History Conference 2017

The publication of materials from Rudolf Steiner’s early esoteric lectures and his ritual activities has opened the way to a new understanding of the development of Spiritual Science. Andrew Welburn has been actively researching this material for some years, and will present aspects of his work from the perspective of Steiner’s changing ideas. In the works which he began to publish around the ‘turn of the century’, Rudolf Steiner already presents a comprehensive cosmology and spiritual psychology with its own distinctive thought-structure. He also sometimes indicates limits to what he is allowed to say about it. Its characteristic ideas belong to the Central European esoteric tradition which sought a universal truth or ‘Pansophia’, in which kabbalah plays a central role. There is every reason to think that Steiner was introduced to this esotericism by Friedrich Eckstein, a brilliant though elusive figure with whom he continued to correspond. Only from 1906 was Steiner’s thought transformed by contact with a new set of ideas stemming from Rosicrucian sources. The focus in this conference will be on understanding how Rudolf Steiner shaped all these influences to fit the spiritual needs of modern, scientific times by creating a brilliantly original and non-traditional approach to esoteric thought.

Andrew Welburn has been a life-long anthroposophist as well as an academic. He will bring his experience in literary and philosophical studies to bear on unravelling aspects of the complex and many-sided background of Rudolf Steiner’s early thought.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From 2010 Bittleston

The book on Bittleston came out last week and has probably sold at least one copy. Anne Zouroudi visited over the week-end and I presented her with a signed copy. On Friday November 5th a book launch is happening in London at Rudolf Steiner House at 6.30pm. I am giving a lecture where I think I will concentrate on the research process and some of the sources I used. Particularly interesting are the diaries of Bittleston’s mother from when she was resident in the south of France from 1924 onwards and, in her final years in Vence. She died in January 1933. She makes frequent reference to the letters she wrote to various members of her aristocratic family but surprisingly enough I have been unable to locate any of them! I find this something of an anomaly as letters are invariably saved, but this could be seen as a manipulation of the historical record by her family who probably opposed her divorce in 1923 and I suggested in the book that she very likely went to the south of France into ‘exile’. Did her family threaten to cut her off completely and in doing so erased her from history by destroying her correspondence and any other documentation that may have survived?


So after many years of work I finally managed to complete the book and if anyone reads this they may wonder who he is. He is a completely unknown individual (in the 21st century) but in his lifetime he wrote much, made many friends and helped thousands of people. Although he was a man of the cloth he didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve.  However, he also had strange habits (not unusual) and chase after women who sometimes embarrassingly turned him down. At Oxford in the early 1930s he became a friend of the author of Lord of the Flies, William Golding, who also (if you read John Carey’s biography) had strange habits. More about this later. What I would like to explore is the whole process of research that I experienced whilst researching this book. The book itself is about a 18,000 word biography of Bittleston, followed by a collection of essays on themes such as Shakespeare, the Spirit of the English, Artists, Writers and Thinkers and Religion and the Gospels. Initially I planned to publish only the collection of essays but as I began to look at Bittleston’s life the more intriguing he became. He was, for example, related to the Halifax family through his grandmother who married John Charles Dundas of the Dundas family (Zetland). As mentioned above he was a close friend of William Golding and he maintained contact with many other leading individuals in politics and culture.

It is, however, the research process rather than the finished product that really made this project interesting and worthwhile and although I didn’t do much work on it in the early years and began to lose hope that I would find something worthwhile, it was Golding’s daughter, Judy Carver, who kick-started me into getting on with it again. This came in the form of an e Mail asking me if she could put me in touch with John Carey who was at that time still researching Golding’s biography. I, of course agreed and shortly afterwards Judy also sent me the promised extracts from her father’s journal relating to Bittleston. Almost simultaneously Bittleston’s daughter, Stella, lent me three of her grandmother’s diaries from the years 1924/25- 1930/31 and this began a fascinating journey of research. In August 2007 I made the journey south to Sidmouth where Bittleston went to school but found nothing!! I then travelled to Donhead St Andrew and found the home (Nadder Cottage) where he lived with mother and sister from 1918 to 1923. What made this visit interesting was speaking to some local people on a warm August day who told me about the man who had just died who worked for the Bittleston’s as a gardener!! I then went to King’s School in Bruton and on to Oxford to see Brasenose College. This was a sort of optical research to get a feel of the places where Bittleston spent his boyhood, youth and higher education.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Book Review of Higher Education

Widening Participation: Which Way Forward for English Higher Education?
Chris Duke and Geoff Layer (eds)
National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, 2005, ISBN
1 86201 271 7, pbk, £18.95, 160pp

This volume addresses a wide range of themes and issues dealing with the much-debated policy of widening participation in higher education. As the editors point out in their introduction, the year 2010, the date for the UK government’s target for 50 percent of 18-30 year olds to benefit from higher education, is now very near, and it is time to reflect on some urgent questions. However, the reflection is not pursued exclusively by members of HE institutes, as the list of contributors, who originally participated in a NIACE colloquium, are drawn from variety of relevant backgrounds. Their stated purpose was to ‘develop a shared understanding of the diversity of approaches to widening participation to HE, and the working of partnership delivery’.
In a short space it is not possible to give a complete overview of all the interrelated themes addressed in this slim volume, but broadly it covers issues and asks questions such as the potential for foundation degrees, the role of colleges in their delivery of a broader range of HE courses, how workplace learning fits into the agenda of widening participation, the National Compact Scheme and an analysis of the influence of class and social disadvantage on the policies of HEIs. For the practitioner, Liz Thomas’s chapter on the implications of widening participation for learning and teaching is particularly instructive. Drawing on a range of recent research, she argues for a grassroots change in how HE institutes approach and implement strategies for widening participation. She points out that the priority areas for HEIs is to introduce diversity into the curriculum, have a clear focus on student centred learning and teaching, review assessment strategies to make them suitable for all students and move towards an integrated model of academic and pastoral support. This, she argues, would improve achievement and retention and enable all students to achieve their full potential.
Another chapter that speaks directly to those working in the HE sector is Liz Allen’s, which asks whether academics are signed up to the 50 per cent target. Here she addresses the ‘contested territories’ among academic staff about what widening participation actually means. For some, the recruitment of more students brings with it the associated problems and, inevitably, more work and a loss of control over admissions procedures and academic standards. Allen suggests a number of solutions to this (and other related problems) by suggesting a more cohesive working together of management, staff, students and trade unions and better methods of communication across the HE and FE sectors. What this chapter highlights is that widening participation means different things to different people and, although the editors would probably be reluctant to admit it, the whole volume emphasises this problem. What is important in the whole widening participation debate is that a better understanding is reached on what is meant by ‘under-represented groups’, as this would provide a much firmer basis on which to pursue further research.
By Kenneth Gibson.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Catholic History Book Review

Catholic Gentry in English Society: The Throckmortons of Coughton from Reformation to Emancipation, eds. Peter Marshall and Geoffrey Scott (Farnham: Ashgate. 2009; pp.300, £55).

This volume forms part of the Ashgate series on Catholic Christendom 1300-1700, a period, as its Series Editor Thomas F. Mayer points out, which ‘embraces the moment which saw an almost complete transformation of the place of religion in the life of Europeans, whether considered as a system of beliefs, as an institution, or as a set of social and cultural practices’. The Thorockmortons of Coughton Court in Warwickshire, provide a classic case study of this transformation, beginning with George Throckmorton’s ‘Crisis of Allegiance’ in the sixteenth century and ending with the Throckmortons ‘Coming of Age’ between 1826-1862.

In their introduction, the joint editors Peter Marshall and Geoffrey Scott, outline some of the key themes under discussion to emphasise how their historiographical approach moves away from previous histories of Catholicism which either present them as a marginalised persecuted community of ‘recusants’ or, as in John Bossy’s major study, were concerned with a ‘society of Catholics, rather that Catholics in society’. The Throckmorton’s, as they point out, were, throughout the period under discussion, politically, culturally and socially influential, were loyal to the crown yet stood firm in their Catholic beliefs.

Indeed Peter Marshall’s case study on Sir George Throckmorton demonstrates how, throughout his career, he was simultaneously, a conformist and dissenter, ‘a plotter but no traitor’, forged family links with overseas enemies but was a loyal citizen. He ‘modulated’ between holding representative positions in the Tudor state yet opposed Henry VIII’s religious and marital policies. As Marshall points out, ‘Sir George accommodated himself to a changing world while retaining core Catholic beliefs’; a position which perhaps exemplifies, the ‘ambivalent currents’ within the Throckmorton family throughout the whole period under discussion.

Susan Cogan examines the ‘kinship network’ of the Throckmorton family to argue that in spite of their strict adherence to the Catholic faith their attitudes and practices were similar to what she terms other ‘religiously conforming families’ of equal social and economic status. By utilising Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of non-economic forms of capital, Cogan suggests that the Throckmorton’s were able, through the construction and maintenance of patronage relationships, to remain protected and adopt strategies to remain active members of early modern English society. Whether Cogan’s imposition of Bourdieu’s sociological theory really works when applied to early modern society is open to debate, and, whilst this chapter is somewhat repetitive in its arguments it does, however, illuminate how one family remained firmly integrated and influential in their local community in times of change and challenge. 

Agnes Throckmorton is the focus of Jan Broadway’s chapter which is a welcome contribution on the role of a Catholic woman surviving in a predominantly hostile Protestant community. Agnes spent most of her ‘recusant widowed’ life maintaining ‘recusant culture’ and family cohesion in the face of competing loyalties and interests within the Throckmorton family.

This is followed by a contribution from Malcolm Wanklyn on the period from 1640-1660. In it he follows the fortunes of Sir Robert and Sir Francis Throckmorton who through these turbulent years were put under increasing pressures for survival both as Catholics and as members of a leading gentry family. 

The chapter on Coughton and the Gunpowder Plot by Michael Hodgetts is perhaps the most complex and challenging in the whole volume. It contains an overwhelming amount of references to an equally overwhelming number of different individuals. What Hodgetts attempts to establish are links between the Throckmortons and the plot to blow up parliament in November 1605 and, whilst his intricate referencing of a vast amount of sources may be valuable to the experts, this is not an easy read for someone unfamiliar with the complex and detailed web of intrigues and personalities involved.

Geoffrey Scott continues the story with a reminder that ‘there is no such thing as a typical recusant family’. Taking 1680 as his starting point Scott explores the fortunes and continuing patronage of the family, and suggests that by 1800 they had broke free from their ‘recusant constraints’ to lay the ground for the development of English Catholicism in the future. The main focus of Scott’s contribution is, however, the Throckmorton’s contribution to the survival of recusant culture arising from their close links with the European centres of English Catholicism. This European theme is also explored in Michael Mullet’s chapter on the English Catholic Traveller, Sir John Courtenay Throckmorton. Mullet suggests that this individual was one of the most noteworthy of the family and was its only published author of any significance. This period was also, politically, a significant time for English Catholics with the passing of the Catholic Relief Act in 1778 which established their rights to inherit property in a fully legal way.

The continuing story of ‘Catholic Emancipation’ into the nineteenth century is the subject of the final chapter by Alban Hood. The Throckmortons’ continued and strengthened their connections with the wider European Catholic world especially with the marriage in 1829 of Robert George Throckmorton to Elizabeth Acton, a member of one of the leading Catholic dynasties.  Robert also realised what might be termed as the most significant achievement of the Throckmorton family when he was elected as the first Catholic Member of Parliament in 1831.

With the long term historical approach and the extensive use of the Throckmorton family archive in the Warwickshire Record Office and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust the contributors have successfully challenged previous accounts of English Catholicism and opened up new channels of research for future study.                                                                                                                              

Kenneth Gibson


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another Book review. But not History

Marion Bowl, Non-Traditional Entrants to Higher Education: ‘They talk about people like me’. (Trentham Books, 2002).

As Marion Bowl points out in her introduction to this book, the concern for widening participation to higher education for previously excluded individuals is neither a new nor innovative enterprise in this country. The issue, she suggests, already existed in the 19th century with Thomas Hardy’s Jude representing an excluded minority as he stands mesmerised, yet rejected, by the elite University of Christminster, thus dashing his aspirations of entering the ministry. The figure of an oppressed and rejected Jude serves as a appropriate metaphor for the group of people from working class and ethnic minority backgrounds who were the focus of Dr. Bowl’s research. The Birmingham Reachout Project was initially set up to improve and enhance the employment prospects of disadvantaged people living in an area of Birmingham with huge levels of socio-economic deprivation. This book tells the story of a small cohort of 32 of those people and the obstacles faced by them in their journey from first contact with the Project to graduation from higher education.

The main questions that Dr. Bowl wished to research were the motivations behind adults returning to education, their experience of returning to study at access and higher education level, the factors inhibiting progress and how progress and equality could be optimised for women, black and working class students. Short biographical profiles provide the reader with the age range, gender, ethnic, employment and educational background of each of the participants followed, in subsequent chapters, by stories of frustrated school and post school experiences. The central part of the book gives an in depth study of the obstacles faced by these students in their progression onto undergraduate study, with the final chapters summarising the paradoxes of current government and institutional policies on widening participation.

When looking at the barriers faced by these students Dr. Bowl places particular emphasis on the worsening financial situation within higher education, the perceived lack of support for non-traditional students and the problems of accessibility for parents attempting to combine study and work. It was women especially who faced the difficulty of balancing child-care, part-time work and study, thus causing some of then to either ‘skimp work or rush assignments’. In addition to these practical difficulties she also identifies an experience of alienation and a need for some learners to learn the rules on entering higher education. This eventually led to most of them developing strategies for survival and seeking outside support to learn about the secrets of academic assessment.

The paradoxes and contradictions in widening participation identified in this study are analysed by using Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of habitus and capital. For example, Dr. Bowl argues that despite the propagation by universities of learning for the benefit of student and the wider community they also ‘serve to distribute social, cultural and economic capital [and] are in the business of maintaining differentials, not creating equality’. This is maintained, she argues, through the habitus of universities where well worn practices of exclusion and unquestioned traditions are maintained. Only by redefining the aims and purposes of higher education can a more equitable system become a reality.

Whether some of the issues addressed by Dr. Bowl are exclusive to non-traditional learners is open to debate, but from my own experience it is possible to suggest that traditional students and mature students from less deprived backgrounds face similar challenges. For example, mature women with a partner in full employment experience problems with child-care and managing their time and are sometimes constrained financially. Since the introduction of fees many younger traditional students, irrespective of social class or background, are forced into part-time work to lessen the shock of massive debt after graduation and struggle to balance work and study. Equally difficult for any student entering higher education is the sense of alienation and the challenges inherent in moving from a school, college or working environment to full time academic study. It is on these issues that one can agree with Dr. Bowl’s findings that institutions need to review their support and guidance systems and the introduction of greater flexibility in teaching and learning.

This is an admirable, important and well written book that is finely produced by Trentham Books. However, one may ask the question whether the publication of such research projects actually influence institutional and government policy makers to bring about the radical changes needed in higher education. Already in 1995, albeit in a different political context, Veronica McGivney in her study on mature students also argued a case for improving institutional policies which meet the needs of non-traditional learners. She also highlighted the ‘deep conservatism’ within higher education and the ingrained resistance to change in many institutions. This research project proved its usefulness in attracting learners from minority, working class and ethnic backgrounds into higher education, but whether the constructive solutions it offers will bring about change remains to be seen.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Heaven upon Earth: Joseph Mede (1586 –1638) and the Legacy of Millenarianism. By Jeffrey Jue. Springer. 2006. x + 281pp. £89.00.

In many ways Jeffery Jue’s volume fills a considerable gap in our historical knowledge by tracing the impact and legacy of the Cambridge scholar Joseph Mede’s apocalyptic thought. By making good use of the limited material bequeathed by Mede and his contemporaries Jue successfully places Mede’s theological writings firmly within the context of the religious divisions in the early Stuart Church under the leadership of William Laud. He demonstrates how, despite Mede’s leanings towards ritual and sacramentalism, he does not fit easily within the ‘Calvinist/Arminian’ dichotomy sometimes adopted by modern historians. This study also establishes the influence of Mede’s apocalyptic commentaries in Britain, Europe and the Americas and the diversity of responses he received from an equally diverse number of scholars and commentators. As Jue correctly says, Mede’s books, both during his lifetime and after, gained him an ‘international interest and appreciation’.
More problematic, however, is Jue’s all-embracing definition and inconsistent use of the term ‘millenarianism’, and also his less judicious use of some of his sources. Although he quite rightly points out in his introduction that the link between millenarianism and radicalism needs revising, he fails to provide a clear and rigorous definition of the term and thus many individuals are identified as holding millenarian beliefs without presenting any conclusive evidence. For example in his chapter on Mede’s influence on the circle around Samuel Hartlib and the tentative link between irenicism and millenarianism, Jue produces no evidence showing that Hartlib held millenarian beliefs, and although Hartlib did put his name to some apocalyptic tracts this does not prove his millenarianism. The same case is made for John Dury who wrote an extensive preface to the European millenarian tract Clavis Apocalyptica. However, the quote used by Jue from this to prove Dury’s alleged millenarianism is not Dury’s own but one he uses to refute the author’s own brand of millenarianism. Another example where Jue stretches his definition too far is in his analysis of Henry More’s apocalyptic thought. More, like Mede, did not believe that Christ would reign personally with his elected saints during the thousand-year rule. Indeed, as has been amply illustrated elsewhere, More believed in a spiritual transformation at Christ’s second coming and thought that the whole space of the thousand years signifies the Last Judgment. All this would happen at once. Thus, for More and other commentators, including Isaac Newton, the coming of the millennium would happen simultaneously with other eschatological events and this would inaugurate the end of the world and the onset of eternity. Thus, they were not millenarians in that they expected the thousand-year reign of Christ, but more accurately apocalyptic commentators, who studied the prophetic scriptures to try to calculate the date of Christ’s second coming and the end of the world.
In such a short space it is not possible to discuss in any great detail how Jue’s lack of clear and consistent definitions casts a shadow over his analysis of Mede’s influence. A more exact examination and a wider reading in the sources are needed when making such assertions that ‘by the mid-seventeenth century the most popular eschatological position in England was millenarianism’. The problem still remains, as Jue points out, to challenge consensus defini- tions of millenarianism, but even more important is to identify the multi- variant strands and differing perspectives of apocalyptic thought in this period within clear definitional boundaries, if millenarianism is to be correctly understood.
© 2008 The Author. Journal compilation © 2008 The Historical Association and Blackwell Publishing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More on a Book

Andreas J. Beck, Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676): Sein Theologieverständis und seine Gotteslehre (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007)

Until recently, and especially in the English speaking world, Gisbertus Voetius was a name relatively unknown to scholars of the European Reformation. Much of the work done on him, especially Arnold Duker’s masterful and scholarly three volume biography completed in 1914, are in need of revision; and although earlier work has concentrate on the significance of his practical theology and more recently in Aza Goudriaan book, on philosophy, Voetius’s theological concepts and his doctrine of God have been largely neglected.. Therefore Andreas Beck’s new book is a very welcome contribution and a refreshing reassessment of an individual now becoming recognised as one of the most outstanding reformed theologians in 17th century Europe. The aim of this book is ‘the analytical representation of the doctrine of God of the orthodox reformed theologian Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), primarius theologiae professor of the University of Utrecht’. Thus Beck’s principal question, which is the central focus of the whole study, is to what extent Voetius conceives the relationship between the contingent and necessary dimension in the divine (God’s) attributes. Before tackling this question however, Beck provides a comprehensive contextual analysis of the historical and theological background to the Nadere Reformatie, of which Voetius was one of the most central figures. He introduces Voetius’s biography and corrects errors made in previous scholarship. He also discusses in some depth the well known disputes and clashes between Voetius and Descartes, Labadius, Cocceius and Maresius, with a substantial section dedicated to the dispute with Descartes. This is done, not to be informative, but to present a clearer understanding and analysis of the theological doctrines and to provide a broader background to the context within which Voetius was active. This discussion is vital as it illustrates, and perhaps exemplifies, the different epistemological, philosophical and metaphysical disputes of much of the Early Modern Period in a European context.

The most important source used in this study are the five volumes of the Selecta Disputationes (1648-1689), a collection of 358 disputations comprising, among other things, an abundance of citations and references to theologians and philosophers from all disciplines in the history of ideas. To emphasize their significance Beck quotes the 19th Century German theologian Johann Ebrards who wrote: ‘They contain the most elaborate system of reformed dogma and morality, and whosoever wishes to write a reformed dogma will not be able to avoid working through these five volumes. However, it is somewhat laborious to pick out the dogmatically important questions, somewhat like finding pearls in the dung-heap. But the effort will be rewarded, as one will obtain an incredibly astute definition of the reformed doctrinal concept, not to be found elsewhere’. Voetius never published a systematic theology but, as Ebrards indicates, these disputations contain an abundance of material and Beck utilises these together with other works such as the 1653 Catechisatie over den Heidelbergschen Catechismus to produce a judicious and comprehensive analysis. Thus, the first part of the book deals with the historical context, Voetius’s biography and a discussion of the sources whilst the second and thirds parts address Voetius’s theology and doctrine of God.

In the section on theology Beck stresses that Voetius’s understanding of natural theology is a theology directed towards the highest good or what one might term a ‘lived theology’ directed towards faith, love and hope and the salvation of souls. Therefore, theology is not a means to an end but a practical science and here Voetius departs from the thought of Thomas Aquinas who defined theology primarily as a speculative discipline. The third part, which forms focal point of this study, concentrates exclusively on the doctrine of God with detailed sections, for example, on God’s teachings, Knowledge of God, the attributes of God and God’s decree and human freedom. One significant finding is the link between the Scottish medieval philosopher Duns Scotus and the theological ideas of Voetius. Here the issue is addressed about the continuity of the theology of the reformers and the medieval school and the continuity between the theology of the Reformation and the post Reformation period. Beck aligns himself with the ‘positive school’ arguing for a continuity between the major reformation thinkers such as Luther and Calvin and the Reformed Orthodox theologians on the one hand, and on the other side between the theologians of the medieval period such as Aquinas and Duns Scotius, and the theologians of the Reformation and those of Reformed orthodoxy. It is, however, (as Beck points out), important to note, that there are significant differences in the methodology and content, but there remains nevertheless, a long and common tradition between them: a fides quaerens intellectum. However, as Beck points out it would be false to brand in any way or form Voetius a ‘Scotian’ but Beck does indentify a definitive continuity of the thought of Duns Scotus. Indeed he points out that the structure of Voetius’s doctrine of God is prepared by Augustine and Anselm and it is possible to identify a definitive and continuous line of thought from Johannes von La Rochelle, Bonaventura, Heinrich von Gent and above all Duns Scotus

It is difficult to find fault with this volume. It is a brilliant analysis of Voetius’s theological concepts and an in depth study of his doctrine of God. It is clearly written and clearly argued and although aimed at a specialist audience much of the book is useful for all scholars of this period irrespective of their particular discipline. It is, for example, worthwhile pointing out that Voetius maintained contact with English divines and makes frequent reference to them in his works. As far as his practical divinity is concerned he made use of the works of William Perkins, translated Lewis Bayly’s Practice of Piety and exchanged correspondence with the ecumenist John Dury. At the Synod of Dort he forged friendships with English divines and in defense of his colleague Johannes Muccovious appealed to the authority of William Ames. This is a strong indication of an area of research in need of development that could, building on Beck’s volume, result in the discovery of more complex, yet fruitful relationships between British divines and those divines, such as Voetius, within the continental reformed tradition.

Kenneth Gibson

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another Book Review

Benjamin Kaplan, Bob Moore, Henk Van Nierop and Judith Pollmann (eds.), Catholic Communities in Protestant states: Britain and the Netherlands c. 1570-1720 [Studies in Early Modern European History]. Manchester University Press, Manchester/New York 2009, xiv + 274pp., 19 b/w ill. ISBN 9780719079061 (hb). £65.

This volume of essays comparing the position of Catholic minorities in Britain (including Ireland) and the Dutch Republic from ca, 1570-1720 has an excellent pedigree. It is the sixteenth volume appearing out of the series of triennial conferences Britain and the Netherlands which began in 1959. This particular conference was held in 2006 and the essays published here investigate and explore the minority culture of Catholicism in the two countries. It examines a variety of themes including the relationship between laity and clergy, Catholics and their neighbours in English parishes and towns, ritual, and networks of support and patronage. The methodological approach adopted was ‘problem-oriented’ to address as much as possible the similarities and differences between the two countries’. Much of the previous historiography of Catholic minorities in both countries has concentrated on the dominant tradition of persecution, but the essays offered here, written by a range of international scholars, goes beyond this picture to explore and revise this tradition to offer new insights and areas for future research.

In the introductory chapter Willlem Frijhoff provides the conceptual framework and outlines how ‘traditional narratives’ have emphasised ‘feelings of fear, subordination, and nostalgia’. He points out how Catholics in the two countries shared many common interest and concerns. Both were, for example, supported by social and intellectual elites, both were seen as politically dangerous, and both shared common cultural backgrounds. Thus each chapter explores different aspects of how the two communities, whilst remaining a minority culture, still maintained a distinct identity to survive in a politically hostile environment. The book, therefore, as the editors point out, ‘effects a rupture with the old historiographic patterns…by adopting a comparative perspective, examining side by side the experience of British (primarily English) and Dutch Catholics.

The first two chapters by Charles H Parker and Michael Mullet examine lay and clerical collaboration or the relations between ‘priests and people’. Parker focuses primarily on the question of how far the religious trends of the Catholic communities in the Northern Netherlands can be compared with other communities elsewhere in Europe. He does this by looking at the topic of lay-clerical interaction and concludes that, contrary to other countries where there existed a top down or bottom up direction in religious reform, the Northern Netherlands reflect a side by side arrangement or what he terms ‘cooperative confessionalisation’. Michael Mullet explores, (within the specific climate of post-Reformation Britain), the question of relationships between priests and the laity in ‘missionary conditions’. He argues that the Catholic clergy remained dependent on the laity, in contrast to other countries, thus making it impossible for them to ‘fulfil the role laid out for them by them Council of Trent’.

Judith Pollmann and Alexandra Walsham set out to revisit and revise John Bossy’s ideas on the relationship between individual and communal faith and that the Counter Reformation turned against the family and household as religious units. Walsham draws on a wealth of sources to examine the ‘subtle’ transformations in ritual life in England and how this centred predominantly on the home, relying much more on ‘books, beads and blessed objects as it did on the priestly sacraments and penance and the Mass.’ Pollmann examines the conflicts surrounding the parish church in the Netherlands and the importance of sacred or church space for Catholics became in the aftermath of the Reformation.

The visual arts and visual culture are a relatively new area of research in the Catholic communities in the Netherlands and England within this period. Xander Van Eck addresses the question of paintings produced by clandestine Catholic churches and asks whether this art was typically Dutch. He explores the position of Catholics, as an oppressed minority, and how their position affected the iconography or style of their art. Williams on the other hand, explores the extent to which the visual culture of English Catholicism was different from its dominant Protestant counterpart. Both chapters highlight the differences in patronage of the visual arts but more importantly the need for further research into material objects when considering Catholic culture in this period.

One important question that is tackled in this volume is the relationship between people of different faiths, and in the case of the Netherlands, whether Dutch society was as religiously integrated as previous research suggests. Benjamin Kaplan, for example, suggests, by examining interfaith marriage, that the end of the seventeenth century witnessed increasing divisions between Catholic and Protestants in the social and cultural sphere, a trend found in other European lands. This would accord with the discussion by William Sheils in his chapter on England, using records from Catholics in Egton and York, whose findings also suggest a ‘greater acceptance of difference’ between the two communities.

In addition to the themes discussed above other chapters look at the experience of women, the catholic community in Ireland and networks of support and patronage. Despite the fact the Catholic communities in Protestant states were persecuted minorities; this volume challenges us to rethink the experience of Catholics in the early modern period in both countries and ‘not to underestimate the ability; of those at grassroots to ‘forge religious change’. Moreover it provides very important pointers to the need for more comparative work to be undertaken in the history of Catholicism in this period.

Kenneth Gibson

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Humanism and Protestantism in Early Modern English Education, Ian Green (Farnham, Ashgate, 2009, pp. xvii + 373. £65.00).


This is the second volume in a projected trilogy on Early Modern English schooling. Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England was the first, followed by this one, with a third, which examines the various forms of oral and visual instruction deployed in church, school and home (which will appear as Word, Image and Ritual in Early Modern English Protestantism).


The purpose of the current volume is, as Green points out, ‘to tease out the implications of a humanist education for the ethical beliefs and religious understanding of those who attended a Protestant grammar school or college in early modern England’. Therefore he sets out to evaluate the impact and changing relationship of Humanism and Protestantism on English educational practice over a period of approximately three centuries until the end of the eighteenth century.


The main sources used in this study are the set of titles under the control of the Stationer’s Company in London known as the ‘English Stock’. Within this are found texts by leading humanists such as Cicero’s De Offciis, Virgil and Ovid’s poetry and Terence’s plays, all published in their tens of thousands. At the time this constituted a minor explosion of these texts in the publishing world. Subsequently Green explores how they influenced and shaped the outlook on scores of students over the next two centuries. Thus, the ‘simple question’ of the whole volume is: What impact did humanism have on Protestantism and Protestantism on humanism in the early modern period?


Following an excellent introductory chapter on the historiography and sources, Green begins the study by firstly outlining the development of schools and schooling from medieval times onward and then continues by questioning why Protestant countries persisted to give Latin a highly prominent position in the curriculum and why, what for, and for whose benefit Latin grammar was taught. It also identifies the strategies devised by clergy and laity in England for coping with the tensions between classical studies and Protestant doctrine.


In a further chapter Green deals mainly with the question of how Greek and Latin was used in the in the upper forms of the English grammar schools and suggests that the teaching here overlaps with the experience of those individuals who attended university for only one or two years. He also challenges previous arguments about the monopoly of Puritanism over education and suggests that a vast majority of the schoolmasters held a conformist position. Moreover, he finds that the educators looked for and taught the ‘strong moral dimensions’ in writers such as Cicero and how they strived to see the same morality in Terence and Ovid. As he suggests at the conclusion of this chapter, the length of the pupils’ education determined the amount of exposure to this ‘classical morality’ and also their exposure to the idea of the ‘good life’ as found in the ancient histories and other humanist inspired works. 


One of his significant findings is the huge impact of humanism on Protestantism outside the formal educational institutes. As Green says ‘a growing numbers of editors, authors and publishers  in post Reformation England were prepared to take a risk on purveying English translations of scores of Green and Roman works of classically inspired humanist texts’. This body of literature sold in enormous quantities among those sections of society who, whilst not from a ‘formally’ educated background did take an interest in, and were inspired by, the success of humanist endeavour in the grammar schools and universities.


The wider impact of this on the next and following generations was a renewed interest and a revival, in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in classical and humanist authors and ancient historians, such as, Erasmus, Plutarch, Ovid and the Roman historians Suetonius and Florius. In later Stuart and early Hanoverian England there was a surge in the publication of ‘ancient histories’. Green suggests this was fuelled, in the period 1650-1750, by the fighting of major wars, the growth of political parties and a growing fashion to read the classics in translation.


In his final chapter Green assesses the impact of classical education on art, architecture, inscriptions and in the private writings of the educated elite in artefacts such as diaries, common place books and letters. For example he suggests that the architecture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was influenced by classical ideas. He cites as evidence the perception that in earlier centuries the ‘classical temples’ were seen as symbols of paganism, but the eighteenth century witnessed a rise in classical or Palladian architecture which was paid for or funded by the urban gentry elites. Indeed as Green observes, Wren’s new churches in London are described as classical and many of the new churches in the eighteenth century were modelled on the works of Palladio and Inigo Jones all with ‘temple forms’.


This volume makes a significant contribution to early modern studies as it offers indications for future research in a wide range of other areas. It is of interest not only to historians of education but also to scholars of cultural, linguistic and social history.


                                                                                                Kenneth Gibson




Posted on by kennethgibson25 | Leave a comment

The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism. Edited by John Coffey and Paul C.H. Lim. Cambridge University Press. 2008. xi + 385 pp. £17.99.

This volume brings together a wide ranging collection of essays on early modern Puritanism, or what the editors define as ‘a distinctive and particularly intense variety of early modern Reformed Protestantism’. What makes the collection unique is that the themes explored reach beyond the geographical boundaries of England with chapters on Puritanism in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, New England and Continental Europe. In addition to this other chapters investigate Puritan practical divinity, spirituality, gender, Radical Puritanism, popular culture and literature. Whilst all the chapters are in one way or another worthy of praise it is not possible to review in great detail such a rich collection. Therefore a few selected chapters are discussed which are either exceptional in their content and analysis or (as in one particular chapter) inherently problematic.

The book is framed by two outstanding contributions with Patrick Collinson’s opening chapter on the concept of Antipuritanism and Peter Lake’s closing chapter on the historiography of Puritanism. Collinson explores the genesis or invention of the term Puritan by examining the polemical strategies employed by their opponents which, as he points out, transformed over a period of time, the term Puritan from a ‘stereotypical, antithetical stigma [and] hardened into…a word which instantly evoked a widely shared set of assumptions and prejudices’. Lake charts the historiography of Puritanism from Richard Bancroft’s Dangerous Positions published in 1593, through the grand narratives of Gardiner and Neale, to the pioneering work of modern historians such as Christopher Hill and Nicholas Tyacke and on to more recent research by fellow contributors David Como and Tom Webster. This is a valuable and original chapter from a scholar who has made significant contribution to the study of Puritanism and who concludes with a passionate defence for the continued use of the term by arguing that ‘there can be no doubting the continuing salience, the analytic relevance and bite, of the notion of Puritanism…despite the efforts of myriad historians to consign Puritanism to the trash can of exploded or abandoned concepts…the historiography of Puritanism has not only had an immensely distinguished past but also has a very bright future’.

If Collinson’s and Lake’s essays touch on more specialised areas, other contributors do provide, as the editors point out, a rounded introduction to the subject. This is particularly relevant to John Morrill’s chapter on the ‘Puritan Revolution’, David Como’s chapter on ‘radical Puritanism and N.H. Keble’s on ‘Puritanism and Literature’. John Morrill’s contribution is a concise yet incisive account of the development of the crisis in church and state from 1640 to 1660, whilst Como’s related discussion traces the development of radical and separatist Puritan ideas from the mid sixteenth century to the Restoration.  Keble concentrates principally on the major writers such as John Milton and John Bunyan, but also gives a good overview, albeit briefly, of book production, censorship and the idea of the Puritan Self and the Puritan Hero. 

Extending the boundaries of the book, Anthony Milton explores the relationship between ‘English Puritanism’ and the continental Reformed churches. As he suggests, this relationship was not straightforward but, (depending on context), subject to change, tension and ambiguity. He discusses various issues such as the Puritan influence on the continental reformed churches and their interaction, but what makes this article important is that it contains indicators for further research on the relationships between British Protestants and their counterparts abroad such as the intellectual exchanges between the extremely influential Dutch divine Gisbertus Voetius with individuals such as John Dury and William Ames.

Whether there existed a body of monolithic thought that Jeffrey Jue terms ‘Puritan Millenarianism’, or whether it is appropriate to use such terminology to identify the diversity of apocalyptic thought that existed in this period, is very much open to debate. In his chapter Jue makes some questionable assertions about the nature, influence and pervasiveness of millenarianism in Britain and America. One example is his statement that in the midst of the turmoil caused by the issuing of the ‘Grand Remonstrance’ in 1641, ‘millenarianism provided a theological context in which to frame decisive political and military action’. His mistake here is to wrongly identify the providentialist style sermon preached by divines such as Jeremiah Burroughs and Stephen Marshall, as either apocalyptic or millenarian. Except for a small minority of ‘imported’ tracts containing millenarian ideas, the preaching in the early part of the 1640s was predominantly providentialist in style and it was only in the latter part of the decade that full blown millenarianism becomes more visible.   Jue also mistakes John Dury and Samuel Hartlib’s work on universal reform as ‘influenced by millenarianism’. There is,no concrete evidence that Hartlib held or even sympathised with millenarian ideas and a careful reading of John Dury’s publications, especially his preface to the millenarian tract Clavis Apocalyptica(1651), reveals him to be an opponent of millenarianism.

Despite this one shortcoming, the whole volume is an excellent introduction to early modern Puritanism which demonstrates its rich diversity, impact and legacy in this period and beyond.

                                                      KENNETH GIBSON

Posted on by kennethgibson25 | Leave a comment