Saturday, June 18, 2011

William Cobbett, RIP and his book on the English Reformation

William Cobbett died on June 18, 1835. He was an English pamphleteer and supporter of Emancipation for Catholics, writing a history of the Protestant reformation in England. He very much believed that Henry VIII's takeover of the Church in England was a matter of political power and disastrous for England economically and socially.

Cobbett took controversial stands on the need for reforms in England, especially of Parliament and the military. He also wrote against the French Revolution, democracy in America, the Industrial Revolution, and Malthus' theories of population.

G.K. Chesterton published a biography of Cobbett in 1925, in which he wrote:

It is the paradox of his life that he loved the past, and he alone lived in the future. . . . he seemed like a survival and a relic of times gone by. And he alone was in living touch with the times that were to come.

Chesterton also compares Cobbett and Lingard, noting that Father Lingard and Cobbett made the same case about the English Reformation, but that Lingard was careful about being impartial while Cobbett "flung away all such airs of impartiality to prove how completely he had been convinced" that the common view of the English Reformation was wrong.

I am reading Cobbett's History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland had find it just as Chesterton described. Sometimes Cobbett has to restrain himself and sometimes he just can't! He stops one time to comment that if he keeps writing such exclamatory sentences, he will never make progress in telling the story! He rakes Hume over the coals for special pleading and manipulation or interpretation of facts so that Catholics always sound bad. Cobbett consistently argues that the poor were hurt by the actions of the English "reformers"--destroying sources of charity in dissolving the monasteries, wrecking sights of beauty in remodeling the churches, etc. Cardinal Gasquet provided footnotes, including some corrections in the edition I have from St. Benedict's/TAN.


  1. Thanks! Cobbett's book on the Reformation (cough) is indeed excellent reading, and if it is not restrained, well, it's easier going than Duffy's brilliant THE STRIPPING OF THE ALTARS (wh. should also be read; just plan on working at it).

  2. SUPREMACY AND SURVIVAL is pretty easy read, too, Mack!