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The Devil in English culture c.1549-c.1660.

Johnstone, Nathan (2000) The Devil in English culture c.1549-c.1660. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, Canterbury Christ church University. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94446) (KAR id:94446)

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This study addresses a neglected area of early modern culture. It examines in context the characteristically Protestant understanding of the Devil which emerged out of the English Reformation. The reformers felt Satan powerfully as a proactive force both within the individual conscience, and as a subversive element within the commonwealth. As a result they emphasised his power of internal temptation as the central dynamic of his agency. This re-emphasis aimed to bring satanic power into the commonplace of people's lives, and removed the possibility of an outright victory over the Devil (promised by traditional intercessionary religious practices). But the reformers also aimed to provide an effective method by which Satan might be resisted, based on introspection, and an understanding of the place of temptation within the Protestant soteriological scheme. This re-emphasis was highly influential within early modern English culture. It focused the attention of the zealous godly on the intimate experience of diabolic power within their lives, whilst, more widely, it also provided a means by which Satan's presence might be felt vicariously through an identification with the experience of temptation. Moreover a concept of the temptation of the body politic emerged as a powerful political analogy which undermined the common notion of consensual politics, and would eventually be used as part of the justification for taking up arms against Charles I in 1642.

Thus, whilst studies of witchcraft and theodicy have emphasised that the early modern concept of the Devil was essentially a left-over from the medieval world, unable to face the challenge of the Enlightenment, this contextualised study has identified a sophisticated demonism in early modern England, in which Satan was powerfully experienced as a proactive force rather than a functionalist symbol of evil.

The study is organised thematically within a broad chronology. The first part deals with the emergence of a characteristically Protestant conception of the Devil from the midst of the English reformation to the theological and devotional literature of the first half of the seventeenth-century. Chapter 1 examines the Devil's place within the historiography of early modern Europe. Chapter 2 examines the recourse to the concept of diabolic subversion adopted by Protestant polemicists, who sought to demonstrate the hidden contrariety of the Catholic church, and who necessarily highlighted the unseen agency of the Devil as his most threatening power. Chapter 3 deals with the Reformation's changes of devotional emphasis, in which Satan's hidden threat was more precisely conceived as internal temptation by a literal invasion of the mind. Part 2 traces the influence of this shift of emphasis on demonological experience in the period. Chapter 4 looks at the self-conscious godly who left the most detailed accounts of suffering at Satan's hands, and who can be shown to have internalised the emphasis on temptation, but also to have shaped it into a personally meaningful experience. Chapter 5 examines the wider influence of temptation in literate culture. Examining the genre of pulp press murder and witchcraft narratives it argues that they relied for their meaning on the transmission of a vicarious experience to the audience, who

were to comprehend the danger of temptation by an empathic identification with the mind of the criminal. Part 3 provides a chronological history of the role of demonism in political discourse after the accession of Elizabeth I and challenges the prevalent historical view that demonology was a rhetoric of consensus. Chapter 6 examines the perception of active diabolic subversion of the body politic to the crisis of the 1640s. It argues that an understanding of the dynamic of temptation allowed for an analogous political conception that identified elements as de facto diabolic potentials within society. But these were heavily contested, and Catholics, Puritans, conformists and bishops might equally be characterised as devilish. Chapter 7 examines how demonism's potential for political expression was fully exploited during the Civil War, in which each side employed demonic images of the other which did not simply demonize, but in themselves encouraged an engagement with the politics of the conflict.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94446
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Satan; English reformation; Protestant
Subjects: A General Works > AZ History of Scholarship. The Humanities
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CB History of civilization
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
L Education > LA History of education
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2022 13:40 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2022 13:40 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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