TV review: The Reformation was 'fuelled by religious fundamentalism' and led to a 'Tudor Brexit'

David Starkey presented Reformation: Europe's Holy War. BBC photograph

Reformation: Europe's Holy War, BBC 2, Tuesday at 9pm

You knew straight away it was going to be a good one when the continuity announcer introduced it as David Starkey's “very personal opinion” of the Reformation. And I'd swear she emphasised “very.”

When the BBC get nervous about something, it's generally a good sign.

But after watching it, I'm still not sure exactly what prompted the warning.

Starkey's not afraid to be rude, although this was a scripted polemic so not on this occasion.

It could have been his view that the Reformation is comparable with the current Islamic fundamentalism of the Middle East.

Or his belief that Luther was a “German nationalist … (one of whom's pamphlets was) seething at Jews and Italians.”

Or perhaps it was the suggesting that Henry VIII's declaration of independence from the Catholic Church in Rome was “a Tudor Brexit.”

Whichever way I'm sure somebody will be offended, but that is the nature of the times and Twitter.

Starkey, as always, was very watchable. Marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's challenge to the hegemony of the Roman Church, he galloped through the significant events.

The corruption of the Church and in particular the mass sale of indulgences (the rich man's way to heaven) to fund the reconstruction of St Peter's Cathedral in 1517 sparked Luther's protest.

We may never have heard of the German monk but for the invention of the printing press a few years previously and its use to spread his words widely and quickly. It led to 200 years of religious war in Europe.

Initially the British monarchy was supportive of the Pope, but this changed when Rome refused Henry VIII a divorce and the king was swayed to the Lutheran view that royals could interpret God's word.

The Reformation, Starkey concluded, was “fuelled by religious fundamentalism and political opportunism” and that the break with Rome “drove a wedge between Britain and Europe which defines our politics to his day.”

He might have mentioned that closer to home the outworking of the Reformation is fundamental to Northern Ireland's political, cultural and educational divide.


Dermot Bannon and the Big Build, RTE 1, Monday at 9.30pm

Other places have celebrity chefs, but it perhaps says something for Ireland that it has a celebrity architect.

Dermot Bannon has spent a television decade sorting out domestic architectural problems in Room To Improve and now he's turned his gaze to the industrial.

It was an excellent beginning to a new series.

He guided us through the 80 million euro construction of a new headquarters for the Royal College of Surgeons in Georgian Dublin.

The central difficultly was that Dublin's planning regulations forbid anything above six floors in the area around St Stephen's Green, so the architect came up with plan for a ten-storey building with four-stories underground, making it the "deepest building in Ireland".

Architect Peter McGovern produced plans for a magnificent building, but the star of the show was construction director Carole Smillie.

Carole was responsible for the entire build, the 80 million euro budget and 600 construction workers over two-and-a-half years.

She said the complexity of the build and the quality of the finishes made it one of the most stressful projects she had ever been involved in.

She cajoled the building teams, negotiated with the ever changing plans of the architect and delivered a sumptuous building on time.

She came across as practical, unflappable and fair. I've no doubt that should something befall the surgeons in her building, she'd be perfectly capable of carrying out emergency surgery herself.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: