Winner of Wolfson History Prize 2018 announced

6 June 2018

Peter Marshall, Professor of History at the University of Warwick, has won this year’s Wolfson History Prize with his book Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation (Yale University Press).

An expert on religious belief and practice in early modern Britain and Europe, Marshall was born and raised in the Orkney Islands. He joined the University of Warwick in 1994 having previously worked as a history teacher in Yorkshire.

In a book which took seven years to complete, and stands on more than two decades of research, Marshall’s hope was to give full voice to the fears and hopes of ordinary women and men:

‘A paradox near the heart of my account is that while English people often experienced religious change as coercive and traumatic, the Reformation simultaneously educated and empowered them, and recast the relationship between rulers and ruled.’

Winning this year’s Wolfson History Prize builds on a career in which reaching beyond the academic world has always played a central role:

‘The dialogue between professional scholarship and reading public that the Prize seeks to promote is one to which I have always been cheerfully and wholeheartedly committed.’ 

This year’s winner was selected from over 150 books by a panel of four eminent historians. Expert in Islamic history, Professor Carole Hillenbrand, of the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews, joined the judging panel this year alongside Professor Sir David Cannadine (chair), Professor Sir Richard Evans and Revd Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch.

Professor Sir Richard Evans, who presented the Prize on behalf of the judges said:

‘Appearing on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launching of the European Reformation in Wittenberg, this is a sweeping retelling of what we thought was a familiar story. How wrong we were. Covering every level of the lived experience of the Reformation, from the policymakers to the ordinary parishioners in the Tudor countryside, Peter Marshall shows how Henry VIII’s actions opened a Pandora’s box from which violent confrontation and religious diversity emerged to shape the destiny of modern England.’

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation which awards the Prize said:

‘The Wolfson History Prize celebrates outstanding, accessible history writing. We offer our warm congratulations to Peter Marshall who joins a remarkable rollcall of winners dating back to 1972. His wonderful book about the English Reformation is beautifully written, extensively researched and ambitious in its range. It helps us to look at this turbulent, pivotal period in fresh ways.’ 

The Wolfson History Prize, which is awarded annually, recognises and celebrates books which combine excellence in historical research with readability for a general audience.

The winner was announced at a reception at Claridge’s Hotel in central London this evening. Marshall received £40,000, with all other shortlisted authors receiving £4,000 each. 

Watch the 2018 winner announcement