The changes in religious views were far-reaching. Henry VIII. superseded the Pope as head of the English church, dissolved the monasteries, and placed an English translation of the Bible in the churches. Henry’s son and successor Edward VI., established the Protestant form of worship, but his half-sister Mary used persecution in an endeavor to bring back the old faith.
The influences of the Renaissance, moving westward from Italy, were tending toward their culmination in the next period. The study of Greek literature, the discovery of the new world, the decline of feudalism, the overthrow of the armed knight, the extension of the use of gunpowder, the invention of printing, the increased love of learning, the demand for scientific investigation, the decline of monastic influence, shown in the new interest in this finite world and life,—all figured as causes or effects of the new influence.
The most important prose works are Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, a masterly retelling of the Arthurian legends; Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, a magnificent Renaissance dream of a new social world; and Tyndale’s translation of the Bible. The best poetry was written in Scotland, and this verse anticipates in some measure that love of nature which is a dominant characteristic of the last part of the eighteenth century. The age is noted for its ballads, which aided in developing among high and low a liking for poetry. At the close of the period, we find Italian influences at work, as may be seen in the verse of Wyatt and Surrey.
An account of the history of this period may be found in either Gardiner, Green, Lingard, Walker, or Cheney. Vols. IV. and V. of The Political History of England, edited by Hunt (Longmans), gives the history in greater detail. For the social side, consult Traill’s Social England, Vols. II. and III., also Cheney’s Industrial and Social History of England, Field’s Introduction to the Study of the Renaissance, Einstein’s The Italian Renaissance in England, Symonds’s A Short History of the Renaissance.
The Cambridge History of English Literature, Vol. II.
Snell’s The Age of Transition, 1400-1580.
Morley’s English Literature, Vols. VI. and VII.
Minto’s Characteristics of English Poets, pp. 69-130.
Saintsbury’s Short History of English Literature, pp. 157-218.
Dictionary of National Biography, articles on Malory, Caxton, Henryson, Gawain Douglas, Dunbar, Tyndale, Wyatt, and Surrey.
Veitch’s The Feeling for Nature in Scottish Poetry.
Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.