Introductory thoughts

This introductory post to our After Iconophobia Online Symposium comes from Tara Hamling, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham.  Tara is an Art Historian by training and has published widely on the impact of the reformation on visual and material cultures, for example in her monograph Decorating the Godly Household.  Here she reflects on Collinson’s article, its influence, its relevance, and some of the challenges it still presents.

Why are we here? We’re here to acknowledge, celebrate and reconsider Patrick Collinson’s seminal lecture ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation’.  This hugely influential paper (published in 1986) which also informed chapter 4 of his book of 1988, The Birthpangs of Protestant England, has shaped a generation of scholarly enquiry into the impact of religion on culture, and of culture on religion, in post-reformation England.

My main interest, of course, is the visual arts – or to use Collinson’s term, pictorial arts, and especially the so-called ‘decorative’ arts in a domestic context. I want to offer, therefore, a few brief thoughts on how scholarship has tended to categorise sources and spaces, and the implications of these compartmentalised groupings for our understanding of Protestant attitudes to the image.

Categories of Image


‘Joshua’, one of a set of painted panels with Old Testament figures, c.1600.  Victoria and Albert Museum. Copyright V&A, London

Since its publication 30 years ago, new work across disciplines on visual and material culture has uncovered a wealth of extant physical evidence that challenges the notion and process towards ‘iconophobia’ as established by Collinson. And yet, in the main, scholarship has tended to retain his basic framework, but point out that iconophobia couldn’t have extended to certain kinds of artwork in certain kinds of setting. Yet this newly noticed visual material has remained marginal. One of the reasons Collinson’s framework has survived the pressures placed on it by studies engaged with categories of surviving visual culture is that these artworks are deemed to be, well, not very good. Vernacular English art is judged rather embarrassing in its crude, awkward quality and this, together with an association with low culture and ‘lesser’ settings such as ‘cheap print’ or private houses, has allowed it to continue to pass relatively unrecognised. It has not been incorporated within the canon of early modern cultural forms.

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After Iconophobia?

After Iconophobia? An Online Symposium

Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis

aiIn 1985, Patrick Collinson delivered Reading University’s Stenton lecture on the topic ‘From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation.’ More than thiry years on, this essay (published in pamphlet form in 1986 and in revised form as Chapter 4 of The Birthpangs of Protestant England) has gone on to shape a generation of scholarly enquiry into the impact of religion on culture, and of culture on religion, in post-reformation England.  Scholars have accepted, rejected, and modified Collinson’s arguments, but one way or another they continue to exert a powerful influence over reformation studies today.

If you haven’t read Collinson’s original article/chapter, we would certainly encourage you to do so, although reasons of copyright prevent us from uploading a copy on the public internet.  Still, the definitions of his two key terms may well be of interest:

iconophobia definitions

Tara and I therefore felt that the thirtieth anniversary seemed like a timely point to take stock and re-examine Collinson’s initial thesis, as well as flagging up some of the new directions that study of the areas explored in his original lecture (religious drama, songs and ballads, and pictorial art) was taking.  What is the current consensus regarding ‘iconoclasm’, ‘iconophobia’, ‘the second English reformation’, and the relationship between them?  In the summer of 2015 we gathered together a dynamic group of international scholars, under the auspices of Birmingham’s Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) and with the generous support of the School of History and Cultures, for a two-day workshop to consider the legacy of his seminal essay, as well as exploring the most exciting present and future trends in the field.  Given the success of previous online symposia at the ‘monster – history from below; voices of the people; addressing authority – we decided to widen the conversation further by presenting our thoughts in an open forum and inviting responses from anyone with an interest in the topic.

A new post will be published every few days over the coming weeks. We begin with some introductory thoughts (Hamling) and broad reflections on Collinson’s original thesis (Morton) and its relevance for the ‘long’ English reformation (Sangha).  We then move on to consider some more detailed case studies, such as dramatic representations of God’s word (Streete) and of god himself (Tasker), as well as dramatic representations of Elizabethan portraiture (Stelzer).  Next come some considerations of visual and material culture in the form of Doom imagery in print and paint (Dhillon), domestic imagery (Morrall) and the material culture of the post-reformation parish church (Orlik).  Finally, the symposium considers potential future areas for research (Green) as well as whether an essay as audacious and sweeping as Collinson’s could still be written (Ryrie).  We finish with some concluding thoughts (Willis).

The aim of this online symposium is not to present these pieces as finished ‘publications’ for posterity. Rather we hope that they will serve as spurs to discussion. You are thus warmly invited to reply to these posts with your questions, comments, suggestions and critiques, or join the conversation on twitter via #aftericonophobia.

Table of Contents

  • Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis, ‘After Iconophobia?’
  • Tara Hamling, ‘Introductory thoughts’
  • Adam Morton, ‘Definitions and Phases of Reform’
  • Laura Sangha, ‘Protestants and Images in the Late Seventeenth-Century’
  • Adrian Streete, ‘Collinson and Drama’
  • Jan Tasker, ‘The Presence (and Absence) of the Supernatural in Elizabethan Drama’
  • Emmanuel Stelzer, ‘Staged Portraits in Early Modern English Drama’
  • Malcolm Jones, ‘English single-sheet prints c.1580-c.1620 in the light of Collinson’s 1985 lecture’
  • Richard Dhillon, ‘Fragments of Doom in Post-Reformation England’
  • Andrew Morall, ‘The Case for Domestic Imagery’
  • Susan Orlik, ‘Somerton: a Parochial Case Study’
  • Ian Green, ‘Future Directions’
  • Alec Ryrie, ‘Historical Reflections’
  • Jonathan Willis, ‘Concluding Thoughts’

If referencing pieces published here, we suggest the following citation: Author, ‘Title’, in Tara Hamling and Jonathan Willis (eds), After Iconophobia? An Online Symposium (2017) [URL: Date Accessed].



Supplications and Civic Rule in Sixteenth-Century Nuremberg

Our next post for the Addressing Authority Online Symposium comes from Hannah Murphy, a Junior Research Fellow at Oriel College, Oxford. Here she shows how early modern rulers could turn supplications into tools of governance by using the expectation of petitioning to monitor the activities of their subjects.

On 26 July 1550, the printer and painter Steffan Hamer was thrown in Nuremberg’s dreaded city jail, “because he had printed wonder-books without permission and against his oath.”[i] Although he was only incarcerated for two days (he was released on the 28th and had his tools returned to him), Hamer’s career never recovered. In September he was refused permission to print a broadsheet of conjoined twins, and had to watch the lucrative sale go to a competitor. [ii]  A year later, on 28 August, 1551, he was refused permission to print a figure of dancing children.[iii] On 25 September, 1551, he was allowed to print a portrait of the siege of Magdeburg, as long he refrained from adding his name.[iv] On 26 March 1552, he was refused permission to publish the ‘three suns and rainbow’ which had appeared over Antdorf.[v] Nuremberg’s council granted permission for something to be printed on average twice a week; but Hamer never again received permission. He disappeared from the city minutes and from Germany’s printing history without a trace.

Steffan Hamer had broken no written law in the way that we might understand it today. Rather, his silent transgression and punishment was indicative of a quiet development in Nuremberg’s city politics, one present only in the accumulated volumes of the council’s meetings, and the format in which they were recorded: the growth of supplications as a hidden tool in the management of people. His punishment was the result of his failure to seek permission from Nuremberg’s council, and his continued fall from grace demonstrates the city’s reliance on petitions as a mechanism of information-gathering and control.

If petitions, in the way that they are often understood, were directed upwards, my work looks at the way in which they could also ‘reach down’. I work on early modern Nuremberg, where the practical act of petitioning in person was a ubiquitous part of civic government. What I have found, by looking at the archives of the city council, is that most city decisions were made in response to a petition.  The city relied on citizens bringing requests to them, not just in order to enforce rules, but also as a means of information-gathering, literally to find out what rules needed enforcing in the first place.

Printed petitions and formal supplications are often linked to the origins of democracy, and other entries in this symposium show how writing petitions could empower subjects in many different ways. But in the face-to-face system of government that characterized early modern German cities, petitions were also a kind of governance. They permit us an insight into the kind of political practices that rulers engaged in when they governed, practices which I think often had to do with information and control and which weren’t necessarily articulated in political treatises, or even in written codes of law.

Nuremberg. Michael Wohlgemut & Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, View of Nuremberg, in Hartmann Schedel, Weltchronik. (Nuremberg Chronicle), Nuremberg. Anton Koberger, 1493 (Wikipedia Commons)

Nuremberg. Michael Wohlgemut & Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, View of Nuremberg, in Hartmann Schedel, Weltchronik. (Nuremberg Chronicle), Nuremberg. Anton Koberger, 1493 (Wikipedia Commons)

Early modern Nuremberg was one of the richest and most important cities in Europe. Jean Bodin called it ‘the best ordered’ of all Germany’s cities. Nuremberg was a ‘free city’, a self-governing city-state within the Holy Roman Empire. That meant that the thirty-two members of its most powerful governing body, its ‘Inner Council’, were responsible for a population of around 25,000. Every day, these men made their way to the town hall, where they met and made decisions. How they came to those decisions, however, is difficult to find out. The practice of politics was shrouded in secrecy. As William Smith, an Englishman who had lived for many years in Nuremberg lamented: ‘For that the noble and worthy senators of this cittie, are very jealouse, and will not suffer any description either of their cittie or countries.”[vi]

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The ghosts of early modern England, part III: a ghost story

Laura Sangha

A Perfect particular of the strange Apparition
and Transactions that have happened
in the House of Mr. Edward Pitts
next Door to the Still at Puddle-Dock.

This blog is a paraphrased version of a pamphlet published
in London in 1674. For other posts on early modern ghosts click here.


f any year might justly be termed Annus Mirabilis, then this is certainly it. A year in which it is as though Nature had forgot to walk in her common road, thrusting out into the World a multitude of prodigious and almost extravagant Events. Wonders in Warfare, wonders in Death, wonders in Politics.

At least our costly and fruitless War with the Dutch ended in February. And I was pleased to see the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane reopen after its Great Fire rebuilding, though Joy-in-Sorrow and Fly-Sin Lofthouse, my door neighbours, were less pleased. They say these, and other signs of Gods anger against the Nation are only to be expected as the just reward for our abominable and crying sins against the Divine Majesty, God Save Him. (Though I say his Divine Majesty is hardly spotless himself). Fly-Sin said we can hardly be surprised that the Devil is loose amongst us in such troubled and sinful times!

On which, I must tell you about the strange and stupendous disturbances at the house of Mr Edward Pitts of Puddledock (it’s near Blackfriars on the river). The house is two Rooms of a Floor; and for the 15 or 16 Nights past, the two Rooms up one pair of stairs have been continually haunted between 12 and 1 of the clock. How it is, is when the family goes to bed, the two doors to the rooms are shut fast, but in the morning they hath always found them open. What’s more, not one night in all this time but the Goods in this Kitchin, and Parler have been removed from one place to another in a most strange manner. In the Kitchin the Pewter hath been taken off the shelves and laid any where about the Room. A Box of Candles of 5 or 6 pound have been taken out of the Box and planted about the Room, some put in Candlesticks, and others laid by two and two.

But what is most remarkable was on the last Lords-day at Night. The Family going to Supper, a Fold-up Table (which stood on one side of the Kitchin) was brought to the fire side, upon which the Meat was set. Mr Pitts takes up the Loaf off the Dresser to cut bread to lay on the Table, then as he was cutting the Bread he spied on the Dresser a great thing like a Catt. At which he being a little affrighted, he started back calling to his Wife, saying, here’s a Catt, I never saw a Catt in this house before. Upon which, this Cat-like thing seemed to slide off the Dresser, giving a thump on the Boards, and so vanished away. Of all those in the Room, only Mr Pitt and his daughter (15 years of Age) could see the Catt, and they say it was as bigg as any Mastiff Dog, but they could not perceive that it had any Leggs.

That night, the Watchmen as they have gone by have called, have a care of your lights Pitts! Upon which Mr Pitts endeavoured to rise and see if he could find any light in his house; but he told me himself that he had no power to stir. He said he was not fearful, but he could not rise; he also told me that that night he had a great light in his Chamber several times, and that it diminished little and little till all his Room was dark, and then of a sudden he had as much Light as if it had been clear day.

In the morning when he got up and went to see what alterations he could in his 2 haunted Rooms, when he came down he found his Kitchin-door wide open, but his Parler door was off the Latch a little ajar, barricadoed with a great 2 handed Chair. He thrust the Chair aside and opened the door, when he came into the Room, upon the Table there he found a great Wooden Sand-box, upon which was 2 snuffs of Candles burnt to Ashes. A 3d Candle had been upon that Box, which had burnt all one side of the Box and made a terrible stink in the house (which I should have mentioned before). The Sand-box Candlestick Mr Pitts had never seen before; but that which was yet more Wonderful is this, by this Sand-box was placed upon the Table two Splinters of Wood cross-ways. Three Ends or Corners of this Cross was cleft, and in each cleft there was stuck a Paper printed on both sides as you it here verbatim:



Right against this Cross and Papers by the Table side was placed a Chair, as if some one had sat there viewing them over.

This night, Mr Pitts intends to have some people to sit up, that may speak to any thing that shall appear, and to demand in the name of the Father, what are you? I’ve a mind to go along myself.


VoxPop2015: The People’s Conclusion

Mark Hailwood

It’s been a lively old summer here on the ‘monster, and as the dust finally starts to settle on our ‘Voices of the People’ online symposium it’s probably time for a few conclusions. The vast range of thoughts provoked by our brilliant contributors are impossible to capture in a humble blog post, so there is no pretense here of providing a definitive summary of all the key points: for that, you’ll have to read the posts (and the #voxpop2015 hashtag on twitter). Instead, I’ll keep to highlighting a few of the themes that featured most prominently in your comments, both on the posts and on twitter; and that seem to me, therefore, to set the agenda for keeping the broader conversation about ‘history from below’ moving along.

History from below is… popular

peopleLet’s start with the vital statistics: since the start of the symposium in July, the many-headed monster has received over 20,000 views. Add to that the 80 comments made on the blog posts, and the countless tweets about the symposium that have used the hashtag #voxpop2015, and I think it is fair to say that VoxPop2015 has been – appropriately enough – popular. One endorsement went so far as to say that ‘ is the best thing on Twitter. If there was a Twitter fire, it’s the one thing I’d save; the rest could crackle away’ (@CBarnacles). Not an opinion of twitter we share, I hasten to add, but it’s a compliment we’ll take! A huge thanks to everyone who has participated in the event in some shape or form. Continue reading

The Voice of the People? Re-reading the Field-notes of Classic Post-war Social Science Studies

Our final post in ‘The Voices of the People’ symposium (full programme here) is by Jon Lawrence, Reader in Modern British History at the University of Cambridge. Jon discusses his ongoing project to write a social and cultural history of post-war Britain in which ordinary people take centre stage as the experts on their own lives and experiences. In the process he revisits a number of the issues that have run through this symposium: how to relate the individual voice to the collective voice and its wider culture; how to account for the influence of the archive on the voices that are recorded; the extent to which we can or should be looking for ‘authentic’ voices; and perhaps above all  Jon reiterates the enormously rich and rewarding avenues of enquiry that are open to those engaged in the reflective pursuit of history from below.       

Jon Lawrence

I often wonder what life’s for. Greavsey lives for work, but I don’t. I’m happy to go on as we are or get a packet and be the idle rich. I’m not bothered about sweating for a £40 a week job. I’m happy now. I could do with £50,000 but I’m happy as I am. Are you? How can you be? You’re far from home. You can drink but that’s not real happiness. You’re going to lecture and do teaching, the same things one time after another. That’s just talk. We put up with bad conditions. But we’re more free than you. We do something different each day. We can move about. We know how to have fun, we don’t try to worry or try to keep up with the Joneses.

‘Ron Morris’, October 1968[1]

I am currently writing a social and cultural history of post-war England based largely on contemporary voices as they were recorded by social scientists between the 1940s and the late 2000s. This extract is from a study of Swan Hunter’s Wallsend shipyard on Tyneside. I will say more about this man and the context in which he came to say these things later. For now I simply wish to offer this as an example of how rich such testimony can be; and also to plant the question: how should we treat a plebeian voice which is so obviously not just exceptionally eloquent, but also knowingly engaged in a dialogue with academic knowledge? Continue reading

Voices of the Disgruntled: ‘Green-Ink Letters’ in Elizabethan England

Our next post in ‘The Voices of the People’ symposium (full programme here) is by the many-headed monster’s very own Jonathan Willis, Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Birmingham. Jonathan uses some rather intriguing letters found amongst the Elizabethan State Papers to raise some crucial questions about the relationship between eccentric individuals and the wider culture they belong to – what we might term the ‘Menocchio question’ .

Jonathan Willis

A few years ago, I stumbled across an interesting letter in the Elizabethan State Papers. I would say that it was ‘by accident’, but it wasn’t really, as I was actively looking for references to the Ten Commandments, as part of the monograph I’m currently writing on the reformation of the Decalogue. Still, I wasn’t exactly expecting to find what the calendar compliers described as ‘two letters to the Queen from Robert Banister, a great quoter of Scripture, yet mighty vehement against some Puritans who plagued him’, and which the caption on the letter itself (dated 1578) records as ‘two letters to Queen Elizabeth by Robert Banister a Religious mad-man, who seems to have concedid great indignation against the Puritans his prosecutors’.[1] Banister’s letters were written in black ink, but otherwise seem to fit the modern definition of a letter written by a card-carrying member of the green-ink brigade, which one website defines as:

a particular kind of letter writer, who claims that he is the victim of some injustice, or who composes long and vehement complaints against a person or an organisation, or who believes that a numerical calculation based on the name of the Prime Minister shows he’s an agent of the devil, or who is sure that invisible rays are being beamed into his house by his next-door neighbour to cause him injury, or who puts forward a thesis which, if adopted, will lead inevitably to world peace.[2]

Banister’s letters contained a request for the queen to grant him permission to publish a treatise designed to clear his name from puritan accusations that he was a member of the secretive radical sect, the Family of Love. Banister may in fact have been a familist – his letters are ambiguous. He refers scathingly to ‘the phamily of lewde love’, and claims that never to have been ‘acoynted with any of that sect’, but he also described the puritans as a ‘vile, & most faulse family’, and spoke repeatedly of ‘gods love’. What is clear though is that, familist or no, Banister was a rare Elizabethan antinomian – that is, somebody who rejected the authority of the moral law, or Ten Commandments. His attack on his puritan persecutors was based on the fact that they were pharasaical legalists, ‘English Jues … that spie moses motes in every eye’. Attempts to trace Banister in all the usual locations – parish registers, ODNB, ESTC, CCED, lists of university alumni, etc. – have so far proved fruitless. (If any reader has come across him in another context, I’d be very happy to hear about it!). Still, in a way Banister’s anonymity opens up as many possibilities as it closes down. It seems to suggest that, other than his extraordinary views, expressed in these startling letters, he was an ‘ordinary’ person. Continue reading