British Renaissance and Reformation

Learn about the British Renaissance and Reformation, a period of England’s history marked by cultural renewal and religious turmoil as the country emerged from the medieval period. Scholars debate when the Renaissance in England began, with some pinpointing the establishment of the Tudor dynasty in 1485, while others suggest it didn’t begin until the mid-1500s. The end of the period is also subject to debate, although many scholars pinpoint the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603—which ushered in the Stuart kings and the religious wars that occurred during their reigns—as an event that kick-started the transition out of the Renaissance in England.

Known as the Early Modern period, it was a time when the island nation embraced the cultural renewal that had begun nearly two centuries earlier in Italy, which in England manifested most prominently in its tremendous output of literature and drama. Playwright William Shakespeare, who was active between 1589 and 1613, is Renaissance England’s most famous author, but there were many important English authors working at this time, including fellow playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson and poets John Donne, John Milton, and Edmund Spenser. England also produced important thinkers during the English Renaissance, such as Francis Bacon, whose ideas would be critical to the development of the scientific method, and Thomas More, whose book Utopia would be influential in the development of communism.

Advancements during this period weren’t limited to just ideas and literary works. New navigation technologies permitted England to join Spain and Portugal in exploring the world in the latter half of the sixteenth century, the most famous of English explorers being Francis Drake. This exploration led to the start of what would become the mighty British Empire, with the establishment of England’s first colony in the New World: the island of Newfoundland in 1583. As England’s maritime power grew, so did its trade power. The East India Company, which was chartered in 1600, would become the most powerful trading company in the world. English merchant activities across the globe included trafficking in African slaves, beginning in 1562.

This era was also marked by the Reformation, a religious revolution that challenged the Catholic Church’s authority in Europe, resulting in the establishment of Protestantism. The Reformation in England climaxed when King Henry VIII reacted to the Pope’s refusal to grant him an annulment of his marriage by establishing the Anglican Church with himself as the head in 1534. The Protestant faith would be further cemented during the brief reign of Henry’s successor, Edward VI (1547–1553), but came under attack by the Catholic Queen Mary I (1553–1558), who was able to reestablish Catholicism as England’s dominant faith. Following Mary’s death in 1558, her half-sister, Elizabeth, succeeded to the throne and gradually restored Protestantism as the dominant religion of her domain.

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British Renaissance and Reformation Resources

Gale provides scholarly resources, including databases, primary source archives, and eBooks, to advance researchers’ studies.


Gale databases offer researchers access to British history databases, including sources covering many history topics from newspapers, articles, documents, and more, aligned with lesson plans for teaching and guides for additional research.

Primary Source Archives

Gale Primary Sources contains full-text archives and digitized literature that provide researchers and scholars with firsthand articles from the Renaissance and Reformation in English literature, journals, periodicals, and primary sources to drive research at your university.

Gale eBooks

Gale offers a variety of eBooks covering a wide range of British history topics, including the English Renaissance, Shakespeare, and more. Users can add Gale eBooks to a customized collection and cross-search to pinpoint relevant content. Workflow tools help users easily share, save, and download articles.

  • The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, 1st Edition

    The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature, 1st Edition

    Wiley-Blackwell  |  2012  |  ISBN-13: 9781118297353

    The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature presents sweeping coverage and in-depth critical analysis of myriad aspects of the English literary landscape from the early 16th to the mid-17th centuries. Featuring more than 400 clear and accessible entries on a wide range of writers and literary forms, this comprehensive, three-volume collection covers canonical authors and their works—from John Skelton to John Milton—as well as a variety of previously underconsidered areas, including female writers, writings in manuscripts, broadside ballads, commonplace books, and other popular written forms. Entries are by leading international scholars, and biographical material on authors is presented in the context of cutting-edge critical discussion of literary works, with suggested readings for further study. With its unprecedented breadth of coverage, The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature is an indispensable resource for students and academics.

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  • Shakespearean Criticism: Excerpts from the Criticism of William Shakespeare's Plays & Poetry, from the First Published Appraisals to Current Evaluations

    Shakespearean Criticism: Excerpts from the Criticism of William Shakespeare's Plays & Poetry, from the First Published Appraisals to Current Evaluations

    Shakespearean Criticism Series  |  2021  |  ISBN-13: 9781410397454

    This volume provides students, educators, theatergoers, and other interested readers with valuable insights into Shakespeare’s drama and poetry. Clear, accessible introductory essays followed by carefully selected critical responses allow end users to engage with a variety of scholarly views and critical conversations about Shakespeare’s works as literature and in performance. Each entry includes a set of previously published reviews, essays, and other critical responses from sources that include scholarly books and journals, literary magazines, interviews, letters, and diaries, carefully selected to create a representative history and cross-section of critical responses. Indexes to characters and major themes help students develop paper topics and locate suitable research materials. Students and teachers at all levels of study will benefit from this series, whether they seek information for class discussion and writing assignments, new perspectives on the works, or the most noteworthy analyses of Shakespeare’s legacy.

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  • Voices Of Shakespeare's England: Contemporary Accounts Of Elizabethan Daily Life, 1st Edition

    Voices of Shakespeare's England: Contemporary Accounts of Elizabethan Daily Life, 1st Edition

    Greenwood Publishing Group  |  2010  |  ISBN-13: 9780313357411

    Men and women, kings and commoners, heroes, villains, and fools. William Shakespeare was a master of authentic voices across a wide range of historical eras. But what about the voices of the people of his own time? What do Shakespeare’s fellow citizens of Elizabethan England have to tell us about life in that extraordinary era?

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