King, John N., ed. Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2004. xvi+394pp. ISBN 0 8122 1877 9.
Booty, John E., ed. The Book of Common Prayer 1559: The Elizabethan Prayer Book. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P for the Folger Shakespeare Library, 2005. xvi+427pp. ISBN 0 8139 2517 7.

Timothy Rosendale
Southern Methodist University

Rosendale, Timothy. "Review of John N. King, ed. Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook, and Booty, John E., ed. The Book of Common Prayer 1559: The Elizabethan Prayer Book." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.3 (January, 2007) 10.1-15<URL:>.

  1. Two recent books, edited by highly esteemed scholars of the English Reformation, make important primary texts of the era available to students and scholars in accessible, modernized form. Both are very good. Since they are so rich, since I agree almost completely with their aims, and since I greatly admire their execution, this review will be unusually exhaustive in its description of contents (with some critical comments interspersed along the way).

  2. The first is John N. King's Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook, which, as he announces in his introduction, "juxtaposes utterances by Protestants and Catholics, laypeople and clerics, women and men, commoners and queens" (1), ranging from the usual suspects (Tyndale, Bale, More, Foxe) to more out-of-the-way though nonetheless significant writers (Allen, Gilby, Cancellar, Tichborne). And this expansiveness is not limited to the persons of the authors: many genres and types of writing are represented, including not only religious polemic, theology, and sermons, but also satire, martyrology, (auto)biography, drama, letters, poetry, allegory, historiography, and more. Some of the texts are utterly canonical (Tyndale's Obedience, for one), some "here edited for the first time, and virtually all of them are inaccessible in standard collections"; I suppose that the accuracy of the last claim depends on how one defines "standard collections," but surely many of them could be found in a good library. At any rate, King has edited most of them from early editions, modernized them, and provided useful introductory headnotes to each; his notes are sometimes thorough, sometimes thinner, but generally they're there when needed.

  3. The seven sections of the book are topically organized, and the first, on Bible translation and commentary, starts things off cleverly by going well beyond the standard Norton-Anthology method of simply presenting parallel texts. Instead, King gives four versions of two passages of Revelation with the various texts' commentary, thereby giving a sense of what was at stake not only in the act of translating the Bible, but in the act of reading it. Reading the efforts of Bale, Geneva, and Rheims at shaping the meaning of the Bible (in radically different ways, obviously), as well as the text itself, is quite revelatory. And while Tyndale's translation is printed without notes, this is remedied in the second half of the chapter, on translation theory, where King gives us choice bits of the Obedience on vernacularism, allegory, and the "literal sense"; this is followed up with More's familiar complaints. More compelling is Parsons' argument regarding the dangers of untrammeled Bible-reading, and the advisability of expert guidance in such a consequential pursuit, for the sakes of both unity and truth itself.

  4. The second section, on selfhood and obedience, starts off conventionally with Tyndale, Latimer, and the Book of Homilies; then balances these with the Catholic counterviews of Hogarde and Parsons; and finishes with an exchange between Cecil and William Allen that gives startlingly contrasting perspectives on Elizabeth's policy toward Jesuits. A third unit, on literary allegories of the Reformation, gives us condensed versions of not just Three Laws, Lusty Juventus, and Beware the Cat, but also Crowley's refreshingly anti-Henrician Philargyrie and Hogarde's dream-vision-cum-mini-epic on the beleaguered doctrine of transubstantiation, The Assault of the Sacrament of the Altar.

  5. The balance and variety of perspective suggested by these sketches continues in the remaining four sections of Voices of the English Reformation, which I don't have space to account for fully here: one on lay/clerical tensions of various sorts, one on theatrical controversy, one on biography and martyrology, and one on the texts and pageantry surrounding several queens. King also provides a glossary, a select bibliography, and a "List of Notable Persons" to assist the inexpert.

  6. I don't find the academic game of Good-heavens-what-was-the-author-thinking-when-he-left-out-X particularly interesting: no book can contain everything it might have, and every reader will have their own notions about what might have been put in or done differently. Therefore, even though I was surprised by the omission of the Book of Common Prayer (what more important confluence of text, voice, and Reformation is there?), I shall not play that game here. As far as what is here goes, I feel that John King has in some respects paid off well on the promise of his title. Drawing from his formidably broad reading, he has assembled and edited a conversation of voices that is illuminating and interesting, quite varied, and, like all vigorous discussions, sometimes a little untidy. It might be fairly said that this book is not an effectively systematic introduction to Reformation theology; while one might inductively gather up, or deepen, a sense of contemporary theological controversies over grace and agency, or the Eucharist, the book doesn't appear to be designed to lay out these fundamentals in any kind of organized way. And I think that's fine, as King was under no obligation to do so.

  7. But problems do arise when I think about how I might use this book in my literature courses -- a question clearly encouraged in the introduction (and no doubt by the marketing department at the press!). Simply put, I think that the miscellaneous nature of the book's organization (with some units devoted to ideas, some to literary forms, some to topics or phenomena or cultural acts or conflicts) would make it difficult for me to use fully in a course. Certainly, both individual texts and some entire units could be brilliantly useful, and I think a history course on the English Reformation would find Voices comprehensively beneficial. But when I teach courses on the Reformation and Renaissance literature, I tend to think topically: in a unit on grace and agency, for example, before tackling Hamlet or Doctor Faustus or Donne, I like to spend time on important primary texts of theology (Erasmus/Luther, Calvin, etc.) to establish a history for the ideas and conflicts that continue in the literary texts. Of course, the theologians of my example aren't English, but King's book doesn't provide an analogous set, and though he, again, wasn't working under a mandate to supply the reading needs of my courses, the nature of the book he has produced would make my using it in those courses rather challenging. One might object that that's a failure of my own imagination or flexibility, and maybe it is, but consider the claims made in the introduction about this book's illumination of Doctor Faustus: "the play's Vatican scene invokes iconoclastic attack on the papacy that pervades the Book of Martyrs and other polemical texts. In the play's closing scene, Faustus enacts a Protestant theological position when he speaks, without intercession by saints or the Virgin Mary, of the yawning breach between himself and heaven" (12). That strikes me as a pretty meagre argument for the usefulness of this particular book in teaching Renaissance literature, and of course I chose the most effective example -- his Bale/Spenser pairing is much more persuasive -- but it's not atypical of the often-vague assertions made in this regard. I agree totally with King's conviction that the Reformation has much to add to our understanding of Renaissance literature, and absolutely, I could put some of this book to very good use in my teaching; I'm just not sure if it's enough, or sufficiently focused, to justify making my students purchase it for this purpose.

  8. This aside, though, Voices of the English Reformation is in many ways a marvelous book. King has assembled a luminous, discordant group of written voices here that are both engaging and fascinating, varied and thoughtfully interrelated. Reading it has enriched my own thinking about the era, and provoked some new ideas for my own teaching and scholarship. And it's always useful, and here very convenient, to remind ourselves -- or to be reminded by one of this field's great scholars -- that there was nothing monological about the sixteenth century.

  9. Of course, the inconvenient fact of multivocality doesn't mean that the era didn't give univocality its best shot, and this brings me to my second book, which is not new at all, but a reissue of John Booty's classic 1976 edition of the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer. But while the only new thing about it is a short foreword by Judith Maltby, and though that foreword highlights the different states of the art in 1976 and 2005, I'll simply talk about Booty's text as if it were new.

  10. The Book of Common Prayer is (still) startlingly under-treated and under-known by literary scholars. It has attracted some notice, but thirty-six years elapsed between the two monographs dedicated to it in recent memory--Stella Brook's The Language of the Book of Common Prayer (1965) and Ramie Targoff's Common Prayer (2001). As I argue in my forthcoming book (Liturgy and Literature in the Making of Protestant England, Cambridge UP, 2007), though, and as Booty recognized thirty years ago, one can hardly understand early modern England without understanding the Prayerbook. This is a text backed by a penal statute, which held a monopoly over English public worship for centuries. It was clearly regarded from the start as being a fundamental part of England's national identity, both religiously and sociopolitically. It is perhaps the only book that one can confidently say was intimately familiar to virtually every English subject. It, more than any other book, formed the foundation and the texture of England's public religious life through very complicated times, and it collated personal, collective, and spiritual experience and time into a rich and complex harmony. And its language is second only to that of Tyndale and his Bible-rendering heirs as a deeply embedded model of English style and sound. So the re-introduction of Booty's text is a welcome event.

  11. But why read the 1559 BCP, rather than 1549, 1552, or 1662? One frequently-heard explanation is that 1559 formed the basis of all subsequent Prayerbooks. But this argument is silly, and Booty fully recognizes that: every authorized BCP formed the basis of its successor. Of course, the revisions of 1604 and then 1662 derive from 1559, but 1559 is based on 1552, which was in turn based on 1549. Booty makes the more interesting case that 1559 deserves attention because of its
    checking of a forceful movement in a Protestant or Genevan direction and a settling down to that via media which has become characteristic of Anglicanism. This book is, then, more clearly representative of Anglicanism than either of the earlier books. Furthermore, the 1559 Book was chosen because of the importance of the Elizabethan Age. Shakespeare and Donne, Elizabeth and Essex, Raleigh and Jonson, Coke and Bacon, Hooker and Andrewes all worshiped with the Book of Common Prayer of 1559. (p. 330)
    One might take issue with some of the assumptions embedded in this, but it is at least a credible set of reasons. Still, by 1559 the BCP had a decade of history behind it, and had in that time been at the center of a major rebellion, a prophetic quarrel among the Protestant exiles at Frankfurt, and virtually every major rethinking of England's religious and political identity. Booty covers this briefly but expertly and well in an appended essay on the history, nature, and use of the 1559 Prayerbook.

  12. Even a newcomer to the BCP needn't read far into this book to get a sense of how important it was culturally. The Elizabethan Act of Uniformity printed at the beginning of this edition makes very clear, by its determined and harshly penal (with penalties ranging from one hundred marks to life imprisonment) drive toward nationally uniform weekly worship, and by its protectiveness of the liturgy against any "derogation, depraving, or despising," how important this book was felt to be by those who oversaw its use. The same is true of those who rebelled against it, those who used it happily, those who despised its theology, and those who muttered their way sullenly through it. After the Act, the table of contents goes as follows:
    2. A Preface
    3. Of Ceremonies, Why Some Be Abolished and Some Retained
    4. The Order How the Psalter is Appointed to Be Read
    5. The Table for the Order of the Psalms to Be Said at Morning and Evening Prayer
    6. The Order How the Rest of Holy Scripture is Appointed to Be Read
    7. Proper Psalms and Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, for Sundays and Certain Feasts and Days
    8. An Almanac
    9. The Table and Calendar for Psalms and Lessons, with Necessary Rules Appertaining to the Same
    10. The Order for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer throughout the Year
    11. The Litany
    12. The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels to Be Used at the Ministration of the Holy Communion throughout the year
    13. The Order of the Ministration of the Holy Communion
    14. Baptism, Both Public and Private
    15. Confirmation, Where Also Is a Catechism for Children
    16. Matrimony
    17. Visitation of the Sick
    18. The Communion of the Sick
    19. Burial
    20. The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth
    21. A Commination against Sinners, with Certain Prayers to Be Used Divers Times in the Year

    That's a lot of stuff--most of it derived originally from Latin Catholic sources, translated into English, and interestingly revised for theological effect. There are thousands of things to talk about here, but as my allotted space is rapidly dwindling, I'll limit myself to just one.

  13. In the 1549 Communion service, the bread is administered to the communicants with an ambiguous sentence: "The body of our Lorde Jesus Christe whiche was geuen for thee, preserue thy bodye and soule unto euerlasting lyfe." As Gardiner would point out to Cranmer's consternation, this formula could be read as consonant with a variety of theological positions, including Roman Catholic transubstantiation. So in 1552, it is radically rewritten to exclude this possibility, and virtually any other but Swiss-style Protestantism: "Take and eate this, in remembraunce that Christ dyed for thee, and feede on him in thy hearte by faythe, with thankesgeving." Then in 1559, after the death of Edwardian reform, the alarmingly successful Marian retrenchment, and the extremism manifested on both sides, the Elizabethan BCP does something very canny with these doctrinal formulae: it mashes them both together. "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul into everlasting life: and take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving." Here was a form that virtually (though of course not quite) anyone could read themselves comfortably into, from one near-extreme end of the spectrum to the other. Does the bread become Christ's physical body, as Person A would have it? Sure. Or is it, as B believes, just a memorial symbol? Yep. Or is it some Calvinist synthesis of spiritual presence that C likes better? Yes! The nature of the sacrament is thus both authoritatively codified and individually, interpretively inscribed into that codification.

  14. This revision demonstrates to some extent Booty's claim about the Anglican via media, and 1559's rejection of 1552's aggressive Swissness. But I'd suggest that it also is a crucial return to ambiguity, perhaps more cleverly handled than it had been in 1549; this purposeful, "big-tent" broadness formed one of the pillars of the Elizabethan Settlement. The other was the Queen's ferocious assertion of her ecclesiastical headship. And this two-pronged political strategy mirrors even deeper tensions within the Book of Common Prayer itself, between the coercively hierarchical claims of the centralizing early modern nation-state and the diffusive, interpretive authority attributed to the Protestant individual. This conflict was built into the BCP from the very beginning, and it was both muted and sharpened by its Elizabethan revision.

  15. Booty's book is wonderful, beautifully edited, printed (including quite a lot of red-letter text!), and annotated. It's also quite affordable for a hardback. Highly recommended, as is King's book, for anyone interested in the religious life of early modern England.

Works Cited


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© 2007-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).