Eamon Duffy

Eamon Duffy is professor of the history of Christianity at Cambridge.

The reputation of Eugenio Pacelli, who reigned as Pope Pius XII from March 1939 until his death in October 1958, is an object lesson in the fragility of popularity and public esteem. Pacelli was a favoured son of Rome’s ‘black nobility’, the cluster of families whose 19th-century fortunes were built on service to the papacy. In these circles, the Pacellis ranked very high,...

Catherine of Aragon was Henry VIII’s first and longest-lasting queen, at the heart of his glittering court for almost two decades. In the early years of their marriage, the Spanish princess, daughter of the most glamorous monarchs in Europe, must have seemed every bit as regal as her husband. Yet in the historiography of Tudor England she has become a shadowy figure, a sad frump...

Keith Thomas prefaces this book with a quotation from the greatest of English medievalists, F.W. Maitland: ‘A century hence . . . by slow degrees the thoughts of our forefathers, their common thoughts about common things, will become thinkable once more.’ That aspiration, to recover ‘common thoughts about common things’, was a novelty in Victorian...

Aviad Kleinberg’s clever, wide-ranging and tendentious book begins by recounting an experience which he cannot quite decide whether to classify as a moment of blinding insight or one of personal weakness. He was watching a television interview with Mother Teresa, in which she told of her first encounter with a dying leper. The leper had asked her why she was caring for him, and she had...

The reign of Mary Tudor has had few friends among historians, and the regime’s religious dimension has provided most of the copy for the bad press. Until comparatively recently, almost everyone who wrote about what has been routinely described as the ‘Marian Reaction’ agreed that to a greater or lesser extent the Catholic Church during her reign was backward-looking,...

Much of the modern reputation of Lancelot Andrewes stems from an essay T.S. Eliot published in 1926, in which he ranked the sermons with ‘the finest English prose of their time, of any time’. Eliot’s essay marked the tercentenary of the death of a contemporary of Shakespeare, who between 1588 and his death had been successively or simultaneously vicar of St Giles Cripplegate;...

Brush for Hire: Protestant painting

Eamon Duffy, 19 August 2004

“Cranach and his highly commercialised factory-studio poured out images which decisively shaped the official visual propaganda for the new movement, creating dozens of Bible illustrations or woodcuts idealising Luther and lampooning the old religion . . . But religion was religion and business was business: when it came to winning a profitable commission, Cranach was a spiritual whore, a brush for hire to the highest bidder. A court painter who basked in the patronage of the great and not-so-good, he was far from fastidious about his subject-matter: he specialised, for example, in soft porn cabinet paintings of naked nymphs and goddesses, simpering alluringly at their artistic patrons.”

In Good Estate

Eamon Duffy, 2 January 1997

Every year, two and a half million people visit Westminster Abbey. Two-thirds of them, deterred no doubt by the combination of a tight tour schedule and the charge which is levied at this point, leave without ever penetrating beyond the choir, to the shrine of St Edward behind the High Altar and the royal tombs which surround it. Yet this was the heart of medieval Westminster, and the reason for the existence of the present building. Those who skip it miss more than holy bones. Within the shrine space, near the tomb of St Edward, stands the Coronation Chair, and in that combination of relics and royalty, sacred and secular power, lies the whole meaning of the Abbey. It is also the subject matter of Paul Binski’s subtle, learned and absorbing book.



8 March 2018

If St Jerome were to be indicted for misogyny, he would undoubtedly have to plead guilty. But Anne Enright’s specific charges against him in her exposition of the Genesis story of the Fall aren’t quite in focus. Jerome does indeed translate the claim in the first letter to Timothy that Eve was deceived with the word seductus (the Greek is exapatetheisa). But seductus in fourth-century Latin...

Such Consolation!

7 February 2008

Eamon Duffy writes: Edward Pearce thinks that Mary Tudor’s burning of almost three hundred Protestants was loathsome beyond words, while Elizabeth’s strangling, castration and slow disembowelling of roughly the same number of Catholics was justifiable, because Catholics are bloodthirsty and cruel. I think both sets of executions were appalling, but asked the different question, was Mary’s...

The Crowe is White: Bloody Mary

Hilary Mantel, 24 September 2009

Mary’s bishops wanted recantations more than they wanted executions. There was always the possibility of a last-minute change of heart; this would not free the condemned person from the stake, but...

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Eamon Duffy’s celebrated The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400-c.1580 (1992), which opened our eyes to the vitality of late medieval English Catholicism, was a...

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Homage to the Old Religion

Susan Brigden, 27 May 1993

At the Reformation a world was lost that could never be recovered. The images and altars, the dooms and roods of the parish churches, the towers and cloisters of the religions houses were...

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Protestant Country

George Bernard, 14 June 1990

Henry VIII’s jurisidictional quarrel with the Papacy was not resolved, and its consequences are with us still. In Henry’s eyes the dispute was one of authority, not doctrine, but...

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