The Journal of Ecclesiastical History

Research Article

The Reformation of Hell? Protestant and Catholic Infernalisms in England, c. 1560–1640


a1 Department of History, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL; e-mail:


Despite a recent expansion of interest in the social history of death, there has been little scholarly examination of the impact of the Protestant Reformation on perceptions of and discourses about hell. Scholars who have addressed the issue tend to conclude that Protestant and Catholic hells differed little from each other in the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. This article undertakes a comparative analysis of printed English-language sources, and finds significant disparities on questions such as the location of hell and the nature of hell-fire. It argues that such divergences were polemically driven, but none the less contributed to the so-called ‘decline of hell’.