Reformation London Symposium

FREE EVENT (Book in advance: limited places available)

Senate House Library is hosting a half-day symposium on the Reformation and its effect on culture, communication, society and new world order, through the spectrum of London and the wider British Isles. This symposium will close the events programme for the exhibition Reformation: Shattered World, New Beginnings, held at Senate House Library from 26th June – 15th December 2017.


Date: Wednesday 6th December 2017

Location: Seng Tee Lee Seminar Room, Senate House Library

To book a place for this event, please email:


2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s theses, documents which eventually sparked a new religious movement that was to shatter the unity of the Catholic Church in Europe. In England, the impetus for Reformation came when King Henry VIII overthrew the authority of Rome and established himself as the Head of the Church of England with the Act of Supremacy in 1534, the result of his struggle to obtain a divorce from Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn.

The consequences of taking England outside the family of Catholic states were profound, and had a major impact on London throughout the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, as it grew into a global city. Focusing on London through the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, several academic specialists trace the impact of the Reformation on culture and society; the way its communications industry drove change; and the consequences of the emergence of a new world order through this time period.

This is a free event and early booking is advised as places are limited. Tea, coffee and refreshments will be available throughout the half-day. After the event there will also be an opportunity to view the exhibition.




9:15 - 9:35 Registration, tea and coffee

9:35 - 9:45 Dr Nick Barratt, acting Director of Senate House Library - Welcome and Introduction

9:45 - 10:30 Dr Susan Brigden, University of Oxford - London Reformation

10:30 - 11:00 Dr Matt Phillpott, School of Advanced Study, University of London - Re-writing History in the capital: John Foxe and his scholarly network

11:00 - 11:15 Tea and coffee break

11:15 - 11:45 Ruby Lowe, New York University - Ramus, Milton and The Reformation of Rhetoric

11:45 - 12:15 Marianne Wilson, The National Archives - The will of the Bishop: the impact of the Reformation on personal religion

12:15 - 12:45 Matthew James Norris, Cambridge University - 'Hearing God: Change and Continuity during the English Reformation'

12:45 - 13:15 Dr Matthew Coneys, Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London - Spanish Matches: Italian Ambassadors’ Perspectives on Diplomatic Marriage between England and Spain

13:15 - 13:25 Closing remarks

13:30 - 14:30 Networking Lunch




Dr Matt Phillpott, School of Advanced Study - Re-writing History in the capital: John Foxe and his scholarly network

In late 1559, John Foxe returned from exile in Basel and took up residence once again in London. Foxe would spend much of the next twenty-years of his life writing, compiling, and re-editing, his magnum opus, the Acts and Monuments (better known now as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs). How did location help him in this endeavour? It is easy enough to argue that residence in London was crucial, if for no other reason than to see the text through the printing-press. There are many other reasons, however, equally as crucial. London, as a centre for communication, the heart of government and commerce, as well as religion, offered easy access to England’s most prominent citizens. Such access was vital for receiving first-hand witness information on recent events, especially on the martyrdom of various protestants under Queen Mary. My interest here though is how London enabled Foxe to make extensive use of written source material and take part in a scholarly nexus of scholars, printers, clerics, and antiquarians. Not only did London offer easy access to European and English publications, access to and discussion with various scholars, but it was also the means for Foxe to gain access to many historical manuscripts, that had, until then, been scattered across the country (and abroad) following the 1530s dissolution of the monasteries. During the 1560s, especially, London became England’s hub for scholarship, saving and mythologizing of its historical manuscript heritage, and for State propaganda activities. The story of John Foxe in London is, therefore, part of that story and part of the wider story of England’s Reformation.

Ruby Lowe - Ramus, Milton and The Reformation of Rhetoric

Despite being one of the most widely published authors in 17th century Europe, Peter Ramus was strangely uninterested in engaging with the theological debates, which occupied the continent. Instead, Ramus was busy spearheading a full-scale reformation of the University system by vehemently attacking the structure and hierarchies of the academic disciplines and calling for the removal of medieval dependencies on oblique and mystifying ceremonies in favour streamlined and easily comprehensible published textbooks. Ramus’s most famous and impactful reform was disentangling the disciplines of rhetoric and logic which were past down from Aristotle through the writings of Cicero and Quintilian. Ramus diminished the authority of rhetoric by annexing the traditional rhetorical cannons of inventio (the finding of arguments) and dispositio (the organisation of arguments) to the discipline of logic, leaving only actio (performance) and elecutio (ornament) as the tasks of rhetoric. The famous Ciceronian canon of memoria (memorisation) was discarded all together. In this paper I will argue that John Milton employed the work of Ramus for its appeals to utility and seductive promise of method, providing coherence to pedagogy. I will explore John Milton’s Prolusions as a belated but significant engagement with Ramism as a discourse and tool of permanent provocation and reform. Although Milton was deeply conflicted about some elements of Ramism, he engaged with and exploited the work of Ramus for its ability to ignite a desire for reform in English Universities and equip their students with tools to carry out larger educational and social reforms.

Marianne Wilson, The National Archives - The will of the Bishop: the impact of the Reformation on personal religion

In spite of its limitations, testamentary evidence has long been used as a measure of an individual’s attitude towards post-mortem pious remembrance. Wills provided an opportunity for people to shape their pious identities and choose how they wished to be remembered after their deaths. The Reformation significantly impacted upon the religious beliefs and practices of individuals and how they wished to identify themselves. The evolving influence of the initial stages of the Reformation on post-mortem ideas of remembrance in London can be traced through a comparative analysis of two wills of bishops of London, proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, held in the collections of The National Archives. The pious and commemorative practices exhibited in the will of Bishop Richard Fitz James, dated 22 May 1522, will be compared and contrasted with the will of Bishop John Ailmer, dated 22 November 1594. The wills contain rich details concerning the dedication of their souls, and their post-mortem burial and commemorative practices. This allows for wider evaluation of the impact of the Reformation on personal religion. This paper will answer key questions concerning how changing government policies impacted upon social attitudes towards remembrance and material culture and how approaches adjusted towards religious institutions, such as St Paul’s, as a focus of remembrance and memorialisation.

Matthew James Norris, Cambridge University - 'Hearing God: Change and Continuity during the English Reformation'

This paper explores neglected topic of the religious perceptions of the sense of hearing in Reformation England, identifying how the Reformation impacted those perceptions and caused tension between different Protestant groups in the aftermath of the Reformation. In particular, this paper examines the religious perceptions of the sense of hearing through different types of sound, most notably: the sounds of sermons, the sound of music, the sounds of sin, and the sounds of nature. Through this survey, it warns against a tendency to over-simplify the transition between Catholicism and Protestantism which underestimates important continuities in early modern thinking, as well as the important role of medical advances in shaping religious perceptions of the aural sense. The Reformation brought about a deeper appreciation of hearing, but also a deeper wariness, especially among certain groups. The sense of hearing was of major importance to the Reformers, both of the first generation and beyond. This paper argues that fundamentality of the sense – since all other experiences supervene upon the senses – demands that historians neglect it no more since it has ramifications for countless areas of early modern and Reformation scholarship. 

Dr Matthew Coneys, Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study - Spanish Matches: Italian Ambassadors’ Perspectives on Diplomatic Marriage between England and Spain

This paper examines the attitudes of Italian ambassadors towards marriage between the Catholic royal families of England and Spain in the aftermath of the English Reformation. It will focus on two rare textual sources, both held in Senate House Library’s Special Collections: the Historia delle cose occorse nel regno d'Inghilterra, written by a Venetian ambassador who attended the marriage of Mary I to Phillip II of Spain in 1554, and a unique manuscript containing the considerations of the papal nuncio Innocenzo Massimo on the proposed ‘Spanish Match’ between the future Charles I and the Infanta Maria Anna.

Exploring these two markedly different texts – one a published report of a very public event, the other the private reflections of a high-level papal diplomat – the paper will discuss the perspectives they offer on the use of marriage as a diplomatic tool in post-Reformation Europe. It will compare the two ambassadors’ motivations and assess their attitudes towards the value of the matches for propagating the Catholic faith in England. Considering these texts in their specific historical contexts, it will argue that they offer an overlooked yet valuable insight into two of the most significant diplomatic enterprises of the period.

Event details

  • 6 December 2017 09:15
  • Seng Tee Lee Seminar Room, Senate House Library
  • Free event (book in advance: limited places available)
  • Part of the Reformation exhibition
  • Senate House Library Event


The Library is committed to ensuring that all users are able to take full advantage of our facilities and services. Learn about accessibility.