My research centres on what is now a neglected prose genre; namely, the sermon. The Protestant sermon in early modern England was a text upon a selected passage from the Bible, most frequently delivered by an authorised minister who argued for its wider spiritual application to a congregation. Printed sermons constituted an integral part of the book trade; it is estimated that 3,000 were published in the years 1558–1640. Yet, although the sermon’s performative qualities and its central role within the religious and political culture of the English Reformation have been scrutinised extensively, its afterlife in print has not constituted a serious focus of enquiry.
My thesis represents the first full-length study of this bestselling genre of Christian literature in early modern England, with a particular focus on its design, reception, and function as an instrument of Protestant devotion and polemic. Most notably, I examine the untapped source of printed images within these texts, thereby reappraising the sermon as an important illustrated text of the early modern era. In doing so, the thesis refutes several persistent paradigms which have maintained that Protestants prohibited the use of images in worship. It supports revisionist scholarship which has argued for the prominence of a different, but no less rich, kind of visual culture in England. In addition to its function as a devotional text, I contend that the illustrated early modern sermon was a forerunner of the mass printed media of today, acting as a visual and verbal means to influence political opinion.