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The Reformation: Its History and Legacy (December 2017): The Scottish Reformation

By Matthew Hill

The Scottish Reformation

The Scottish Reformation is sometimes seen as the midwife of the English Reformation, but it was more diverse than that, and took on a life of its own. In fact, Scottish history is often defined against its southern English neighbor, rather than as a mirror image. Given its importance, it has garnered a lot of scholarly attention. An encyclopedic work, The Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, edited by Nigel Cameron et al., covers every imaginable topic related to Scotland. In a similar vein is editor David McRoberts’s Essays on the Scottish Reformation, which covers much of the same terrain but offers differing and helpful perspectives.

A longtime classic is Ian Cowan’s The Scottish Reformation: Church and Society in Sixteenth Century Scotland. Cowan argues that the Reformation in Scotland had shallow roots at best, but he lays out the emerging shift in theological circles. Cowan’s book should be read in conjunction with Gordon Donaldson’s The Scottish Reformation, which agrees that the monks had little influence in the emerging reforms. Expanding on Donaldson’s legacy and scholarship, editors Cowan and Duncan Shaw provide another helpful collection of essays and updated research in The Renaissance and Reformation in Scotland: Essays in Honour of Gordon Donaldson. A particularly thorough and detailed work is Patterns of Reform: Continuity and Change in the Reformation, by James Kirk. Kirk not only provides a holistic view of Scotland, he also engages other complementary and competing works.

In recent years, historical research has shifted to explore the role of contingency in historical events. Rather than seeing events as inevitable or fixed, events are understood to be the product of the interplay between choice, timing, and decision-making. Alec Ryrie’s The Origins of the Scottish Reformation provides a solid overview of the unfolding of the Scottish Reformation in 1559–1560. His more expansive The Age of Reformation: The Tudor and Stewart Realms, 1485–1603 argues that none of the major incidents in the English Reformation were inevitable, but rather were contingent on a number of unforeseen and unpredictable turning points.