Providence in Early Modern England is the most extensive study to date of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century belief that God actively intervened in human affairs to punish, reward, warn, try, and chastise. Providentialism has often been seen as a distinctive hallmark of puritan piety. However, Dr Walsham argues that it was a cluster of assumptions which penetrated every sector of English society, cutting across the boundaries created by status and creed, education and wealth. She explores a range of dramatic events and puzzling phenomena in which contemporaries detected the divine finger at work: tragic accidents and sudden deaths, strange sights and mysterious portents, monstrous births and popular prophets, terrible disasters and raging epidemics. She shows how providence helped forge a powerful myth of Protestant nationhood and a lively sense of confessional identity and how, simultaneously, it exacerbated the political and ecclesiastical tensions which culminated in the outbreak of the civil wars in 1642.
Framed as a contribution to the continuing debate about the impact, character, and broader repercussions of the English Reformation, this book seeks to deflect attention away from the negative and iconoclastic aspects of the advent of Protestantism towards the undercurrents of continuity that eased the enormous upheavals of the era. It highlights some of the ways in which people adjusted to the religious and cultural revolution as a permanent fact. Based on a detailed analysis of sermons and tracts published by Protestant ministers, and ballads and pamphlets reporting 'true and wonderful newes', it also sheds light on the role of literacy and print in a society in which oral and visual modes of communication continued to thrive.
an extraordinarily ambitious work...readers will keep turning the pages eagerly with mingled awe, fascination, and, yes, a keen sense of timeliness. This is a book about the past that resonates in the present. * History Today * In this wise and superbly illustrated book, Alexandra Walsham recalls the world where Calvinism met medieval religion ... Walsham pleasingly eschews postmodern indulgence of the fatuousness of past belief. She writes with a sure grasp of Reformation theology, and clearly had great fun with this book ... we can never again think of Protestantism as dour and dull, now that Alexandra Walsham has introduced us to a pamphlet alerting the godly public to the discovery of
A most strange and wonderful herring. * Diarmaid MacCulloch, Times Literary Supplement *