Bonfire Night and the shadow side of the English Reformation

Bonfire societies parade through the streets during the Bonfire Night celebrations on November 5, 2013 in Lewes, Sussex in England

The terrorists who sparked Bonfire Night were fighting a regime which imposed the protestant religion with hangings, burnings and bloodshed

Source: Forget the Guy Fawkes propaganda – the English Reformation was a violent catastrophe – Telegraph

A good point! There are two sides to every story, and the linked essay by Dominic Selwood explores what one might call the “shadow side” of the Reformation, which we commemorated on the 31st of October, and the Guy Fawkes celebrations on the 5th of November. His focus is, of course, on the English Reformation, but not without placing it in its larger context.

It is possible, I think and hope, to recognize the good that was done by the Reformation, without ignoring or glossing over its much more problematic aspects. I am an Anglican (an Anglophilic Anglican, in fact!), and being one, of course, I am also a spiritual heir to the English Reformation. I believe that the Anglican tradition has given much good to Christianity, and to the world. But of course, anything that has humans involved will be a mix of good and bad, and this is certainly true of the Reformation. I am not at all insensible to the “detestable enormities” (if I may borrow the phrase from an early Anglican prayer) committed in its name.

There was much violence, persecution, and oppression that accompanied the Reformation in general, and that includes the English Reformation: in part because religion tends to stir up visceral feelings in its followers, and in part due to the inevitability of politics becoming mixed in. For those who may be interested in more information about, shall we say, the “dark underbelly” of that period, I recommend Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580.

Anyway, as I say, just a bit of point-counterpoint! And I thoroughly agree with Dominic Selwood when he writes,

“For the sake of tradition, I hope we go on roasting effigies of Guy Fawkes. It is part of the nation’s rich identity and ancient culture. But tonight, as we wait for the processions with the Guy, a small piece of me remains optimistic that somewhere, someone might just throw a large effigy of Thomas Cromwell onto the flames. Just for a change. That would, after all, be proper English fair play. Wouldn’t it?”

Indeed it would! And if ever there was someone who deserves being burned in effigy, it was he…