chapter  4
69 Pages

Politics: Bury St Edmunds, 1500–1610

The language of birth as a metaphor for the Reformation in England has become common currency. Patrick Collinson has written recently of the 'birthpangs' of Protestant England and Christopher Haigh in response described the Reformation in terms of a 'premature birth, a difficult labour and a sickly child'.1 While the metaphor of birth powerfully conveys the idea of the Reformation as a process full of potential if not actual problems, it fails to convey the degree to which Protestantism destroyed what went before it. This is not to argue all change and no continuity. There was plenty of continuity between 1520 and 1590. Nevertheless, the story of how the town of Bury St Edmunds changed from being a centre of conservatism in 1550 to become a puritan borough by 1600, is better served by the language of adoption rather than that of birth. For Protestantism, born privily in Bury, for years remained a bastard child, and it was only when that bastard was adopted as a son and heir that his pre-eminence was assured. Yet the metaphor of adoption is itself too complacent. Not only was the public establishment of fullblooded Protestantism a slow development in Bury St Edmunds, only arriving in the middle of the 1580s, it was also part of a much larger and contentious struggle for political control of the town.