Robert White [?], engraved title-page to Gilbert Burnet, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England The Second Part. London, 1681. © The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

A standard reference work for centuries following its publication, Gilbert Burnet’s History of the Reformation offers a celebratory account of the Reformation. This title-page, from the second volume, shows Queen Elizabeth I presiding over two scenes: at the bottom left, the young Edward VI kneels in prayer before an altar, watched by the leading Reformer Archbishop Cranmer; on the right, Cranmer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, and Bishop Hugh Latimer are burnt at the stake, with the ardently Catholic Queen Mary I watching from a balcony above. The stark juxtaposition, as we see Cranmer both at the height of his powers and at the point of death, highlights the rapidity and frequency of religious change in this period: between 1532 and 1558 England’s official state religion changed from Catholic, to Protestant, to Catholic, and back to Protestant again. With conversion, individuals were required to radically transform their beliefs and behaviours, or risk incurring the same kind of punishment as Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer. Alongside a revival of the classical philosophy of scepticism, this instability arguably resulted in a new emphasis on the difficulty, or even the impossibility, of obtaining certain knowledge.