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Mirroring the Reformation: ‘Dashed’ Religious Books

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hese books document the development of a new literature of worship for England – but not only in their printed texts. Deletions and annotations render these books unique objects that tell of individual perspectives on the Reformation.

After the creation of the Church of England, Henry VIII and his advisors were keen to maintain some continuity between old styles of worship and new. They concluded that it would be possible to retain expensive and essential books such as these missals (books of liturgy for Mass) and breviaries (liturgy for daily prayers), as long as certain references were obscured with ink or ‘dashed’. In accordance with the King’s command, the owners of these books, some of whom we know to have been Cambridge graduates – and one of them possibly the University Printer – redacted all references to papal authority and to the martyr Thomas Becket, the troublesome archbishop who had defied Henry II over the matter of the Government’s authority over the Church.

Their books are all the more precious because during the Catholic reign of Mary Tudor (1553–8) many dashed works were destroyed. In these surviving books, annotations and adaptations mark turning points in Reformation history. One writer has added a note on Mary Tudor’s death; others have written or pasted in familiar liturgy from banned religious practices, including prayers for Becket. Some of these additions may be signs of secret dissent, but it also seems likely that several indicate a desire to record the events of the Reformation in their lifetime. The adaptations to these books tell of changing times, and a continuing awareness of their lasting significance.

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