The Reformation and Ireland
Sir, – Further to “Why did the Reformation fail to take hold in an Ireland under English rule?” (Rite & Reason, October 10th), up until about 30 years ago the accepted narrative of English history was that the Reformation was a popular revolt against the Catholic Church. But the last few decades have seen a revolution in Reformation research. Leading scholars have begun focusing on the records left by ordinary English people. This research has revealed that in 1533, the year of Henry’s break from Rome, traditional Catholicism was the religion of the vast majority of the country, and was thriving. Contrary to the old narrative, the Reformation was in effect a “top-down” imposition, and not a bottom-up popular revolt.
Given the attachment of the English people to Catholicism it took huge resources, including much bloodshed, to impose Protestantism on a disenchanted populace. For example, the Tate gallery estimates that over 90 per cent of all English art was trashed in the period, and the great Catholic university libraries were vandalised. The evidence shows that it took the Tudors around 45 years to eradicate all memory of the country’s Catholic past. In this context, they were so preoccupied with this project that they simply did not have the resources to impose the Reformation in Ireland on a similar scale. – Yours, etc,