I thought I was reasonably well informed about the English Reformation, but a new book from Yale recounts an episode of which, I confess, I had never heard, the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549, in which the people of Cornwall and Devon revolted when the government forbade Latin liturgies and required use of the new, English-language Book of Common Prayer. The government quickly put down the rebellion–but at the cost of 4000 lives. I’m not sure if the rebellion passed out of general knowledge, or if their antipathy to Catholicism led the Framers to pass over it, but I have never seen a reference to the Prayer Book Rebellion in the Framers’ frequent warnings about the dangers of establishment. Odd, because the rebellion seems a good example of such dangers–as well as the importance of liturgy to religious identity. Few things matter more to believers than the language they use to pray, as current controversies in the Catholic and other Christian churches reveal even today.

The book is A Murderous Midsummer: The Western Rising of 1549, by historian Mark Stoyle (University of Southampton). The publisher’s description follows:

The fascinating story of the so-called “Prayer Book Rebellion” of 1549 which saw the people of Devon and Cornwall rise up against the Crown

The Western Rising of 1549 was the most catastrophic event to occur in Devon and Cornwall between the Black Death and the Civil War. Beginning as an argument between two men and their vicar, the rebellion led to a siege of Exeter, savage battles with Crown forces, and the deaths of 4,000 local men and women. It represents the most determined attempt by ordinary English people to halt the religious reformation of the Tudor period.

Mark Stoyle tells the story of the so-called “Prayer Book Rebellion” in full. Correcting the accepted narrative in a number of places, Stoyle shows that the government in London saw the rebels as a real threat. He demonstrates the importance of regional identity and emphasizes that religion was at the heart of the uprising. This definitive account brings to life the stories of the thousands of men and women who acted to defend their faith almost five hundred years ago.

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