Eamon Duffy’s Fires of Faith depicts the state of the English church during the reign of Mary Tudor, lasting from 1553-1558. Mary’s reign remains one of the most controversial aspects in Church history. This book aims at responding to the predominant issue of the competence of the Marian regime while commenting on misconceptions.
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With Fires of Faith, Duffy combats the various myths and biased accounts that have distorted the reputation of Mary Tudor. Duffy offers insightful considerations on Mary’s England and expounds on the state of the Church. He begins by addressing the fact that he will tackle the overarching issue of general competence, drive and direction of the regime. Through the eyes of England, he explores the counter-reformation that begins to arise following Mary’s accession.
Duffy focuses on the Marian restoration itself, that is: he structures his novel by expounding on various issues of the regime, chapter by chapter. Duffy writes on a variety of aspects in Queen Mary’s reign. Notably, he references the constructiveness of the regime’s propaganda campaign against Protestantism; the role of Cardinal Reginald Pole in supervising the restoration of Catholicism in England, and lastly, the question of the effectiveness of the burnings carried out by the Marian regime. Bloody Mary’s reign remains a highly debated topic; however, Duffy’s approach towards the Marian regime is both holistic and inquisitive. Rather than categorizing the Marian regime as merely a time of violent animosity, he argues that Mary’s reign was a brilliant attempt at restoration for hearts and minds alike.
In chapter 1, Duffy outlines his opening considerations by responding to the burnings of more than 280 protestants under the Marian agenda in the span of four years by saying the burnings were both gruesome and inevitable (1,7).
Although Duffy does not condone the demoralizing behavior of burning men and woman, he argues that the received perception of the campaign of burnings as manifestly unsuccessful is quite mistaken (1,7). He supports this claim by examining how the burnings were efficiently carried out for political stability. Duffy comments on his initial questioning of competence of the regime in chapter 2 by showcasing Cardinal Pole’s role as a major influencer. Duffy states that in matters of religion, no sustained course of action, not even the burnings, was pursued without his consent and approval (2,33). He claims that the Marian regime, predominantly led by Cardinal Pole, had a strong emphasis on the centrality of Christ and also on the universal agency of the Holy Spirit in the church, which is why mere human effort could not constitute reform. In chapter 3, Duffy expounds the tight control the Marian regime had over the press. He supports the direction of the regime by mentioning that authors such as John Christopherson, John Proctor, and the Harpsfield brothers were defenders of Catholicism and wrote on behalf on the regime (3,63). A range of sources that were utilized, including but not limited to: sermons, heresy trials, journalistic pamphlets, and private diaries aided the Marian regime in combatting Protestant propaganda.
In chapter 4, Duffy addresses the punishment of the protestants who remained unconverted. In the suppression of heresy, 284 protestants, 56 of them women, were burned alive for their beliefs, and approximately 30 more died in prison (4,79). While this remains devastating, Duffy comments, no sixteenth-century European state willingly accepted or could easily image the peaceful coexistence of differing religious confessions, and such a coexistence does not seem a particularly realistic aspiration for Mary’s England (4,79-80). The Marian regime attempted to restore Catholicism at all cost; Duffy supports this argument in chapter 5 by saying the justice exercised during the regime was more than examining heretics. For bishops, it was an opportunity to recall straying sheep to the unity of the Church, to correct their errors and to set our authentic Catholic teaching (5,102). The real motives behind the judicial process of the counter-reformation were in fact, credible. The judges were predominately priests, taking sincere interest in the salvation of souls of the unconverted Protestants.
In chapter 6, Duffy supports the Marian regime’s desire for conversion by stating that Cardinal Pole’s concern with systematic pursuit of heresy was not confined to his own diocese. (6,153). Places such as: London, Essex, and Canterbury were targeted locations for Pole to silence heresy at all costs. Due to John Foxe’s limited aptitude and scarceness of other sources, Duffy, who indicates in chapter 7, it is challenge for historians to assess the impact of the burnings on those who witnesses them (7,155). As noted by Duffy, the Marian regime’s overall tactic was to induce irresolute evangelicals into conformity; this desire went beyond external compliance, for the counter-reformation aimed to convert the hearts and minds of the Protestants.
Duffy argues against the points of A.G Dickens in chapter 8 by claiming, the notion that the regime somehow failed to defend the burnings publicly, or to exploit for propaganda purposes the weakness and divisions of the new faith, is certainly mistaken (8,171). Duffy claims that the burning of Protestants, while gruesome and inexcusable, was not merely a frantic act of a weakening regime, but was brutally effective at obstructing the Protestant movement in England to some degree, and may have succeeded, had the queen and Pole not died in 1558. Duffy contends in chapter 9 that the Marian regime, along with Pole’s influence, left behind a reverence for the papacy, a hallmark for European Catholicism following Trent (9,190). Marian Catholicism paved the way for Elizabethan Catholicism, instilling the foundation of the counter-reformation.
Duffy’s composes Fires in Faith in such a way that offers a new perspective regarding Queen Mary’s reign. It calls to mind the misconceptions surrounding the Marian regime that have taken place for far too long. Although many may contest the claims made by Duffy, the significance of Fires of Faith is incredibly prevalent. Duffy contends that the Marian church was so outstandingly progressive, that it ?invented’ the counter-reformation (9, 207). Remarkably, Duffy does not use his own Roman Catholicism to sway his writing, rather, his content is a brilliant scholarly source. He does not excuse the actions of the queen; Duffy is intensely aware of the lack of human dignity during this time in history. Duffy presents his arguments coherently and aids readers by contrasting his thoughts with other historians’ perception of the Marian regime. His interpretation of the queen’s reign is both audacious and controversial. As a historian, this serves as a great strength for Duffy. He is not complacent with the summation of previous scholars’ take on Mary Tudor, rather, he offers his own knowledge regarding the counter-reformation.
In addition, Duffy’s use of sources adds to why his novel is such an academic success. He mentions scholars such as William Wizeman and John Edwards to support his assertions on Marian history. Rather than arguing from newfound evidence, Duffy’s approach is to combat preexisting sources such as John Foxe’s view on the Marian regime. By way of illustration, in regard to the condemned, Duffy rejects the indifferent opinions of sources that are meant to promote one-sided arguments by saying, the real motives were less lurid and, in part at least, more credible. The judges were priestsand had for the for the most part a genuine horror of the eternity of torment that they believed awaited unrepentant heretics (5,109-110). Notably, this is a great advantage to be able to compose counter arguments for claims that have been made for centuries.
The weakness of Fires of Faith lies in the fact that Duffy fails to mention the queen herself throughout his work. Considering that the entirety of the Marian regime is based around Mary herself, adding more information about the queen would be profitable for readers.
In his work, Duffy expresses certain statements without proper evidence to back up his claims. For instance, he fails to mention to what extent was the significant and persistent protestant minority (7,161).
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