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500 years on, our autumn exhibition will explore the story of three men who changed the course of history in the early 16th century as religious extremism and violence spread across Europe.

Luther memorialised in stone in the John Rylands Library Reading Room

On 31 October 1517 a German monk named Martin Luther posted ninety five short statements in Wittenberg about what he considered the scandal of indulgences sold by the Catholic Church. This was the catalyst for upheaval within the established powers in Europe, particularly the Church, which held both spiritual and political power.

In England, inspired by Luther’s work and the religious turbulence spreading through Europe, William Tyndale started translating the Bible into English, the first time this had been attempted in print. Advances in printing technology meant that ideas could be published and shared far more easily than ever before, and the spread of God’s word in English offered a threat to the established Church and State.

Title page of Henry’s argument against Luther

Henry VIII, crowned in 1509, was a staunch Catholic who resisted the spread of radical ideas. In 1521, Henry published an argument against Luther’s reforming ideas and was granted the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ by Pope Leo IX, a title which British monarchs hold to this day. But less than 15 years later, Henry had gone rogue, declaring himself Supreme Head of the Church in England.

The Reformation will explore the early years of the upheaval and the roles of these three men, considering the war in print which had a lasting effect on the history of Europe through propaganda, words and ideas.

The Reformation exhibition will run from 7 September 2017 to 4 March 2018 in the John Rylands Library, Deansgate. It is free and open to all.