There is no end in sight to historical squabbles about the speed, impact and enduring cultural and ecclesiastical legacies of the English Reformation. The past two decades have witnessed a lively and stimulating debate about the reception and entrenchment of Protestant belief and practice in local contexts. Over the same period we have seen a series of heated and animated exchanges about the developments taking place within the early Stuart Church and the role they played in triggering the outbreak of hostilities between Charles I and Parliament in 1642. While the focus of the first controversy has been the relationship between zealous Protestantism and the vast mass of the ordinary people, the second has been conducted almost exclusively at the level of the learned polemical literature of the clerical elite. So far little attempt has been made to bridge and span the gap. This is hardly surprising – sensible scholars think twice before venturing into two historiographical minefields simultaneously. Nevertheless the problem of reconciling these parallel but largely discrete bodies of interpretation and evidence remains, and it is one which historians like myself, whose interests straddle the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century divide and the Catholic–Protestant confessional fence, can no longer afford to sidestep and ignore. This essay represents a set of tentative reflections and speculations on recent research, a cautious exploration of three clusters of inter-related issues and themes.
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