Skip to main content
Mark Stoyle, Murderous Midsummer

Mark Stoyle, A Murderous Midsummer

In A Murderous Midsummer Mark Stoyle offers a compelling new narrativeA story; in the writing of history it usually describes an approach that favours story over analysis. of the Western Rising, a revolt, he argues, that threatened the very heart of the Tudor regime and almost halted the English Reformation in its tracks. According to Stoyle, this tumultuous summer of 1549 was ‘the most catastrophic episode to have occurred in the region between the Black DeathA deadly disease, also known as plague, that first raised its head in its current form in the 1340s and continued ravaging communities in Europe for the next three and a half centuries. of 1348-49 and the English Civil War of 1642-46.’More infoP.2 Throughout the volume, Stoyle proves his case through a combination of dramatic story-telling, vivid characterisation, and exceptionally well-researched evidence.

While Stoyle states that much has previously been written on the subject, the Western Rising – otherwise known as the Prayer Book Rebellion – is an event of which many may only be peripherally aware, and even fewer understand. Perhaps because of the West Country's geographical and cultural remoteness from English centres of power – then and now – the rising has never attracted the same attention as the likes of the Pilgrimage of GraceA popular rising in the north of England in October 1536 over religious, political, social and economic grievances., or even of the contemporaneous East Anglian social protests of Robert Kett and his followers. Yet Stoyle convincingly makes the point that it is at least as deserving of attention as either of the above; that it is not a niche subject that should be confined to the dustiest of library shelves and quietly forgotten; but rather that it shows how the English Reformation was built upon the shakiest of foundations, and could, so easily, have toppled – along with the regime that supported it. Through his careful research and brilliant retelling, the Western Rising is no longer the ‘curiously perplexing rebellion’ of Anthony Fletcher and Diarmaid MacCulloch’s phrase, but a genuinely popular religious and social movement that was as much a product of its age as it was a catalyst for subsequent events.More infoFletcher and MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions, 4th edn (Harrow: Longman, 1997), p. 63, cited in Stoyle, p. 4. A Murderous Midsummer has, at last, placed the rising in the context – and the limelight – it absolutely deserves.

This transformative feat has been achieved through the author's thorough re-examination of all of the sources. In true revisionistA person, school, or concept that rejects traditionally held beliefs; someone or something that revises old ideas. fashion, Stoyle has left no stone unturned, but has followed the clues down every rabbit hole and through every looking glass, trusting nothing that has gone before. The astounding array of sources used – many of which have been ignored by centuries of historians – is a testament to Stoyle’s dedication, as well as to his experience and knowledge. His approach has yielded startling results that must, surely, change our opinion of the very essence of mid-sixteenth-century history as well as of the rising itself. Accepted dates are overturned, causes and consequences questioned, traditional authorities challenged. This is academic history at its finest.

However, what must help to ensure that this history of the rising goes beyond the confines of academia is that it is superbly written. It is pacy yet explanative, without being patronizing. It builds tension, it creates sympathy, it is as human as the characters in its pages. Part-social history, part-political thriller, it is also a detective story of the highest calibre. There is compassion for the people and the land itself, and a sensitive understanding of the particular temperament and issues of the area, aided, no doubt, by the fact that Stoyle is a West Country lad himself. His passion for the region is obvious and contagious. Where most accounts of the rising come from the eventual winners – London and the new religion that triumphed over the rebels – this is the story told, as much as possible, from the other side. It is all the more nuanced – and infinitely better – for it. If only more academics could bring this quality of research to this quality of accessible, thoughtful yet gripping narrative, the world would be a much better-informed place.

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected and Inside History, and my article for Parliaments, Estates and Representation won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019).

Buy this book
Mark Stoyle, A Murderous Midsummer
Mark Stoyle, A Murderous Midsummer
out of 10

Factual Accuracy









  • +Strong and compelling new narrative of the Western Rising
  • +Superbly written
  • +Convincing revision of the rising
  • +Persuasively argued
  • +Extremely well-researched, making thorough use of sources
  • +Understands the character of the area


    Buy this book