Bill Sheils
Professor Emeritus in History

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BA (York), PhD (London), FRHistS

Bill Sheils is a Professor Emeritus in History and Leverhulme Fellow 2014-2016. Bill began his career with the Victoria County History before coming to York as an archivist at the Borthwick Institute in 1973. He worked as an archivist on the post-medieval collections there until 1988 when he transferred to the Department of Economics and Related Studies, teaching nineteenth- and twentieth-century social and economic history, until 1999 when he joined the History Department. Since then he has picked up where he began, teaching early modern religious and social history with an emphasis on Britain.

Bill was elected to serve as President of the Ecclesiastical History Society for the session 2008-9, and chose for his conference theme 'God's Bounty: The Churches and the Natural World', proceedings of which were published in 2010 as volume 46 in the series Studies in Church History.

Bill has recently been the recipient of a festschrift volume from former students and colleagues, entitled Getting Along? Religious Identities and Confessional Relations in Early Modern England - Essays in Honour of Professor W. J. Sheils (St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History, Ashgate, 2012). The book was edited by Adam Morton and Nadine Lewycky.



Bill Sheils has a long standing interest in the social history of the English Reformation and of religion between 1500 and 1800. He has worked on both nonconformity and recusancy, particularly in the north of England where his interests in agrarian and landscape history also impinge on his work. Editorial work has always featured largely in his scholarly activity. He has been editor of Borthwick Papers 1974-2000, Studies in Church History 1981-1990, the Church of England Record Society 1990-1995, and as associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004, and he is currently a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History.

Religion and society in post Reformation Britain c.1500-1850, with special reference to nonconformist experience and to the impact of law on human relations.

Agrarian and landscape history since the 16th century, with particular reference to the impact on the environment of ownership and tenure and of population.

Urban spaces and their social and public uses, as part of the Atlas of Historic Towns project with York Archaeological Trust.

Current research interests include those mentioned above and work on the posthumous reputation of Sir Thomas More. Much of his own work and that of research students has involved extensive use of the archive resources at the Borthwick Institute for Archives and the holdings of York Minster Library. He would welcome research students with interests in any of the fields mentioned above.

He was recently awarded a Resource Enhancement Scheme grant of £349,898 by the AHRC to run from October 2006 until March 2009 for a project on The Records of Central Government Taxation in England and Wales: The Clerical Taxes, 1173-1664. His Co-applicant was Dr Rosemary Hayes, a visiting fellow in the department, and there were two research assistants, Dr Maureen Jurkowski and Ms Helen Watt, based at The National Archives. The database for the project can be accessed at An international conference took place in London during March 2009. This project will be completed by a current Leverhulme award of £101,690 to cover the dioceses of the Northern Province.


Selected publications


  • The English Reformation 1530-1570, Seminar Studies in History. Harlow: Longman, 1989.
  • Restoration Exhibit Books and the Northern Clergy 1662-1664. York: Borthwick Institue of Historical Research, 1987.
  • The Puritans in the Diocese of Peterborough 1558-1610. Northampton: Northampton Record Society, 1979.

Edited books

  • (with R C Hayes) Clergy, Church and Society in England and Wales, c1200-1800 (York, Borthwick Studies in History 41, 2013), pp. xiv, 199.
  • (with Sheridan Gilley) A History of Religion in Britain: Practice and Belief from Roman Times to the Present. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1994.

Edited journals

  •  (with Bill Sherman) "Prison Writings in Early Modern England." Special issue, Huntingdon Library Quarterly 72, no. 2 (2009).

Articles and book chapters since 2006

  • 'From Reformation to Restoration, 1539-1660' in David Brown ed, Durham Cathedral: History, Fabric and Culture (Yale UP, 2015) pp. 79-95.
  • 'York 1696-1840' and 'Afterword: York since 1840' in Peter Addyman ed, British Historic Towns Atlas, volume 5, York (Historic Towns Trust and York Archaeological Trust, Oxbow Books, 2015) pp. 61-72.
  • with Stefania Merlo Perring, 'York 1536-1696' in ibid. pp. 49-60.
  • A Quiet Reformation: The Church in Ryedale from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century (The Kirkdale Lecture, The Friends of St Gregory's Minster, 2014), pp. 37.
  • 'Introduction' pp. vii-xv, and 'Tithe Disputes and the Parochial Ideal in Post Restoration England', pp. 146-63 in R C Hayes and W J Sheils eds, Clergy, Church and Society in England and Wales, c1200-1800 (York 2013).
  • 'La nobless laique et la defense de l'Eglise d'Angleterrs sous le regne d'Elisabeth 1e', in A. Boltanski and F. Mercier, eds., La Salut par les armes: Noblesse et Defense de l'orthodoxie (xiiie-xviie siecles), 123-34. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2011.
  • "Nature and Modernity: J. C. Atkinson and Rural Ministry in England, c.1850-1900." In God's Bounty? The Churches and the Natural World, Studies in Church History 47, ed. Peter Clarke and Tony Claydon. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2010.
  • "The Catholic Community." In The Elizabethan World, ed. Susan Doran and Norman Jones. London: Routledge, 2010.
  • "'Getting On' and 'Getting Along' in Parish and Town: English Catholics and their Neighbours." In Catholic Communities in Protestant States: Britain and the Netherlands 1580-1720 , ed. Benjamin J. Kaplan, et al.. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
  • "Modernity, Taxation and the Clergy: The Disappearance of Clerical Taxation in Early Modern England." In Fiscal Systems in the European Economy from the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries, ed. Simonetta Cavaciocchi. Firenze: Firenze University Press, 2008.
  • "Polemic as Piety: Thomas Stapleton's Tres Thomae and Catholic Controversy in the 1580s." Journal of Ecclesiastical History 60, no.1 (2009): 74-94.
  • "The Bishops and their Dioceses: Reform of Visitation in the Anglican Church c.1680-c.1760." CCEd Online Journal 1 (2007).
  • "John Locke: Politics, Philosophy and Public Service." In The Human Tradition in Modern Britain, ed. Caroline Litzenberger and Eileen Groth Lyons. Lanham, MD & Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.
  • "John Shawe and Edward Bowles: Civic Preachers in Peace and War." In Religious Politics in Post Reformation England , ed. Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2006.
  • "English Catholics at War and Peace." In Religion in Revolutionary England , ed. Christopher Durston and Judith D. Maltby. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006.
  • "The Company of Tailors and Drapers, 1551-1662." In Merchant Taylors of York: A History of the Craft and Company from the Fourteenth to Twentieth Centuries, Borthwick Texts and Studies 33, ed. R. B. Dobson and David M. Smith. York: Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 2006.

Contact details

Prof. William J. Sheils
Department of History
University of York
YO10 5DD