Sincere Lies and Creative Truth: Recantation Strategies during the English Reformation

Sincere Lies and Creative Truth: Recantation Strategies during the English Reformation

Ranson, Angela (University of York)

Journal of History and Cultures, (1) 2012: 1-18    


When necessary, some sixteenth-century reformers would lie in order to uphold the truth. Specifically, they would recant their religious beliefs when faced with hostility from the crown or the church. It is easy to assume that those who recanted simply failed in their faith, but in certain circumstances it was actually considered morally acceptable to recant, and indeed admirable. This paper will argue that some reformers’ recantations did not reflect real rejection of their beliefs, but a form of resistance to doctrines with which they did not agree. Through their submission to authority, they could successfully subvert authority.

Such an approach to recantation fills a gap in sixteenth-century reformation historiography. Many historians focus on the martyrs, the recusants and the exiles of the sixteenth century. Although all three of these groups, in both major confessions, contain people who recanted, few historians consider recantation in their works. If recantation is mentioned, it is often accompanied by the implication that the recantation was a shameful act of cowardice, or a minor incident in the life of a martyr and a potential destroyer of his or her reputation.

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