In the Victorian era earlier historical epochs had become badges of religious party; for example, the seventeenth-century Civil War and the figures of King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell functioned in that emblematic way, as did the Reformation period and the perennially riveting personalities of the Tudor dynasty. On one side, James Anthony Froude, sometime Tractarian sympathizer, in the first of four volumes of his History of England from 1529 to the Death of Elizabeth (1856-70) defended the English Reformers against the Whig interpretations of Hallam and Macaulay and the disdain of some Tractarians, including his deceased older brother Hurrell, the close friend of Newman. Froude, largely innocent of dogmatic theology, saw the Reformation in political and philosophical terms as England's unshackling from a foreign potentate and from intellectual enslavement. Against Norman-and Stewart absolutism, Froude and later historians, at times quite tendentiously, raised the standard of Saxon democratic institutions down through English history. Later in the century, E. A. Freeman reiterated this view:
We have reformed by calling to life again the institutions of earlier and ruder times, by setting ourselves free from the slavish subtleties of Norman lawyers, by casting aside as an accursed thing the innovations of Tudor tyranny and Stewart usurpation.
Therefore, reform, whether of the sixteenth or nineteenth century, was viewed by many influential Victorians in politicized terms, not without definite repercussions for the state of religion in the land. On the other side of the question, the appeal to the Caroline divines and beyond them to antiquity became the particular badge of the Tractarians, who were intent on fostering a "new Reformation" in the State Church. Various historical projects, for example, the Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (St. Bartholomew's Day, 1838 to 1885), begun under the joint editorship of John Henry Newman, John Keble, and Edward Bouverie Pusey, provided an enduring contribution to theological scholarship. At times uncritical and unhistorical in their use of the past, the Tractarians sought to defend a particular historical view, contributing to the general appeal to history. Although Newman in 1844 admonished himself in the front of the preliminary notebooks for his Essay on Development, "Write it historically, not argumentively," the use of history by him and others was inherently and by necessity polemical.
Rhodes, Royal W. The Lion and the Cross: Early Christianity in Vicvtorian Novels. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1995
Last modified 14 December 2007