- Godly Reformers and Their Opponents in Early Modern England: Religion in Norwich c. 1560-1643
This book grows out of Matthew Reynolds's PhD dissertation, completed at the University of Kent in 2002. Readers will find much of profit, much for critical engagement, and much to regret. This review will address these three categories, but in reverse order so as to end on a positive note.
Chapters 1 and 2 set the historiographic debate of the book, particularly identifying two books which deal with Norwich that began as PhD dissertations produced at Stanford University: these are John Evans's Seventeenth-Century Norwich (1979) and Muriel McClendon's The Quiet Reformation (1999). It quickly becomes apparent, however, that McClendon's book is a target of Reynolds's academic ire and disdain. Reynolds apparently finds McClendon insufficient in analyzing fissures in Norwich's society. Given that her research ends about a decade after his begins, the two studies are hardly playing the same game. Yet Reynolds's textual jabs come fast and furiously: "Regrettably, McClendon's off-beat assertions have been recycled without modification" (35), "Yet the depth of religious feeling in the 1560s has since escaped Muriel McClendon's notice" (41), and "which renders complete nonsense Muriel McClendon's statement" [End Page 948] (89). These are by no means all of the McClendon references. Regarding John Parkhurst, the first Elizabethan bishop of Norwich, Reynolds writes that he "is generally regarded as an incompetent and repeatedly hamstrung administrator, ill-suited to the challenges posed by such an unwieldy and fractious diocese, or alternatively — on Muriel McClendon's account — as an exemplar of religious tolerance and forbearance" (43). This sort of language is distasteful at best, but I decided to collect my copy of The Quiet Reformation in order to follow the citation regarding Parkhurst. What I found struck me as a misrepresentation of McClendon's work. McClendon clearly recognizes the bishop's administrative deficiencies and does not make him into an "exemplar" of religious tolerance: her language is quite conditional (McClendon, 208)! Elsewhere, Reynolds reduces to absurdity what McClendon states regarding a flu epidemic and the town's conservative leaders after the death of Mary I (Reynolds, 41; McClendon, 194–99), and yet the explanation oddly parallels his own analysis for what happened to the supporters of Caroline policies in 1640: "death robbed this faction of its more senior leaders" (236). Well, he then goes on; but so does McClendon.
While much might be excused in a dissertation, nobody is well served by this sort of approach in print. This is regrettable for all concerned; fortunately, the hectoring tone does not carry throughout the text. In fact, the conceptual framework of the book could lead to an interesting discussion in a classroom setting. For example, Reynolds links the Reformation to the Civil Wars as a cultural movement in which a militant Christianity leads to what is essentially a war of religion. In the end, he sketches out a "subversive" Puritanism at play in Norwich culture, whose adherents become alienated by the Laudianism of the Caroline Church. Thus, Reynolds insists on "mounting factionalism" as the religious model for analyzing Stuart Norwich (256). He writes that the "insipid 'localist' approach of Evans and McClendon's 'Stanford school'" offers too irenic a view of Norwich's history and inspires images of "cosy provincial religion" such as that identified by Judith Maltby (256).
Other interesting debates might also occur: the conclusion states that in the early Elizabethan era, "a staunchly Protestant body of aldermen affiliated to John Aldrich and Thomas Sotherton's family connection through the Merchant Adventurers' Company — working in conjunction with Bishop John Parkhurst — assumed the mantle of evangelizing urban society" (253). Where does agency lie? Aldrich's proof of Protestantism came back in chapter 3: he served as mayor (1558, 1570), alderman (1545–82), and representative to Parliament (1555, 1572); he asked for no "Janglyn of Bells" at his funeral, and owned former...