Counter-Medievalism: Or, Protestants Rewrite the Middle Ages

  • Miriam Elizabeth Burstein


The Methodist J. H. Rigg,1 a staunch opponent of Roman Catholicism, here lights into Anglo-Catholics—those who sought to revive the Church of England’s pre-Reformation character. For Rigg, medievalism is not just an aesthetic or even political orientation toward the past; it is, rather, irrevocably bound up with a specifically Roman Catholic moment in English history. Such medievalism involves a leave-taking of the senses—the Anglo-Catholics are, after all, “possessed,” not least because they insist on tracing all modern foibles to a single ancient cause. More dangerously, that leave-taking includes a most un-English (so Rigg might say) worship of authority. Thus, absorbed by visions of a unified, centralized church, Anglo-Catholics work to reconstruct it in the present. They are spiritual Luddites, resisting the modernizing force of the Reformation. To be a medievalist is not to engage with history, but to revive its dead corpse in the present; not to value progress, but to desire regression toward an earlier state; and above all, not to embrace Protestant reason but instead Roman Catholic authority. In this reading, medievalism is not, properly speaking, a “historical” attitude at all.


Doomed City English History Human Tradition Subsequent Citation Norman Conquest 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    [J. H. Rigg], “The Catholic Revival,” London Quarterly Review 10 (1867): 33. Cf. “Ultramontanism,” London Quarterly Review 9 (1853): 219. For Rigg’s often conflicted attitude to Roman Catholicism’s influence, seeGoogle Scholar
  2. John T. Smith, Methodism and Education 1849–1902: J. H. Rigg, Romanism, and Wesleyan Schools (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 2.
    L. N. R. [Ellen Ranyard], The Book and Its Story: A Narrative for the Young. On Occasion of the Jubilee of the British and Foreign Bible Society, intro. T. Phillips (1853; Philadelphia: Parry and McMillan, 1856), 116. On Ranyard’s work for the British and Foreign Bible Society, seeGoogle Scholar
  4. Leslie Howsam, Cheap Bibles: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the British and Foreign Bible Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 170–178.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    For the medievalist tradition in British social criticism, see Alice Chandler, A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in Nineteenth-Century English Literature (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970);Google Scholar
  6. Rosemary Jann, “Democratic Myths in Victorian Medievalism,” Browning Institute Studies 8 (1980): 129–149;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. R. J. Smith, “Cobbett, Catholic History, and the Middle Ages,” Studies in Medievalism 4 (1992): 113–142.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    John D. Brewer with Gareth I. Higgins, Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600–1998: The Mote and the Beam (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1998), 176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 6.
    For a good overview of the complexities of “muscular Christianity,” see David Rosen, “The Volcano and the Cathedral: Muscular Christianity and the Origins of Primal Manliness,” in Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age, ed. Donald E. Hall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 17–44. By decentering Kingsley and his often idiosyncratic attitudes to sexuality and asceticism, I dissent from Kevin L. Morris’s view of anti-medievalist attitudes in The Image of the Middle Ages in Romantic and Victorian Literature (London: Croom Helm, 1984), 68–102. However, Morris examines a number of important issues tangential to my own argument, particularly rationalist anti-Catholicism and polemics against monasticism.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 7.
    James Eli Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995), 111.Google Scholar
  11. See also Herbert Sussman, Victorian Masculinities: Manhood and Masculine Poets in Early Victorian Literature and Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995);Google Scholar
  12. Christopher Lane, The Burdens of Intimacy: Psychoanalysis and Victorian Masculinity (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  13. 8.
    Recent treatments of Victorian anti-Catholic attitudes tend to stop between 1860 and 1870; see, e.g., D. G. Paz, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992);Google Scholar
  14. Frank H. Wallis, Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian Britain (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Meilen Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  15. John Wolffe, The Protestant Crusade in Great Britain 1829–1860 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 9.
    Emma Leslie, Caught in the Toils: A Story of a Convent School, 2nd ed. (1880; London: Sunday School Union, n.d.), 58–59. Emma Leslie: prolific evangelical novelist, primarily for the Religious Tract Society; fl. 1870–1900.Google Scholar
  17. 10.
    For what follows, I am indebted to S.J. Barnett, “Where Was Your Church Before Luther? Claims for the Antiquity of Protestantism Examined,” Church History 68 (1999): 14–41;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Colin Kidd, British Identities Before Nationalism: Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 99–122;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hugh MacDougall, Racial Myth in English History: Trojans, Teutons, and Anglo-Saxons (Montreal, Canada: Harvest House; Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New Hampshire, 1982), 31–40;Google Scholar
  20. Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 270–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 11.
    Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, vol. 1, ed. Judith McClure and Roger Collins (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 14, 4.Google Scholar
  22. 12.
    John Milton, Areopagitica: A Speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicencd Printing, to the Parliament of England, in The Works of John Milton, vol. 4 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931), 340.Google Scholar
  23. 13.
    On the use-value of the Druidic priesthood for modern polemic, see Samuel Smiles, The Image of Antiquity: Ancient Britain and the Romantic Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 92.Google Scholar
  24. 14.
    Henry Soames, The Anglo-Saxon Church: Its History, Revenues, and General Character (London: John W Parker, 1835), 59.Google Scholar
  25. 15.
    John Lingard, The History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church; Containing an Account of its Origin, Government, Doctrines, Worship, Revenues, and Clerical and Monastic Institutions, rev. ed., 2 vols., vol. 1 (London: C. Dolman, 1845), 22 n. 1.Google Scholar
  26. 16.
    George Smith, The Religion of Ancient Britain: A Succinct Account of the Several Religious Systems which have Obtained in this Island from the Earliest Times to the Norman Conquest. Including an Investigation into the Early Progress of Error in the Christian Church, the Introduction of the Gospel into Britain, and the State of Religion in England till Popery had Gained the Ascendancy (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844), 363–364, 368.Google Scholar
  27. 17.
    Robert Vaughan, The Life and Opinions of John de Wycliffe, D.D., 2nd ed., 2 vols., vol. 1 (1831; New York: AMS Press, 1973), 164; John Dowling, The History of Romanism: From the Earliest Corruptions of Christianity to the Present Time., 16th ed. (New York: Edward Walker, 1848), 228. Dowling’s work was well-known in British anti-Catholic circles.Google Scholar
  28. 18.
    Peter Nockles, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760–1857 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 166–167. On High Church anxieties about but appropriations of Foxe,Google Scholar
  29. see Peter Nockles, “A Disputed Legacy: Anglican Historiographies of the Reformation from the Era of the Caroline Divines to that of the Oxford Movement,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library of Manchester 83 (2001): 136–137.Google Scholar
  30. 19.
    John Foxe, The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, ed. George Townsend, 8 vols., vol. 2 (New York: AMS Press, 1965), 796. Although I am well aware that this is a very poor edition indeed, it is nevertheless the one with which most of my novelists were familiar.Google Scholar
  31. 21.
    David Hume, The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution of 1688, 6 vols., vol. 2 (1778; Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1983), 322;Google Scholar
  32. John Lingard, The History of England from the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of William and Mary in 1688, 6th ed., rev, 10 vols., vol. 3 (London: Charles Dolman, 1855), 133, 134, 150. Vaughan grumbles of Hume and Lingard that “[i]t is to the men who have most corrupted Christianity, and to those who treat it as a lie, that the rumours opposed to the reputation of the christian [sic] reformers have always been most acceptable”; Life, vol. 2, 377, n. 30.Google Scholar
  33. 22.
    Vaughan, Life, vol. 2, 340; Rudolf Buddensieg, John Wiclif: Patriot & Reformer, Life and Writings (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1884), 10–11;Google Scholar
  34. Johann Loserth, Wiclif and Hus, trans. M. J. Evans (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884). Loserth’s thesis is that much of Hus’s work is identical to or otherwise derives from Wycliffe’s.Google Scholar
  35. 24.
    On the problems with Wycliffe as Bible translator, see Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 238–247; and on the problems with Wycliffe as author of the Wycket (or Wicket),Google Scholar
  36. Margaret Aston, “John Wycliffe’s Reformation Reputation,” in Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion (London: Hambledon Press, 1984), 257–258. In 1895, Francis Aidan Cardinal Gasquet suggested that what Forshall and Madden had reprinted was really an orthodox Catholie translation; see “The Pre-Reformation Bible (I),” in The Old English Bible and Other Essays, newed. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1908), 87–134. It is perhaps symptomatic of late Victorian doubts that C. E. Sayle simply avoids the subject altogether in Wiclif: An Historical Drama (Oxford: James Thornton, 1887).Google Scholar
  37. 25.
    Christopher Anderson, The Annals of the English Bible, 2 vols., vol. 1 (London: William Pickering, 1845), xxxvii.Google Scholar
  38. 27.
    Francis Charles Massingberd, The English Reformation, 3rd ed., rev. and enl. (London: John W Parker and Son, 1857), e.g., 136–137, 156–157; “Wycliffe and His Relation to the Reformation,” British Quarterly Review 4 (1879): 334–368.Google Scholar
  39. 28.
    The best study is Michael Ragussis, Figures of Conversion: “The Jewish Question” and English National Identity (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  40. 29.
    A.L.O.E. [Charlotte Maria Tucker], Daybreak in Britain (London: Religious Tract Society, [1880]). Hereafter cited parenthetically in the main text as “Daybreak.” Page numbers of subsequent citations given in text. Charlotte Maria Tucker (1821–1893): novelist and tract writer; missionary in India from 1875–1893.Google Scholar
  41. 30.
    Royal W. Rhodes, The Lion and the Cross: Early Christianity in Victorian Novels (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1995), 263.Google Scholar
  42. 33.
    A. D. Crake, The Doomed City; Or, the Last Days of Durocina. A Tale of the Anglo-Saxon Conquest of Britain, and the Mission of Augustine (Oxford and London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., [1886]), 32. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the main text as “Doomed.” Page numbers of subsequent citations given in text. Augustine David Crake (1836–1890): Vicar of Cholsey, Wallingford; author of numerous “Early Church” historical novels.Google Scholar
  43. 35.
    Emily Sarah Holt, The Harvest of Yesterday: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century, new ed. (1893; London: John F. Shaw, n.d.), 172. Emily Sarah Holt (1836–1893): of Stubbylee Hall; sister of James Maden Holt, M.PGoogle Scholar
  44. 36.
    Emily Sarah Holt, Imogen: A Story of the Mission of Augustine (London: John F. Shaw & Co., [1876]). Hereafter cited parenthetically in the main text as “Imogen.” Page numbers of subsequent citations given in text.Google Scholar
  45. 38.
    On the decline of anti-Ritualist activism, see James Whisenant, “Anti-Ritualism and the Moderation of Evangelical Opinion in England in the Mid-1870s,” Anglican and Episcopal History 70 (2001): 451–477.Google Scholar
  46. 39.
    Emma Leslie, Gytha’s Message: A Tale of Saxon England (1885; London: Blackie and Son Limited, n.d.), 203–204; cf.Google Scholar
  47. Emily Sarah Holt, Behind the Veil: A Tale of the Days of William the Conqueror, new ed. (1890; London: John F. Shaw & Co., n.d.), 18. As Kevin L. Morris reminds us, the far more theologically liberal Charles Kingsley took a much harsher view of the Conquest; see Image of the Middle Ages, 86–87. Google Scholar
  48. 44.
    For a documentary overview, see R. B. Dobson, The Peasants Revolt of 1381 (London: Macmillan and Co., 1970). Henry Hallam got as close as any nineteenth-century Protestant did to suggesting that Wycliffe might be at least remotely responsible; see View of the State of Europe in the Middle Ages, 1 vols., vol. 2 (1818; New York: Thomas Y Crowell, 1880), 379. Emily Sarah Holt, who dryly noted that “Wycliffe was himself one of the parish priests doomed to extermination, and that all his principal friends and supporters would likewise have been put to death,” represents received opinion. John de Wycliffe and What He Did for England (London: John F. Shaw, n.d.), 106–107.Google Scholar
  49. 46.
    Emma Leslie, Conrad. A Tale of Wiclif and Bohemia (1880; New York: Phillips and Hunt; Cincinnati: Waiden & Stowe, 1881). Earlier published by the Religious Tract Society as Before the Dawn: A Tale of Wycliffe and Bohemia. Google Scholar
  50. 48.
    For an interesting discussion of later nineteenth-century attempts to rebel against this interpretation of suffering, see Lucy Bending, The Representation of Bodily Pain in Late Nineteenth-Century English Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 50.
    Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, ed. Richard J. Dunn, 3rd ed. (New York: W W Norton and Co., 2001), 320.Google Scholar
  52. 56.
    Emily Sarah Holt, The Lord Mayor: A Tale of London in 1384 (1884; New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, n.d.), 27.Google Scholar
  53. 57.
    W Oak Rhind, Hubert Ellerdale: A Tale of the Days of Wycliffe (1881; London: S. W Partridge, n.d.), W Oak Rhind: author otherwise unknown.Google Scholar
  54. 59.
    Arthur Brown, The Knight of Dilham: A Story of the Lollards (London: S. W Partridge and Co., [1875]).Google Scholar
  55. 60.
    Emily Sarah Holt, Mistress Margery: A Tale of the Lollards (1868; London: John F. Shaw, n.d.), 26.Google Scholar
  56. 61.
    For an important compendium of online anti-Catholic sites, many of them drawing on nineteenth-century texts, see David Cruz-Uribe, Anti-Catholicism on the Net> (June 1, 2004).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lorretta M. Holloway and Jennifer A. Palmgren 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations