Eamon Duffy’s Fires of Faith depicts the state of the English church during the reign of Mary Tudor, lasting from 1553-1558. Mary’s reign remains one of the most controversial aspects in Church history. This book aims at responding to the predominant issue of the competence of the Marian regime while commenting on misconceptions. With Fires of Faith, Duffy combats the various myths and biased accounts that have distorted the reputation of Mary Tudor. Duffy offers insightful considerations on Mary’s England and expounds on the state of the Church. He begins by addressing the fact that he will tackle the overarching issue of general competence, drive and direction of the regime. Through the eyes of England, he explores the counter-reformation that begins to arise following Mary’s accession.
Duffy focuses on the Marian restoration itself, that is: he structures his novel by expounding on various issues of the regime, chapter by chapter. Duffy writes on a variety of aspects in Queen Mary’s reign. Notably, he references the constructiveness of the regime’s propaganda campaign against Protestantism; the role of Cardinal Reginald Pole in supervising the restoration of Catholicism in England, and lastly, the question of the effectiveness of the burnings carried out by the Marian regime. Bloody Mary’s reign remains a highly debated topic; however, Duffy’s approach towards the Marian regime is both holistic and inquisitive. Rather than categorizing the Marian regime as merely a time of violent animosity, he argues that Mary’s reign was a brilliant attempt at restoration for hearts and minds alike.
In chapter 1, Duffy outlines his opening considerations by responding to the burnings of more than 280 protestants under the Marian agenda in the span of four years by saying the burnings were both gruesome and inevitable (1,7).
Although Duffy does not condone the demoralizing behavior of burning men and woman, he argues that the received perception of the campaign of burnings as manifestly unsuccessful is quite mistaken (1,7). He supports this claim by examining how the burnings were efficiently carried out for political stability. Duffy comments on his initial questioning of competence of the regime in chapter 2 by showcasing Cardinal Pole’s role as a major influencer. Duffy states that in matters of religion, no sustained course of action, not even the burnings, was pursued without his consent and approval (2,33). He claims that the Marian regime, predominantly led by Cardinal Pole, had a strong emphasis on the centrality of Christ and also on the universal agency of the Holy Spirit in the church, which is why mere human effort could not constitute reform. In chapter 3, Duffy expounds the tight control the Marian regime had over the press. He supports the direction of the regime by mentioning that authors such as John Christopherson, John Proctor, and the Harpsfield brothers were defenders of Catholicism and wrote on behalf on the regime (3,63). A range of sources that were utilized, including but not limited to: sermons, heresy trials, journalistic pamphlets, and private diaries aided the Marian regime in combatting Protestant propaganda.
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