The absence of 1517

Here is a beautiful visual joke which works only from the modern perspective that understands 1517 as one of the most important years in Western history: nothing, according to this chronicle, occurred in that year that was at all of note, and yet a suggestive blank space has been left. The entry for 1515 at the top of the same page notes the succession of François Ier in France, and records the roughly simultaneous promotions of Thomas Wolsey to the positions of Archbishop of York, Lord Chancellor of the realm, and Cardinal in that year, throwing the absence of comment on contemporary activity in Wittenberg into sharper relief. Across the opening, Luther’s condemnation by the Pope is noted with apparent approval, and the chronicler continues to observe Wolsey’s achievements alongside increasing disturbance in Germany through the final entries, the last of which, for 1525, describes the Peasants’ War with horror as a period of unmitigated destruction. The chronicle thus encodes an active resistance to turning what we now see as an inevitable Reformation into a narrative. Five hundred years later, we might be tempted to fill its blank space—or we might prefer not to, choosing instead to follow the prompt of this chronicler to place our emphasis elsewhere, and narrate history according to timelines configured differently. BW

‘A chronicle of the world from the Creation to 1525’, early sixteenth century.

LPL: MS 66, fo. 312v-313r

Further reading:

Peter Marshall, 1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation (Oxford, 2017).

C. Scott Dixon, ‘Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the Origins of the Reformation Narrative’, English Historical Review (2017),

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