The University of Arizona

Reinventing England: Visiting Scholar Examines Impact of the Reformation

By Jeff Harrison, February 9, 2001

Patrick Collinson, internationally renowned historian of 16th-century England and Tudor-Stuart religion, will examine how the Protestant Reformation "invented" an England which, as a fully sovereign state and church, was no longer subject to the Roman papacy. Reformation England, which Shakespeare proudly called "this England...this happy breed, this little world, this blessed plot," understood itself as a biblical people, a chosen and exceptional nation, starkly confronting the dark power of "popery." The text of the Bible in English, the inspired translation of William Tyndale, was at the heart of this national birth.

Under the influence of the Reformation, English literature reached an exceptional height. The Elizabethan age produced great literary works which were in their essence definitions and descriptions of this newly imagined England: John Foxe's "Book of Martyrs," Edmund Spenser's "Faerie Queene," William Camden's "Britannia," Shakespeare's history plays, and the book which looked toward an as yet non-existent American Empire, Richard Hakluyt's "Principall Navigations of the English Nation."

Collinson is a Fellow of Trinity College and emeritus Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. He has held academic chairs at the Universities of Sydney, Australia, Kent and Sheffield. His contributions to the field have earned him honorary degrees from the Universities of York, Kent at Canterbury, Sheffield, Essex and Oxford and Trinity College, Dublin.

For his ground-breaking research Collinson has been recognized as a Commander of the British Empire, and a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He has written broadly on the spread and legacy of Protestantism in 16th-century England, and is the author of eight major books.