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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 359-360

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Book Review

Straightening the Altars:
The Ecclesiastical Vision and Pastoral Achievements of the Progressive Bishops under Elizabeth I, 1559-1579

Straightening the Altars: The Ecclesiastical Vision and Pastoral Achievements of the Progressive Bishops under Elizabeth I, 1559-1579. By Scott A. Wenig. [Studies in Church History, Volume 10.] (Bern and New York: Peter Lang Publishing. 2000. Pp. xiv, 290. $61.95.)

This ought to be an important book. It deals with a significant and under-researched topic, the attempt to impose Protestantism upon England by the first generation of Elizabethan bishops. It focuses on four of the most interesting, well-recorded, and energetic of English Protestant leaders, Richard Cox, John Jewel, James Pilkington, and Edwin Sandys. It considers some of the most controversial questions in current Reformation historiography: the direction, speed, and effectiveness of religious change in England. And it is crisply written and clearly organized. But it is a disappointment—derivative, under-researched, repetitious, and unsophisticated. Half the book retells the familiar stories of ecclesiastical legislation, relations between the queen and her bishops, and the beginnings of puritan protest—adding nothing, and missing some of the recent [End Page 359] contributions. The rest tries to show Reformation in action. Dr. Wenig has had a reasonable shot at the correspondence of his four bishops, but for three of the dioceses studied (Durham, Salisbury, and Worcester) his main source is microfilm of the bishop's register—recording only clergy ordinations and institutions. Much of his material is culled from Victoria County Histories, standard diocesan and county histories, and Dictionary of National Biography entries. In his account of the diocese of Salisbury, for example, an important visitation is summarized from the VCH; churchwardens' accounts are quoted from a popular history of lay religion; and an account from the single parish of Mere is said to show 'widespread' iconoclasm in the diocese. Only for Richard Cox's Ely has the consistory and visitation material been analyzed, and even there some of the references are taken second-hand from Felicity Heal's thesis. There is a brief account of Cox's dealings with the Family of Love, apparently written in ignorance of Christopher Marsh's definitive 1994 book on the subject. Scott Wenig's conclusions seem sensible enough: that Pilkington and Sandys had little success against entrenched conservatism, that Jewel contained Catholicism but was unable to advance Protestantism, and that Cox made more advance in an easier diocese—though he tries to make more of Cox's success than such an a-typical diocese can bear. But his assessments are based on limited evidence, and are no more than one would have guessed. Wenig has certainly defined a crucial topic for research. It is still there: not quite virginal, but hardly touched.


Christopher Haigh
Christ Church, University of Oxford



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