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Level 6

6AAT3025 The English Reformation


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee this module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr David Crankshaw
Assessment: One 2,500-word essay (40%) and one two-hour examination (60%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: Two-hour weekly classes over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none, however this module builds upon modules 5AAT2024 Martin Luther & the German Reformation and/or 5AAT2026 Religion, Culture and Society in Reformation Europe
Places available: 25 (places allocated on a first-come first-served basis)

The history of the English Reformation has always been a polemical battleground. Ever since the sixteenth century, argument has raged over whether it began principally as a jurisdictional act of state, engineered for Tudor dynastic reasons, or whether it was a religious revolution, inspired by Martin Luther’s teaching, but perhaps also indebted to the ideas of John Wycliffe (d. 1384) and his Lollard followers of the later Middle Ages. Until relatively recently, it was mostly presented as a story of inevitable Protestant triumph, predicated upon a conviction that the Roman Catholic Church had been intellectually moribund and morally corrupt, its clergy discredited and its laity disenchanted. But an interpretative movement labelled revisionism, which began in the 1970s and reached its apogee in the 1990s, has shattered an account that was based upon confessional bias. Using many neglected sources, revisionists have demonstrated that late medieval religion was alive and well, that anti-clericalism has been exaggerated, that the influence of the Lollards has been overplayed, that much was due to chance and political factionalism, that the restoration of Roman Catholicism under Mary I was not doomed to failure and that Elizabethan efforts to Protestantize England were a huge uphill struggle. Revisionism, however, has generated a problem: if almost nobody was looking for a Reformation, then why did this Reformation ‘succeed’? Or rather, why was there not more opposition to it? Post-revisionists have now taken up the challenge, questioning all interpretations built upon a ‘conversion model’ and raising the possibility of widespread pragmatic collaborations between governors and governed. This one-semester module explores selected episodes and themes in sixteenth-century English religious history in the light of the lively historiographical scene. Taught through a combination of lectures and seminars, it uses a wide variety of documentary sources to introduce students not only to key issues, but also to some of the major figures – such as William Tyndale, Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Hugh Latimer, Elizabeth I and John Gerard – who make the Tudor period one of such perennial fascination and controversy. To study English Reformation history at KCL is to study it close to many of the sites, like Lambeth Palace, Smithfield and the Tower, where a good deal of it was made.

The purpose of this module is essentially three-fold: firstly, to give students a detailed understanding of crucial facets of religious change in England during the sixteenth century; secondly, to introduce them to recent debates about some of those facets; and thirdly, to enable them, through exposure to printed primary sources, to evaluate those debates and to formulate their own opinions. Since this is an advanced module, available at Level 6, particular stress will be placed upon scrutiny of these primary sources.

Most teaching sessions will be divided into a lecture and a period of discussion, the latter either initiated by short student presentations or structured around the analysis of a prescribed source. Some discussions might take the form of a semi-formal debate on a set motion, with proposers, seconders etc. All students will be encouraged to participate in these discussions, having prepared for them by reading some of the relevant literature recommended on this module syllabus. Each student will be offered constructive feedback on the assessed essay in a tutorial.

Teaching Plan

Please find a teaching plan for academic year 2015-16 available to download here. Please be aware that the content of the teaching plan will differ each academic year.

Preliminary / suggested reading

  • Doran, S. and Durston, C., Princes, Pastors and People: The Church and Religion in England 1500–1700 (2nd edn, 2003)
  • Marsh, C., Popular Religion in Sixteenth-Century England: Holding Their Peace (1998)
  • Tittler, R. and Jones, N. (eds), A Companion to Tudor Britain (2004)

Further information

Module aims
  • to facilitate an understanding of the nature and significance of key features of religious change in sixteenth-century England in relation to their contexts
  • to encourage students to develop the capacity critically to assess modern historians’ interpretations of religious change in sixteenth-century England
  • to encourage students to develop the capacity critically to assess selected primary sources
  • to encourage students to improve analytical, argumentative and presentational skills, both orally and on paper
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

  • The capacity to plan and execute research at a level appropriate to a Level 6 module.
  • The capacity to engage critically with primary and secondary sources.
  • The capacity to present well-reasoned and well-structured historical arguments, supported by relevant evidence, both orally and on paper.

Module-specific skills

  • The capacity to identify, and to explain the significance of, key features of religious change in sixteenth-century England in relation to their contexts.
  • The capacity critically to assess modern historians’ interpretations of religious change in sixteenth-century England.
  • The capacity critically to assess selected primary sources.
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