Diarmaid MacCulloch should have a well merited following by now. His extremely readable books finally made Church History a fascinating subject. His mastery of theology, ecclesiology, iconography, architecture, ceremony, and other dimensions of Tudor England are unrivalled, and he weaves them into a comprehensive whole. The depth and quality of his research are exemplary, and his prose is very good literature.
In this book he shows how most events which make the pace of Edward VI's reign seem frantic, were prepared but had to be postponed during Henry VIII's last years. Even during his first year, Edward's establishment under the Duke of Somerset's protectorate was reluctantly forced to appease the Emperor Charles V, the majority of lay politicians, and conservative bishops as powerful as Stephen Gardiner of Winchester. After Somerset's disgrace, John Dudley, first Earl of Warwick and later Duke of Northumberland maintained a more consensual relationship with the Lords. He made peace with France and Scotland, and inaugurated a phase of political reconstruction at home, thus permitting the evangelical revolution to recover its pace.
Dr. MacCulloch lets us see that in England as in the Continent, the cost of being too specific on the Lord's Supper was soon perceived, since the matter was admittedly of more importance to traditionalists and evangelicals alike than justification by faith, and also produced more martyrs. This determines a very gradual, even stealthy accumulation of arguments and liturgical reforms up to 1550, although at least Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer had much earlier become convinced that the Lutheran doctrine of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist was as blasphemous as the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation. Nevertheless, MacCulloch argues convincingly that Cranmer's convictions on the Lord's Supper are more in agreement with Heinrich Bullinger's than with either Zwingli's or Calvin's theology. Whether, as John Knox believed, had he reigned longer Edward would have evolved into a doctrinaire Calvinist, is now a moot point.
One of this book's main attractions is that it conveys a sense of indebtedness to a very young and serious boy, a great promise that flickered and died. Edward is portrayed as a real believer, not just an immature tool of vested interests. Since he appears to have been gifted with a more thoughtful and less egotistical character than his father, it's very possible that he would have grown up to be a great leader of the Reformation, and Cranmer could have finally convened the General Council of Reformed Churches of which he dreamt.
Regardless of how much anglo-catholicism and theological liberalism alike have done to demolish the Edwardian heritage, it's possible that in a critical juncture such as the one Anglicans worldwide find themselves in today, MacCulloch's closing lines might awaken their concern:
"Perhaps the Anglican Communion, most enigmatic member of the Christian family of Churches, might show more gratitude for Edwardian mischief -or at the very least, some remembrance and understanding".
The book carries ninety-two well-chosen illustrations, with very helpful captions. The bibliography includes primary sources in manuscript and in print, secondary sources, and unpublished dissertations. Though softbound, the book is very sturdy, and should survive casual handling. It's quality work from the University of California Press.
For me, as a student in English history of Edwardian epoque, to purchase a book on my subject is a real success. After a marvellous book of Margaret Aston, 'The King's Bedpost' this is the most significant of all the books on this period and subject. Besides it proposes quiet a different point of view of this problem. As A. Pollard said, for the first time a 10 year old boy became the head of the Church, and this paradox, along with his own religious spirit and political intrigues of the time, makes the history of his reign a bit detective and very interesting for study. Nevertheless, the notes of Mrs. Aston became problems in Mr. MacCulloch's book. While Mrs. Aston made an accent on 'creative' and 'destructive' sides of Edwardian Reformation, along with the study of one picture, Mr. MacCulloch is interested in Edwardian's personality. In this case the division of the book is very symptomatic, because it shows not only evolution of the boy, but also the evolution of the King and his image - Josiah and Solomon. The question - if Edward had finally built his Temple - is probably out of place for a professional historian. But when we see such a jealous person in history of religion, besides of a young age, we're always inclined to believe that all that he had done, was not in vain. The growing interest to the figure of Edward VI Tudor in late historiography signifies both this belief and the attitude of the amateurs. As for the latter, this book will be extreamly interesting because of its wide factological material. Along with the facts, some of which are very curious, the reader will find a plenty of illustrations, including not only pictures and miniatures of that epoque, but also some extracts by Edward and some of his contemporains which are good examples of early modern handwriting, to judge by the external view of the document. I would recommend this book for as wide a circle of readers as possible because well arranged and well written historical study is always worth to be read either by professional historians to improve their skill and erudition, or by amateurs to spread their knowledge.