In historical and literary treatments of the English reformation of the last thirty years, we find one narrative of particular force.1 This narrative emphasises the Calvinist, predestinarian character of reformation theology and its inevitable result in despair. One critic explains its ‘tragic contradictions’ thus: ‘Protestant theology … at once told Christians to aspire to direct communication with God, and told them to despair of knowing anything about Him; told them to focus obsessively on their prospects for eternal salvation, and to recognize that those prospects were beyond their power to control or even to comprehend; to seek desperately, and yet to mistrust utterly, an inner conviction of divine favor’.2 Consequently, as John Stachniewski argues in a key text of this narrative, ‘Calvinism and puritanism were conducive to despair’, and despair was ‘both a widely recognized and widespread phenomenon in England at least from the late 16th century’.3