I was born and raised in the Orkney Islands, and educated at Kirkwall Grammar School and University College, Oxford. Before being appointed to a lectureship at Warwick in 1994, I taught history for some years at Ampleforth College in Yorkshire. At Warwick I became Senior Lecturer in 2001, Reader in 2004, and Professor in 2006.
Beyond the university I have been a PhD examiner at the universities of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, De Montfort, Exeter, Leeds, London, Melbourne, Oxford, Paris, Reading, St Andrews, Sussex and York, and an examiner of taught degrees at the universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Oxford, Kent, Lancaster and St Andrews. Other roles include past service as an Associate Editor for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as a member of the AHRC Peer Review College, on the Committee of the Ecclesiastical History Society, and the Council of the Sixteenth Century Studies Society.
I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a member of the Irish Research Council's International Advisory Board, and of the Council and the Editorial Committee of the Dugdale Society. I am also a founding editor of the monograph series Religious Cultures in the Early Modern World, published by Routledge. I sit on the editorial boards of Sixteenth Century Journal and British Catholic History, and am a co-editor of English Historical Review. I am a regular book-reviewer for a range of periodicals, including the Times Literary Supplement, The Tablet and The Literary Review.