outside Buck House? Calls for her to be canonised?

  • kensei

    “Images of Diana with a halo round her head placed outside Buck House? Calls for her to be canonised?”

    I think you’ll find few Catholics called for her to be canonised. And Catholics do public shows of grief, but I can’t think of an example of quite that type of mass hysteria.

    You could argue it links to the (Protestant) Victorian fashion for public mourning, the fact she died young and the decline of religion rather than its influence. It helped fill a spiritual vacuum.

  • Harry Flashman

    *You could argue it links to the (Protestant) Victorian fashion for public mourning, the fact she died young and the decline of religion rather than its influence. It helped fill a spiritual vacuum.*

    Yes, it helped fill a spiritual vacuum in people who had rejected the old fashioned, traditional stiff upper lip, “protestant”, monarchist, British way of doing things.

    I’m not saying it was an embrace of a “Catholic” way of behaving but it is interesting that her death coincided with the accession of the touchy feely New Labour government heavily influenced as it was with second and third generation Irish Catholics from the Scottish and Liverpool heartland (a move away from their previous Welsh non-conformist and northern English methodist origins) and with an empathy on emoting and public performance while at the same time rather neglecting actual hard work and effort.

    The coincidental death of Mother Teresa didn’t help either, of course. Invariably the people who scratched their heads in bewilderment at the collective madness that appeared to have grapsed the UK (actually the media, also dominated by style rather than substance and with a large element of celts in their ranks vastly exaggerated the scale of the “mourning”) were the sort of rather down to earth protestant English people who can be found in unexceptional churhes whilst the ‘mourners’ didn’t exactly display all the traits of old fashioned British protestantism.

    Thankfully that ghastly period is behind us and the utterly flawed and self distructive character of Princess Diana can today be discussed in a more rational, logical and, dare one say it, protestant way.

  • kensei

    “Yes, it helped fill a spiritual vacuum in people who had rejected the old fashioned, traditional stiff upper lip, “protestant”, monarchist, British way of doing things.”

    I’m not convinced that reserve is necessarily a Protestant trait; Brian Friel’s “Philadelphia Here I Come” illustrates a Catholic example.

    “I’m not saying it was an embrace of a “Catholic” way of behaving but it is interesting that her death coincided with the accession of the touchy feely New Labour government heavily influenced as it was with second and third generation Irish Catholics from the Scottish and Liverpool heartland (a move away from their previous Welsh non-conformist and northern English methodist origins) and with an empathy on emoting and public performance while at the same time rather neglecting actual hard work and effort.”

    1. “Heavily influenced”? Please. Brown was one of the key architects of the whole thing.

    2. Image was a direct reaction to the English papers treatment of Kinnock and partly imported form America, where it was perfected by a Baptist

    3. “Neglecting hard work and effort”, well that sounds a little too much of your partisan politics coming through for my liking.

    “Invariably the people who scratched their heads in bewilderment at the collective madness that appeared to have grapsed the UK (actually the media, also dominated by style rather than substance and with a large element of celts in their ranks vastly exaggerated the scale of the “mourning”) were the sort of rather down to earth protestant English people who can be found in unexceptional churhes whilst the ‘mourners’ didn’t exactly display all the traits of old fashioned British protestantism.”

    Really? Because England is far more secular than Protestant these days, and I think it’s somewhat of a stretch to claim everyone that expressed bemusement for Protestantism. I know many Irish Catholics who were totally bemused by it all, for a start.

    “Thankfully that ghastly period is behind us and the utterly flawed and self distructive character of Princess Diana can today be discussed in a more rational, logical and, dare one say it, protestant way.”

    Obviously said by a man who’s never seen the Daily Express on a Monday.

  • Ginfizz

    Harry

    “Yes, it helped fill a spiritual vacuum in people who had rejected the old fashioned, traditional stiff upper lip, “protestant”, monarchist, British way of doing things.”

    Correct. I was always brought up that when there was a death in the family the blinds/curtains were closed. Grief was handled in private not in public and that while we mourn the passing of a loved one, we celebrate their life in the sure and certain knowledge of the ressurection of the saints and the joy of heaven.

    Probably a bit of an old-fashioned view, but thats what my family taught me.

    The whole Diana thing was an appaling example of how not to behave. The mourners at the palace could have very very quickly become a violent mob.

  • Theo Logical

    “Thankfully that ghastly period is behind us and the utterly flawed and self distructive character of Princess Diana can today be discussed in a more rational, logical and, dare one say it, protestant way.”

    Oh yeah, protestantism took a holiday about 10 years ago but it’s back now? Explain George Best then?

  • seanniee

    Looks like another awful BBC series.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Watched the BBC series. Luther promoted consciousness, seen it run away from him when the peasants used it to not only extend religious rights but other issues that upset the local princes. At this Luther positively exhorted the local monarchs to brutally put down the peasants demands. This they did with gusto leaving around 100,000 dead, job done! Oh and also a small matter of outrageous anti-Semitism., he was some man alright a politician for all seasons.

  • Different Drummer

    All very interesting and may I say rather predicable.

    How so? Well the underling assumption that our type of fundamentalism we have come to know here is as a consequence of suppression of protestant religion is an expected commonplace of NI discussion. But it does not serve the liberal cause of Slugger or Protestantism.

    One never knows what might happened if the Levellers and the Diggers had managed to survive and stop the dictatorship of The Lord Protector. Perhaps we would have not so many self appointed ‘Lord Protectors’ here.

    But there are other very important examples of (protestant) revolution that hardly ever are discussed here and not just on Slugger – namely the Dutch Revolution against the Spanish Empire.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it was not a purely protestant revolution as one of the key ignitions of a wider revolt against Spain was the execution of pro Spanish Catholic noblemen Hoore and Egmont. They had petitioned Philip II for a reform of his policy on taxes and the gallows was their reward.

    The executions ensured that the revolt was not just to be one of Catholics versus Protestants but became a much wider struggle against exploitation, for democratic rights of worship and for a people to decide how they wished to be governed. After eighty years the Dutch Republic was established.

  • Garibaldy

    From AA Gill:

    “Hunt told us that Martin Luther, while in fear of his life, “went as far as growing a false beard”. I’m sorry, how do you grow a false beard? See, what’s amazing isn’t that Luther managed to sprout nylon, but that Hunt’s self-contented, bland mood music of a script didn’t even notice that he was talking bollocks. This was a timely, important and fascinating subject that ran out of runway.”

  • Different Drummer

    Yeees Gary baldi

    I’m sure there were many historicans who took a disinterested approch to Martin Luther growing a false beard……