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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > May 2017 > Where late the sweet birds sang

Where late the sweet birds sang

The English Reformation silenced a noisy, inclusive and generous way of life, says Giles Fraser. But that doesn’t mean we should all turn back to Rome

Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England by Eamon Duffy (Bloomsbury, £30)

“That’s my wine,” Eamon Duffy teased, as I mistakenly sipped from his glass. “First you pinch our churches, now you pinch my wine.” This won’t be a conventional review of Duffy’s exciting new collection of essays on the Reformation—or reformations, as he prefers. Not least because after having read a few chapters of this fabulous book, I was so buzzing with questions and ideas that I went up to Cambridge and took him for lunch.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Catholic Church by nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. What began as a complaint about turning salvation into an income stream for the Catholic church through the selling of indulgences, soon broadened into a wholesale rejection of papal authority. Translating the Latin Bible into the language of ordinary people broke the grip of a priestly class that had set itself up as an intermediary between the congregation and God. Turbocharged by the printing press, Luther’s protest led to the break up of the pan-European church, and the start of more than a century of religious war. On these solidly Catholic islands, an opportunistic Henry VIII borrowed the theology of the revolution, to which he was not personally inclined, in order to sort out his bedroom bother with his wife Catherine of Aragon—and to steal the wealth of the monasteries.

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In Prospect’s May issue: Neal Ascherson, Simon Jenkins, John Curtice and Frances Cairncross examine the growing divide between England and Scotland. Ascherson argues that England has become Scotland’s “neurotic neighbour,” while Jenkins says we should learn from history and prepare for Scotland to leave the Union. Cairncross and Curtice debate whether Scotland could afford to break with England and whether a fresh referendum on independence is actually winnable. Also in this issue: Jason Burke questions whether the world will be a safer place after the downfall of Islamic State, Paul Hilder examines how politics got tangled in the web and Michael White reviews a new book charting the history of the Daily Mail