The uses of English in printed religious texts c 1497-1547: Further evidence for the process and experience of reformation in England
AbstractAn article concerning the uses of English language (alongside Latin) in the early printed religious books widely available. The article focuses on the significance of vernacular language or/and Latin for the reader in popular culture
This article proposes that the study of popular reading should be incorporated into the modern historiography of the (long) reformation process. It takes one section of the broader process of reformation for more detailed consideration, examining the uses of English in printed religious texts c. 1497–1547. Beginning in 1497 and taking printed texts as the focus is not intended as a dismissal of the extensive circulation of vernacular religious texts in manuscripts in the preceding centuries. I argue that we should look beyond the primer to other sources of English religious literature to understand more about popular religious reading experience across these years of reform. Looking to other sources acts as a reminder that, in order to understand more about popular religious reading during these years of reform and uncertainty, it is necessary to look not only at uses of English in general but also at the kinds of English being used. A selection of specific examples shows that, for the printed texts of c. 1497–1547, rhyming and macaronic (Latin and English) literature were in popular circulation. Between 1497 and 1547, while there were crucial changes in ideology, readers experienced significant continuities in the structure, content, and form of religious literature. The continuities across these fifty years are indicative of the fact that, alongside changing agendas and emphases, there were significant continuities in popular religious reading practice and experience throughout the long reformation. Previous Section Next Section The study of reading helps to contribute to a significant question: ‘how was the average man [and woman] affected by the reformation?’2 In this article, I propose that the ways English infiltrates the books of Christian devotion from 1497 to 1547 contributes to the broader understanding of the process of reformation and, similarly, that the current ways of understanding the process of reformation are helpful for the analysis of reading practice and experience. Modern studies both of reading and of reformation tend towards detailed reconstruction and the analysis of popular experience so that the two historiographies share common ground.3 I take as an evidence-based premise that popular reading practice and experience are not easily separated into distinct phases labelled either Catholic or Protestant across and around the reformation period, however that is defined (1528–58, 1530–70, 1497–47, 1380–1734), especially up until c. 1580. Indeed, as I demonstrate in other studies, there is strong evidence to suggest that, while there were many changes, there were also many continuities in the devotional texts being popularly consumed throughout the reforming years including their visual appearance and the languages in which they were produced.4 Significantly, there is evidence to indicate that certain forms of religious reading matter such as proverbial and doggerel-ized text remained popular in books with either a ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’ emphasis, which tends to suggest a popular desire for continuity of form in a reading matter. This is regardless of its denomination and despite or alongside official instructions such as Statutes which required and imposed changes to the official form of religious service.5 Such continuity is very much in line with more general current views of the process and chronologies of reformation.6 There is also, however, evidence that individual readers made changes to their devotional books according to the differing and changing requirements of Catholicism and Protestantism as new laws and statutes we introduced.
Salter , E E 2012 , ' The uses of English in printed religious texts c 1497-1547: Further evidence for the process and experience of reformation in England ' English , vol 61 , no. 233 , pp. 114-134 .