The pick of new his­tory pro­grammes

Jan­ina Ramirez re­veals how a trio of texts trans­formed re­li­gious be­lief across Eng­land

BBC History Magazine - - Contents -

“Ev­ery man, woman and child lis­tened to these texts for all the big mo­ments in their lives”

Eng­land’s Re­for­ma­tion: Three Books that Changed a Na­tion TV BBC Four Sched­uled for Oc­to­ber

For more than four cen­turies, a trio of books shaped Bri­tish life pro­foundly. Tyn­dale’s New Tes­ta­ment, The Book of Com­mon Prayer and Foxe’s Book of Mar­tyrs were, points out his­to­rian Jan­ina Ramirez, “in ev­ery church – and ev­ery man, woman, child lis­tened to these texts for all the big mo­ments in their lives: births, deaths, mar­riage”.

Half a mil­len­nium on from Martin Luther’s 95 The­ses and the dawn of the Re­for­ma­tion, it’s easy to over­look just what a pro­found break with the past these books rep­re­sented. Rather than the mass be­ing given in Latin, here was re­li­gion in the com­mon tongue, an ex­plicit chal­lenge to the “global em­pire” of the pa­pacy. “It was the end of a thousand years of tra­di­tion, a thousand years of rit­ual,” says Ramirez.

Such change in­evitably brought huge up­heavals. Re­li­gion was democra­tised and Wil­liam Tyn­dale (1494–1536), for one, saw his trans­la­tion of sa­cred texts as “em­pow­er­ing through the ver­nac­u­lar, through the English lan­guage, ev­ery mem­ber of so­ci­ety down to the lowli­est plough­boy”.

Yet we also need to re­mem­ber that, when The Book of Com­mon Prayer was in­tro­duced in 1549, it led to a huge up­ris­ing in the South West.

As for Foxe’s Book of Mar­tyrs (1563), the vis­ceral im­agery of its co­pi­ous wood­cuts, ar­gues Ramirez, helped cre­ate “a bedrock of ha­tred” for Catholi­cism that en­dured for cen­turies. “You can see what’s hap­pen­ing to these mar­tyrs: preg­nant women are giv­ing birth on the pyre, peo­ple are be­ing dragged be­hind horses, and it’s grim, re­ally grim,” she says. “Be­cause of that, it cre­ates a whole cli­mate go­ing for­ward of com­plete Protes­tant dis­dain for Catholics, and it comes to de­fine so much of our re­la­tion­ship with Europe, it also comes to de­fine our re­la­tion­ship with Ire­land.” These words go to the heart of Ramirez’s doc­u­men­tary, which is in part about how his­tor­i­cal re­li­gious schisms have an ef­fect even in the present.

Three Books is part of a wider sea­son across the BBC. Among other high­lights, Re­for­ma­tion: Europe’s Holy War (avail­able via iPlayer) sees David Starkey ar­gu­ing that Henry VIII’s break with Rome was akin to a “Tu­dor Brexit”. Mean­while, Re­for­ma­tion: The Story of Martin Luther (BBC Four, Oc­to­ber) is a drama chart­ing the life of the re­li­gious revo­lu­tion­ary.

Jan­ina Ramirez dis­cov­ers how a thousand years of tra­di­tion were smashed in the 16th cen­tury

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.