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The complex web of events which we call the Reformation had a profound and lasting effect on English life. This book is a new attempt to understand how it 'happened' and how English men and women responded to it. Using the evidence of wills and account-books, examining late medieval church building and, above all, the striking popularity of the lay fraternity, Professor Scarisbrick argues that there was little violent discontent with the old Church on the eve of the Reformation - that, on the whole, English layfolk had been able to fashion a Church which suited their needs well enough. The main thrust for the ensuring changes came from 'above' and was rarely accompanied by the fierce anticlericialism and iconoclasm that was often a feature of the continental Reformation.
Professor Scarisbrick examines the unparalleled spoliation of religious houses, shrines, colleges, chantries, guilds and parish churches in the years 1536 to 1553, and lay attitudes to it. He argues that the changes encountered more resistance than has often been supposed. The story of what happened to schools and hospitals in Edward VI's reign and the survival and revival of the old faith under (and after) Mary add weight to his arguments. He shows clearly that to describe the Reformation as a victory of layman over cleric is far too simple, and that many of our common assumptions about the Reformation need to be reconsidered.