Catholic Historiography and Confessionalization

Pleased to announce our panel “Catholic Historiography and Confessionalization” at SCSC Bruges, Fri 19 Aug 8.30am:


The Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC) promotes scholarship on the early modern era, broadly defined (ca. 1450 – ca. 1660).

For the full conference programme please click here.


Islam, the Turks and the Making of the English Reformation

I would like to draw attention to a new book. John Foxe wrote the first English history of the Ottoman Empire in his magnum opus, The Acts and Monuments (1570). He exceeded contemporary representations in his extremely negative image of Islam and the «Turks,» who were identified as Antichrist and the epitome of wickedness.By juxtaposing Foxe’s work with that of his sources, fascinating conclusions can be drawn. The author analyzes the factors prompting Foxe to insert a lengthy digression on a topic that does not directly concern the main theme of his ecclesiastical history, shedding new light on the established notions of his historiographic methodology and his perception of Catholicism as the greatest enemy of «true religion».

Toenjes, Christopher: Islam, the Turks and the Making of the English Reformation.The History of the Ottoman Empire in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016).

Inside Dee’s Miraculous Mind

In three evening lectures at the Royal College of Physicians, Deborah Harkness, Katie Birkwood, and Bill Sherman explored the world of Tudor polymath John Dee (1527–1609). Harkness gave fascinating insights into Dee’s conversations with angels, his search for Truth (with a capital T) and his great imagination, which made him go beyond the knowledge contained in his own book collection (even though he possessed the largest library in England at the time, consisting of 4,000 volumes). Birkwood gave the audience an idea of how many decisions go into creating a book exhibition, from the choice of books to their physical presentation. Sherman went “Back to the Future” with John Dee, showing a scene from Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, which jumps back and forth between the time of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. This led Sherman to reflect on some markers of modernity put down by Dee that were recognized as such only much later. The audience members joined the conversation with numerous questions on topics ranging from alchemy to Greek philosophy; in fact, their curiosity exceeded the time allotted for the discussion.

2 3 4 5 Polymath

Venue: Royal College of Physician, London

‘The Renaissance library and the worldview of John Dee’, Deborah Harkness, professor of history, University of Southern California

‘Curating Dee: behind the scenes of ‘Scholar, courtier, magician’’, Katie Birkwood, RCP rare books and special collections librarian

‘Back to the future with John Dee’, Bill Sherman, head of research, Victoria & Albert Museum

‘In conversation’, followed by exhibition viewing

Matthew Parker: Origin Stories for Ecclesiastical Policy

Parker portrait

As the subtitle of a recent conference in Cambridge succinctly states, Matthew Parker (1504–1575) was an ‘archbishop, scholar and collector’. As archbishop of Canterbury, Parker was expected by Queen Elizabeth to make Protestant reform irrevocable in England. One of his key achievements in this capacity was editing the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1563, which officially defined the beliefs of the English Church. These articles made it clear that the king or queen of England was also the head of the Church and that the authority of the pope was not to be recognised; they also stated that the Bible and religious services could be in English.

Since ecclesiastical reform in England had not yet been fully established and accepted by the population, Parker looked for examples from history to justify the independence of the English Church. He set in motion a research project which resulted in a collection of over 450 medieval manuscripts, including ‘many (if not most) of the oldest of all books in English history’ (see Christopher de Hamel, The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, London 2010, p. 9). Many of these manuscripts came from monasteries which had been suppressed under Henry VIII from around 1540 and, particularly, from cathedral priories where important libraries had been preserved. These manuscripts provided proof that the ecclesiastical policy under Elizabeth was legitimate. The oldest complete copy of the Gospels in the West Saxon dialect of Old English (MS 140), for example, proved that the vernacular was used for Bible translations before the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Thus English had traditionally been an integral part of religious life. Parker also put together a rich collection of chronicles with the aim of documenting the unbroken continuity of the English Church from the early Middle Ages onwards. Parker, it seems, was convinced that religious autonomy was taken away in 1066 when England became an outpost of Europe and that the country had previously preserved the truest form of Christianity (de Hamel, pp. 9, 15). As Parker’s contemporary John Foxe stated, Parker’s book collection showed that ‘religion presently … is no new reformation of thinges … but rather a reduction of the Church to the pristine state of olde conformitie’ (Gospels of the Fower Evangelistes, 1571, sig. ¶iir; see also David Crankshaw and Alexandra Gillespie, ‘Parker, Matthew’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Madeline McMahon expressed this idea beautifully in her paper by saying that it was Parker’s aim to supply ‘origin stories for the English episcopacy’.

Parker’s relationship with German Protestantism was influenced by Martin Bucer (d. 1551), who became Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge in 1549 and was involved in the revision of the Book of Common Prayer (this was explained well in Brian Cumming’s paper). But it was a letter from Matthias Flacius, forwarded to Parker in 1560, which arguably gave a strong stimulus to his research and collecting – or, as Anthony Grafton put it, ‘transformed his life’. Flacius had requested material on English history for his own collaborative project, the Magdeburg Centuries, in which a large-scale Protestant version of ecclesiastical history was produced. This new kind of history was essentially based on manuscript research. In Flacius’s case, a team of about 15 scholars was involved. Grafton (going beyond the article by Norman Jones, ‘Matthew Parker, John Bale, and the Magdeburg Centuriators’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 1981), found similarities and differences between Flacius’s and Parker’s teams. Both teams recognised the importance of historical arguments for present-day theology. Both Parker and Flacius used a characteristic red crayon or pencil to mark manuscripts. The English team, however, was much smaller, i.e. only about three persons were involved, notably John Joscelin and Stephen Batman (Simon Horobin presented an in-depth paper about the latter). According to Grafton, the Magdeburg team was highly systematic, whereas Parker’s team, lacking  manpower, followed the rule of improvisation. Paul Nelles, in his talk, confirmed that our knowledge about Parker’s team and how they organised their work is very limited.

Parker not only collected manuscripts but was also responsible for publications and editions. Most famous among these are his De antiquitate Britannicae ecclesiae of 1572 (tracing the fortunes of the Church in Britain from late antiquity onwards) as well as his edition of the Bishop’s Bible (1568). This Bible was, as Scott Mandelbrote reminded us, subjected to constant revision. Debora Shuger in her talk concentrated on the paratexts in this Bible and found that Parker’s own religious position is difficult to pin down. In some respects, he seems to have broken with Reformed readings of the Bible; Shuger questioned, in conclusion, whether Elizabethans thought of their own religiosity in confessional terms at all.

Apart from in David Crankshaw’s opening paper, Parker’s functions as a religious administrator and leader were only lightly touched upon during this conference; one wonders if a more thorough investigation of these roles might add to our understanding of his activity as a scholar and collector.

Stefan Bauer, University of York


Matthew Parker: Archbishop, Scholar and Collector. A conference on collaborative scholarship, the retrieval of the past and the cultures of the book in sixteenth-century England. Organised by Anthony Grafton, Scott Mandelbrote and Bill Sherman. Parker Library, Corpus Christi College/CRASSH, University of Cambridge, 17-19 March 2016.


  1. 00 am Welcome and introduction: Tony Grafton, Scott Mandelbrote, Bill Sherman

10.15 am David Crankshaw (King’s, London): “A Man of Stomach”: Matthew Parker’s Reputation


Thomas Roebuck (UEA): Matthew Parker and Anglo-Latin Historiography

Elizabeth Evenden (Brunel): Matthew Parker and Arthurian Romance in Early Modern Europe


Scott Mandelbrote: Parker and the Bible

Brian Cummings (York): Parker, Bucer, and the Book of Common Prayer

5.00 pm PLENARY (CRASSH): Matthew Parker, Sacred Geography and the British Past (Alexandra Walsham, Cambridge)



Stefan Bauer (York), Chair

Maddy McMahon (Princeton): Parker and Ecclesiastical History

Anthony Grafton (Princeton): Parker and Flacius


Paul Nelles (Carleton): Parker as Collector: The View from the Continent

Simon Horobin (Oxford): Batman and his Associates

Mirjam Foot: Matthew Parker and the Bookbinders of his Time


Bill Sherman (V&A/York): In the Margins of Parker

Alexandra Gillespie (Toronto): Digital Approaches to Parker

Jeffrey Todd Knight (Washington): Parker and the Working Copy

With a presentation of the digital project on Parker’s printed books by Andrew Dunning (BL) and Alexandra Gillespie

5.00 pm PLENARY (CRASSH): Matthew Parker and the Church of England (Debora Shuger, UCLA)


9.30 am PLENARY (CRASSH): Matthew Parker’s Scholarship (James Carley (Toronto/ Kent)


Kathryn James (Yale): Parker in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Lori Anne Ferrell (Claremont): How the Parker Society Got its Name

12- 1 pm Roundtable on Parkerian Legacies: Confirmed speakers include: Elisabeth Leedham-Green (Cambridge); Stephen Archer (Cambridge); Arnold Hunt (London). David McKitterick to chair.

Schedel and his Italian Sources



The World Chronicle of the German physician and humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), first printed in 1493, was a huge success on the publishing market. Its major allure were the illustrations: more than 1,800 woodcuts depicted biblical and historical events as well as views of towns. Since the book was so costly, its copies were also jealously preserved by their successive owners. This resulted in a particularly high “survival rate” and explains why 1,300 copies of the Latin edition and 400 of the German edition are still extant in public and private libraries around the world. An exhibition at the Bavarian State Library in Munich was organized to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of the Chronicle’s author. It was a doubly ambitious project. First, it aimed to shed light on Schedel’s biography; second, it intended to present his private library, which he had used to compile his World Chronicle. The organizers approached this double aim by arranging the exhibits chronologically along the course of Schedel’s life, showing, for example, books he read as a student in Padua, texts he used to expand his knowledge as a physician in Germany, and many examples of his wide-ranging curiosity as a collector. His interests ranged, to cite only a few, from classical literature, philosophy, history and geography to medicine, law and theology. Among the most fascinating documents are, for example, booklists he obtained from Rome during his hunt for incunables (pp. 101-04). A core challenge of the exhibition was to elucidate the sources and working methods of Schedel in compiling his World Chronicle. This fascinating goal is not completely reached but, so to speak, dangled before the readers’ eyes. We are not carried, in this respect, very far beyond what was already known, namely that Schedel was strongly influenced by contemporary Italian writers such as Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Biondo Flavio, Bartolomeo Platina and Giacomo Filippo Foresti (see, e.g., the entry on Schedel in Deutscher Humanismus 1480-1520: Verfasserlexikon, ed. F. J. Worstbrock, vol. 2, Berlin 2013, cols 819-40). In Worlds of Learning, Bernd Posselt (“The World Chronicle and Its Sources,” pp. 117–20) draws on his doctoral dissertation completed in Munich in 2013, touching on how Schedel’s Chronicle integrated religious content (such as events in ecclesiastical history and Church-state relations) with world history (the six ages of the world, followed by the appearance of the antichrist and the Last Judgment). More details can now be found in the published version of this dissertation (Bernd Posselt, Konzeption und Kompilation der Schedelschen Weltchronik, Wiesbaden 2015).

This exhibition catalogue throws up many stimulating questions regarding the world-view of a private book collector of the Renaissance. Like Schedel’s illustrated Chronicle itself (which was published in German and Latin), the exhibition catalogue, too, is both beautifully illustrated and available in two languages (German and English). The English edition will be welcomed – like Schedel’s Latin version of 1493 – by an international audience.

It should be noted that over 90 manuscripts and almost 350 incunables from Schedel’s collection can now be consulted online via the Digital Collections of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. While for the manuscripts there is a dedicated web page (“Schedel, Hartmann: Liber chronicarum. Digital Collections”), the incunables are found via the “BSB-Ink” Catalogue of Incunabula, inserting Schedel in the search field “Provenienz”. These online resources include access to Schedel’s personal copy of his Chronicle (; it is adorned by meticulous colouring and contains handwritten annotations as well some unique additions (see also pp. 18-19).

Worlds of Learning. The Library and World Chronicle of the Nuremberg Physician Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514). Edited by Bettina Wagner for the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek; translated by Diane Booton and others (Munich: Allitera. 2015. Pp. 168, ills. € 22.90. ISBN 978-3-86906-757-5.)

Stefan Bauer

University of York


This new project, ‘History and Theology: the Creation of Disinterested Scholarship from Dogmatic Stalemate (ca. 1525-1675)’, will deal with the question of how and why the seeds of religious tolerance came to be sown in an age of confessional polemic.  The project will explore the idea that an unexpected consequence of religious polemic was the growth of disinterested scholarship, which, in turn, led to increased tolerance of religious differences.  Indeed, once the strict rules and staunchly held positions of the rival confessional antagonists became known and established, scholars were able to pursue their research relatively freely within this framework and even across confessional boundaries.  It became possible to describe change and diversity as historical facts rather than as simply polemical weapons in a battle of the books.

The project will focus on two cultural zones: England and the Italian peninsula, in order to conduct a comparative study of a carefully selected number of key scholars from rival confessions and scholarly traditions.  By means of a carefully calibrated dissemination strategy, this project is intended to have a wider impact on Europe’s troubled multi-faith society of the early twenty-first century by providing a fresh, new historical narrative which adds intellectual foundations to the moral desirability for mutual recognition and appreciation of diversity in religious debate.