In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section England, 1485-1642

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Works
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  • Journals

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Renaissance and Reformation England, 1485-1642
Sarah Covington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0019


The scholarship on Tudor and Stuart England constitutes a parallel universe in its own right, with its sometimes acrimonious debates threatening to paralyze the student (and even specialist) from coming to any clarity or conclusions at all (unless, perhaps, he or she simply submits to the latest historiographical orthodoxy). Aside from the English Civil War, which has been called the “Mount Everest” of English scholarship, debates have centered upon whether the Reformation was “top down” or “bottom up”: religion as a whole was Protestant, Catholic, or something in between; the nobility and the gentry in crisis or ascendant; the Restoration representative of continuity or change; and the events of 1688 momentous, or not. Terms such as “revisionism,” “postrevisionism,” or “neo-Whiggism” convey such confusion, but they are unavoidable when it comes to entering, on a deeper level, the notoriously vexed scholarship of the period. Such debates also testify to the extremely rich nature of the Tudor and Stuart period in England, which continues to yield new insights, interpretations, and conclusions regarding political culture, social relations, the nature of religious belief and allegiance, or causality when it comes to an event as momentous as the civil war. The following entry is limited to the most important or representative works, including studies whose claims have been long discredited or put aside but nevertheless remain important in conveying the full scope of the research and conclusions yielded by the subject at hand. Many more sources (and subjects) could have been added, just as databases such as the Royal Historical Society’s annual bibliography continue to list hundreds of new books and articles each year.


A number of excellent textbooks exist on Tudor and Stuart England, though with the exception of Bucholz and Key 2009 and Smith 1997, they tend to divide the Tudor and Stuart periods. Guy 1988 provides one of the best overviews of the Tudor age, with an emphasis on politics, while the 17th century is best represented by Kishlansky 1997, which also focuses on politics, and Coward 2003, which incorporates more extensive economic and social history. More recent studies such as Brigden 2000 and Nicholls 1999 have also taken care to incorporate Ireland (in Brigden’s case especially) and the British Isles into the history, and to provide some overview of the historiographical debates.

  • Brigden, Susan. New Worlds, Lost Worlds: The Rule of the Tudors, 1485–1603. New York: Viking, 2000.

    A well-presented narrative of the Tudor century, incorporating new approaches and particularly strong in its presentation of Ireland and the Atlantic world.

  • Bucholz, Robert, and Newton Key. Early Modern England, 1485–1714: A Narrative History. 2nd ed. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

    An excellent narrative and analytical approach that incorporates social, economic, religious, and cultural as well as political history.

  • Coward, Barry. The Stuart Age: England, 1603–1714. 3d ed. London: Longman, 2003.

    The best recent textbook on the Stuart age, utilizing the latest scholarship and focusing on the economy, society, and politics as well as the civil war and its aftermath. Very useful bibliographic essay at the end and relatively good coverage of Scotland and Ireland.

  • Guy, John. Tudor England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

    Perhaps the best analytical narrative and overview of Tudor England, incorporating original research and conclusions. Above all a political history, the work concludes that the Tudor reigns, including Elizabeth’s, were in large part a success and certainly transformative of the English polity by the end of the century.

  • Kishlansky, Mark. A Monarchy Transformed: Britain, 1603–1714. London: Penguin, 1997.

    A clear and well-written political narrative designed for the student and nonspecialist, extending from the reign of James I through Anne and tracing developments in the institution of the monarchy and also including the parallel histories of Scotland and Ireland.

  • Nicholls, Mark. A History of the Modern British Isles, 1529–1603: The Two Kingdoms. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

    An ambitious study that encompasses Wales, Scotland, and Ireland as well as England, including distinctly non-Anglocentric perspectives. Nicholls explicitly rejects the notion that any common or unifying “themes” underlay or brought together these kingdoms, nor that there was any idea or policy of “Britishness” other than the imposition of England’s will on others.

  • Smith, A. G. R. The Emergence of a Nation State: The Commonwealth of England, 1529–1660. 2d ed. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education Ltd., 1997.

    One of the best surveys of England, beginning with the Reformation and continuing through the English civil war, with useful introductions to the historiographical debates, and excellent maps, glossaries, and bibliography.

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