The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction [#576]
The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction [#576]

The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction [#576]

Brian Cummings


  • Offers a comprehensive introduction to the fascinating history of the Book of Common Prayer, from medieval to modern times
  • Explores the significance of the book on the daily lives of millions of practising Christians, today and throughout history
  • Discusses how the book has been used in relation to politics, highlighting its ongoing importance and controversies
  • Considers the book in the context of imperial and post-colonial settings

The Book of Common Prayer is one of the most influential books in history. First published in the reign of Edward VI, in 1549, it was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome. For nearly five centuries, it has formed the order of worship for established Christianity in England. More listeners have heard these prayers, it is said, than the soliloquies of Shakespeare. As British imperial ambitions spread, the Book of Common Prayer became the primary instrument (at least as much as the King James Bible) of English culture, firstly in Ireland in 1551. When the Puritans fled to America in 1620 it was to escape the discipline imposed by of the Book of Common Prayer, yet the book came to embody official religion in America before and after Independence, and is still in use. 

Today it is a global book: it was the first book printed in many languages, from north America to southern Africa, to the Indian sub-continent. 

In this Very Short Introduction Brian Cummings tells the fascinating history of the Book of Common Prayer, and explains why it is easily misunderstood. Designed in the 1540s as a radical Protestant answer to Catholic "superstition", within a century (during the English Civil Wars) radical Christians regarded the Book of Common Prayer as itself "superstitious" and even (paradoxically) "Papist". Changing in meaning and context over time, the Book of Common Prayer has acted as a cultural symbol, affecting the everyday conduct of life as much as the spiritual, and dividing conformity from non-conformity, in social terms as well as religious, from birth to marriage to death.


1.: Ritual and the Reformation
2.: The making of The Book of Common Prayer
3.: Word, body and gesture
4.: Politics and religion
5.: Empire and prayer book
6: Modernity and the Book of Common Prayer
Further reading


Brian Cummings, Anniversary Professor at the University of York
Brian Cummings FBA is Anniversary Professor at the University of York in the Department of English and Related Literature. He was previously Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Professor of English at the University of Sussex, and has also held Visiting Fellowships in California, in Munich, and Toronto. In addition to his academic work he was guest curator at Lambeth Palace for the exhibition Royal Devotion: Monarchy & the Book of Common Prayer in 2012, which was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prince of Wales. His books include The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (2007); and an edition of The Book of Common Prayer, which appeared in Oxford World's Classics in 2013. With Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge) he is leading the three-year research project "Remembering the Reformation", funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2016 to 2019.

"Cummings' work is a great gateway for anyone looking to start their adventure in the historical studies of The Book of Common Prayer." - Isaac Brown, Riverview, New Brunswick, Religious Studies Review

"Insightful" - Mary Laven, Times Literary Supplement

"[Brian Cummings's] text is challenging, informative, and even swashbuckling, by turns ... His book is a must for all, but, take it slowly and savour it: a huge amount is packed into these 120 pages." - Stephen Platten, Church Times

"The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction is an excellent summary of the origins of The Book of Common Prayer and its impact on history, from the Tudors to the present. Cummings's accessible prose makes for an enjoyable read that is not overburdened with technical or theological jargon." - Tanner J. Moore, Reading Religion

"One of the foremost British scholars of Renaissance and Reformation literature, Brian Cummings has given us a vivid and multi-dimensional portrait of how one of the most influential books in the English language was constructed, reconstructed, and disseminated across several centuries, helping us see just how it played the role it did in shaping a common imagination as well as a common spirituality." - Rowan Williams, Master, Magdalene College, Cambridge


ISBN : 9780198803928

Brian Cummings
144 ページ
111 x 174 mm
Very Short Introductions





The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction [#576]

The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction [#576]

The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction [#576]