Friday, 11 November 2016

Long live the King

So, we have a politician whose characteristics appear to include narcissistic self-importance, a certain bearish charisma, intellectual laziness and a butterfly mind, a throwaway attitude towards women, a degree of real shrewdness which he himself persistently overestimates, and a lack of any sustained interest in the nitty-gritty of government. I am talking, of course, about King Henry VIII.

Let’s imagine that Henry VIII fell through a time portal and was elected President of the United States. How would he, and his new subjects, manage?

Well, the good news first. Henry VIII had one undoubted and enviable political skill: he could recognise in others the administrative talents that he himself lacked. If President Henry could quickly identify a Thomas Wolsey or a Thomas Cromwell, he would quickly delegate most of the business of government to that person and the political machine that he (it would definitely be a he) would build up. Most of the time he would leave his brilliant operative alone and take his advice. Stuff would get done and Henry would take the credit.

He would generally temper his wilder ambitions with some realism about what is actually achievable. He would not want to be seen to lose, and so would not take wild risks. He might chafe for military glory, but he wouldn’t embark on something entirely recklessly.

He would stretch the law rather than break it. He would use, circumvent and manipulate the structures available to him, and would bully and overawe opponents rather than, say, hiring assassins. He would want to know in his own mind that what he was doing was legal and right, although he has a remarkable ability to persuade himself that what he wants is indeed justified. But he would be entirely willing to trample norms and conventions when in pursuit of something he really wants, and he would reward those ruthless and cunning enough to find him ways of doing so.

He might, for example, order his military to commit atrocities, although, as he discovered when he gave such an order to a force invading Scotland in 1544, his commanders on the ground might refuse actually to carry them out.

He would be intermittently paranoid. As a result, he would use, and bend, the law vindictively and indeed irrationally to pursue those whom he took against. He would do so pretty implacably. His defeated former presidential opponent, for example, might be well advised not to plan a quiet retirement.

He would find his inability to bend foreign governments to his will infuriating, and would be ready to see - for example - their willingness to protect his critics as a deliberate provocation. Personal snubs, such as failing to turn up to a summit meeting with him, would not be taken well.

Most importantly, perhaps, for those working out how to survive a Tudor administration: he would be an odd mixture of stubbornness and malleability. You can’t tell him he’s wrong, and open opposition only makes him dig in. But if you can sidle up to him and work on him askance, you can often get him to change his mind or shift his priorities. He will never admit that he has changed his mind, and it would be foolish to try to get him to do so, but in fact he is remarkably open to persuasion and indeed manipulation. Just make him think that the idea you have planted in his head is in fact his own idea, and you are there.

A word of caution, though. That malleability does mean he can change his mind for no apparent reason, including turning vengefully on those who were once his trusted intimates. Especially if he starts to feel that he is being pushed around. As Wolsey said: ‘be well advised and assured what matter you put into his head, for you shall never pull it out again.’

Good luck, and hold on tight.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Reasons to be cheerful, part 99

Post the US election: another instalment of what appears to be becoming a regular service. Since my immediate instinct is to regard this as, without exaggeration, the most frightening public event of my entire life, I am having to dig deep. Still, if you want a dose of optimism, here's the best I can currently do.

1. It won't be as bad as we fear - and I can prove it. Those of us in the liberal elite have proved, over the past two or more years, that we are entirely unable to predict any political processes of any kind. And this one could scarcely turn out worse than we fear. Ergo, it will be better. QED.

2. I am, just about, old enough to remember the last time there was this much fear after a US presidential election: 1980, when there was a widely held view that the Americans had elected a crazy warmonger who was going to kill us all. I am not trying to defend every aspect of Ronald Reagan's policies, which were at times both callous and reckless, but it is fair to say that he turned out better than we feared. Yes, I know he had vastly more political experience, and policy coherence, than Mr Trump. I'm doing my best here.

3. It was a clean result. No hanging chads, no birtherism: no-one is going to be contesting the legitimacy of the outcome as such. There's a little piece of the civilised world's fabric that won't be further damaged.

4. America still hates dynasties and turn-takers. Not since 1988 have the voters chosen the presidential candidate who thought it was their time. Remember a year ago when the smart money said we'd be looking at a Bush v. Clinton re-run? It's now up to the Democrats to produce some real presidential candidates for next time.

5. Demography isn't destiny. To be clear: I am, ahem, discouraged that a candidate who was so blatantly indulgent towards white supremacists and who seemed to embody racist assumptions so effortlessly could have won. (Although this is hardly a first in American history.) But I am not a great deal more encouraged by the Democratic campaign which seemed to focus on mobilising identity groups rather than offering a vision for the country. You can't just build up blocks of voters and take them for granted on the basis that your opponent is repulsive. From what I am hearing, Trump won a larger share of Hispanic voters than Romney did. If that's true, I am kind of mystified but also kind of cheered by it. Democrats can't simply, as they sometimes seem inclined to, wait for the old white folks to die and the Hispanics to have kids, and let the victories roll in.

6. After eight years of opposition and obstructionism from Republicans, it will be good for them, at least, to have to try to work out how to govern again. Either they will complete the self-destruct process as a party that they've been engaged on, in which case the mid-terms in 2018 will have consequences for them. Or they will find a way of making it work, in which case the US will have second functioning political party back.

7. Syriza. Brexit. The SNP. Podesta (the Spanish political party, not the Clinton staffer). M5S in Italy. Bernie. Corbyn. Thaksin Shinawatra, if you want to push it. Now Trump. ... At the risk of jumping to conclusions, could it be that voters are trying to tell us something? Yes, I know that the question is what. But surely now, at last, it is impossible to continue believing that merely defending a late 20th century politico-economic status quo is good enough?

Of course, if you happen to come up with anything which is better and which will actually work, do let the rest of us know.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

JEH 67/4: Buried treasure

The October number of the Journal of Ecclesiastical History is out, and there are several articles I could blog about - Charlotte Kingston's wonderful argument that Gregory the Great's story of finding the devil on a lettuce is not one we should giggle at; Emma Wild-Wood's understated study of African Anglican missionaries at the turn of the twentieth century, beautifully bridging some of the divisions between missionary-led and indigenous-led histories of Christianisation; Eyal Poleg's study of the first Bible printed in England (in Latin), which turns out to be rather more than just a curiosity.

But for me, really, there is no choice: my heart belongs to Winchester. Stephen Gardiner, the bishop of Winchester during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I (he died as her Lord Chancellor in 1555) was one of the most hated men in the sixteenth century, reviled by Protestants as 'Wily Winchester', the evil genius whose unseen hand lurked behind every misfortune that befell them. And there is no doubt he had both a certain ruthless lawyer's cunning, and a knack for rubbing people up the wrong way. In person he seems to have been stand-offish and awkward.

And yet ... the man could write. I think he was incontestably the finest religious polemicist writing in English in the generation between the death of Thomas More and William Tyndale, and the rise of John Jewel. And I'd argue he doesn't need to take second rank to any of them. I vividly remember reading his Detection of the Devils Sophistry (1546) and finding myself half-convinced that I did actually believe in transubstantiation ... His reply to William Turner's Hunting and finding out of the Romish fox (1543) only survives in fragmentary part, in the text of Turner's rebuttal of the reply. But even those fragments made it clear that he had essentially demolished large parts of Turner's case, and the rebuttal is no more than blustering restatement of an already shredded argument. And his brilliantly counterintuitive argument opposing attempts to move towards a more 'authentic' pronunciation of ancient Greek in Cambridge is not only immensely powerful, but deeply perceptive in terms of the much bigger issues that were at stake.

He not only could write, he did. During the reign of Edward VI, when most other English religious conservatives were for one reason or other paralysed into silence, Gardiner kept up the battle almost alone. But we know that the texts we have - most of them printed by James Arthur Muller in his indispensable 1933 edition - were not a complete set. We assumed the rest were lost.

Then along comes Spencer Weinreich, in - I am not joking - the first month of his MPhil studies at Oxford. And he finds early 17th century transcripts of two realio, trulio authentic Gardiner letters from the autumn of 1547, hiding in plain sight in a recusant manuscript in the Bodleian. We've just published his transcript of and commentary on them.

To my delight, they are not just Gardiner, but vintage Gardiner. There are some eye-catching details, not least the fact that Gardiner rather rashly cites the ongoing proceedings of the Council of Trent, but there is also simply the man doing what he does. One of the 'letters' is in fact simply a brief memorandum, but the second is a full-length rearguard action against the new regime's religious policies, and in particular the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I won't deprive you of the pleasure of reading it, but one titbit to give you a flavour. The evangelical doctrine of justification, as it was taking shape, insisted that there could be no human participation in justification of any kind, or it would no longer be a free gift and would reintroduce an element of works-righteousness. Nonsense, said Gardiner. Imagine that you invite a guest to your table and feed him for a year. Can he then grouse and claim that the gift was not freely given, because he was required to lift the food to his mouth and to chew it himself?

Friday, 26 August 2016

On Lake and Stephens' 'Scandal and Religious Identity'

I gathered some time ago that Peter Lake and Isaac Stephens’ 2015 book, Scandal and Religious Identity in Early Stuart England, was in part an attack on my Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (2013). Since I temperamentally prefer consensus to conflict – which I think may be one of the things which Peter Lake, at least, finds so infuriating about my writing – I’ve skirted around the book for a while, but I’ve now finally mustered the courage to sit down and work my way through it.

It is of course excellent stuff: I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Robert Woodford and Elizabeth Isham. But there is, indeed, quite a lot in it about me. A response to it may seem a little self-indulgent, but it’s my blog: so, here goes.

I feel I ought to apologise for stirring up such evident irritation, but I also have the sense that Peter Lake, at least, enjoys having an obviously wrong book to get his teeth into. (I don’t know Prof. Stephens, but I do have the sense that Peter is my main antagonist here.) And since he has put me in some exalted company – Alexandra Walsham, Ian Green, Christopher Marsh, Judith Maltby, and at least part of Patrick Collinson – I ought to accept the compliment and be content. In an age of bland academic writing, it’s a rare pleasure to see some proper polemic, pursued mostly through a series of increasingly incandescent footnotes, ending in a truly splendid rant on pp. 367-8 in which, at the last, he describes my book as a ‘perfectly serviceable, indeed an intermittently fascinating, account of the godly at prayer’, but one clothed in a ‘fat-suit of extraneous matter’: that made me laugh out loud in the library. It’s a good karmic payback for a similar, but in this case snarky and unjustified, line I wrote about someone else in a review some years back and have been feeling bad about.

So what are they so cross about?

At one level, the problem is that I’m a lumper and they’re splitters. I wrote about the experience of Protestantism in England and Scotland across a period of a little more than a century; Lake and Stephens have written a book about the experience of a handful of individuals in Northamptonshire in the late 1630s. Naturally they are able to engage with their sources much more thoroughly and to follow them down their particular idiosyncrasies: inevitably, I was interested in what my sources had in common with each other. So, for example, they are quite right to point out (p. 324n) that although I use Elizabeth Isham’s Book of Remembrance a fair bit, I never mention the sibling rivalry which is so prominent in it. Guilty: since I was writing a book neither about sibling relationships nor about Isham as such, I only drew on the sections of her text which addressed the issues I was interested in.

Generally, they do not like the fact that I have ‘culled’ or ‘source-mined’ material from a wide range of sources, and then ‘stitched [them] together under various topical headings’. I like to think I added some analysis to the mix as well, and I hope I treated my sources’ integrity with appropriate respect, but that’s a fair enough description. I don’t see how you could write a long history of those particular topics in another way. Lumpers always think splitters get too hung up on specificity and miss the big picture, and splitters always think lumpers cherry-pick their specifics to concoct whatever big picture they want. So it is as well we keep each other in line.

But on to specifics. They make quite a lot of sideswipes at my book over various minor points, many of which appear to be simple misunderstanding (no doubt my fault) or plain error. I didn’t call Isham’s Book of Remembrance a ‘diary’ (p. 295n): I called her other text a diary, as its online editors do. I am criticised for my ‘inexplicable refusal to talk about the taking of sermon notes’, a subject I touched on several times and discussed at some more length on pp. 358-60 of Being Protestant – they probably won’t like what I said, but that’s a different matter. And, trivial as it may seem, I don’t have a daughter (p. 367n): the paragraph in question could hardly make that clearer. These are mere niggles of course, and I am confident that they will have read their source texts more carefully than they read my book. Slightly more significantly, they misunderstand (p. 336) my point about Nehemiah Wallington’s supposed suicide attempts, which I evidently did not express as clearly as I had hoped. Of course his self-poisoning was ‘serious’. My point was that none of the other incidents (and the literature commonly describes him attempting suicide 18 times) was an earnest attempt to end his life, and I’d question even whether that one was. They were, in modern parlance, self-harm incidents, the kind that get characterised as a ‘cry for help’. Obviously such incidents are extremely serious. My point was simply that they are not the same as trying deliberately and with full intention to end your life.

I am also repeatedly criticised for using the phrase ‘preacher’s talk’ (eg. p. 358), which as far as I can tell never occurs in my text. I did once use the term ‘preacher’s rhetoric’, to belittle the claim that time spent in prayer makes you work more rather than less effectively, and ‘preachers’ tales’, to refer to improving and implausible anecdotes about godly prayer. I was similarly dismissive of a few other unrealistic preachers’ tropes. But I can’t imagine anyone would be upset about that.

They really, really do not like my suggestion that the ‘simplest’ motivation for Elizabeth Isham’s voluminous writing – not the main, primary or fundamental motive, just the ‘simplest’ – was ‘to fill time absorbingly and blamelessly’. This they paraphrase, rather freely, to say that I claim she wrote ‘just to pass the time’, a claim they find ‘staggering in its inattention to, and insensitivity before, what the text actually tells’ (pp. 336-7). Do I need to point out that I am not suggesting that was all she was doing? If they disagree that ‘redeeming the time’, filling the long hours, was a concern for godly Protestants such as Isham; or that writing projects were one of the means that could be used to that end; I’d be interested to hear the argument.

They also – and this, to my eyes, is their most powerful critique – suggest that I don’t take the religion of everyday antipuritan Protestants seriously enough. I think their claim that for me ‘such people simply do not signify’ (p. 173) is a bit harsh, since I had quite a lot to say about Prayer Book religion, the use of set prayers, the religion of the illiterate and the intertwining of religion and national identity. But they are probably right that I did not do enough to resist the gravitational tug of my source base, which pulled me towards the godly. This is partly because I think, as they do not, that the godly had by the end of Elizabeth’s reign managed to make their broad view of what Protestantism is pretty normative, so much so that even antipuritans shared a good deal of it: a success which can be obscured partly by the rise of Laudianism (which I take to be something novel) and partly by the refusal of the godly to admit that they had shaped popular culture to the extent I think they had.

But a critique which they clearly feel is more important, since it is repeated several times, is of what they call my ‘quite mistaken … attempt systematically to play down the role of preaching in the affective and devotional lives of the godly’ (p. 204), which they find ‘inexplicable’ (p. 362n). If that’s what I had been trying to do, it would be. My argument, which again I evidently failed to make adequately clear, was not that preaching was unimportant or secondary in godly Protestant experience. That would be absurd. I was questioning the preachers’ cliché that preaching was utterly dominant and primary. I cited evidence suggesting that preaching was sometimes not as edifying in practice as it was in theory, and that reading and other forms of private devotion could supplement or sometimes substitute for it to a greater extent than preachers themselves liked to admit. I also suggested that the early modern truism the preaching was the ‘only ordinarie meanes to beget faith’ is not borne out by the evidence, which suggests that while many people were indeed converted by preaching, many others were converted by other means.  I can see how that could be taken to imply that I was minimising preaching: it wasn’t meant that way. Lake and Stephens admit that a ‘slight shift of emphasis’ might be useful in this area (p. 205n): I would only put it a little more strongly.

At the risk of provoking them further, I think there are other areas where we don’t actually disagree very much. I think what they dislike about my non-phrase ‘preacher’s talk’ is that they think I am implying that puritan-antipuritan divisions were mere rhetorical creations. Again, that is not something I meant to do. To be plain: yes, obviously, there were intense and bitter religious rivalries and hatreds in post-Reformation England, and divisions such as that between puritans and anti-puritans were deeply felt. They were rarely as sharp and as intense as in the late 1630s, but they were perennial. The reason I sidestepped those rivalries in my book is not because I think them unimportant, much less that I deny their existence, but because I think other scholars (not least Lake himself) have already anatomised them very ably, and that our focus on them can risk being misleading. My book was arguing that pious practice and religious experience did not vary very much across the spectrum – not that the people who shared that practice and experience agreed with each other. Plainly they didn’t.

What I said in Being Protestant (p. 6) was that ‘the division between puritan and conformist Protestants, which has been so important in English historiography,almost fades from view when examined through the lens of devotion and lived experience.’ Please note the qualifications there: not just the weaselly almost, but the argument that there is one perspective from which this division ceases to be apparent. I was very far from arguing that the division did not exist. I emphasised that ‘English Protestants were self-consciously divided into puritans and conformists … these divisions were real and bitter’ (my p. 471). Rather, I argued that ‘when we look at the lived experience of religion’, what its daily practice consisted of, ‘the supposed distinction between puritan and conformist dissolves into a blurred spectrum in which even the extremes do not differ too starkly from one another’ (my p. 6). OK, the use of the word ‘supposed’ there may have been a bit provocative. And certainly, by the late 1630s, that spectrum was becoming less blurred and more stark. But – again, when looked at from the perspective of daily experience – it was still a spectrum, not a chasm.

This is not at all to suggest that the division did not matter. Quite the opposite. It’s a common enough observation that people who have something in common can disagree much more bitterly than those with nothing in common. Most English Protestants in this period – so I would argue – conducted their arguments within a common cultural frame, and while they reviled each other they experienced their religion in not dissimilar ways. Maybe that commonality is banal. Maybe it is something that Lake and Stephens don’t find terribly interesting. Still, it seemed worth pointing out to me.

I should also point out, of course, that we are very close to talking at cross-purposes in another way. Lake and Stephens’ book is about the years 1637-41. If a common Protestant culture had ever existed, plainly by this time it was on the point of collapse. As they point out, I mostly exclude Laudianism from my account, and that’s because I think it was genuinely different, and can’t be folded into the common culture I describe (though it does have some points of contact, naturally). They themselves argue on p. 166 that the ‘moderate puritan axioms’ by which many (let’s just leave it as ‘many’ for the moment) English Protestants had lived were breaking down under the impact of Laudianism: I can only agree.

They argue in their conclusion, in opposition to what they take to be my view, that ‘the division between the godly and the ungodly’ was ‘central to their sense of themselves and indeed to some of their most intensely felt spiritual, and even devotional, experiences’ (p. 357). Um … yes. I would want to underline that some more than they would. Is that what we’re arguing about?

So: in the event there was ever a second edition of my book (I don’t wish to give them nightmares), I would evidently need to clarify some things. I am not suggesting that the many and serious disputes in the post-Reformation English Church were ‘mere polemic, disagreements about trifles, entirely peripheral’ (p. 361): just that those disputes happened within a shared devotional culture, a shared context which probably made them all the bitterer.

But there seems to be something deeper going on here. It would seem that Lake and Stephens see ranged against them a kind of Anglican conspiracy, the pseudo-historical defenders of a sort of atavistic Englishness, ‘inherently moderate and timeless, indeed positively Hobbit-like’ in its religion (p. 174). They more or less accuse their opponents of making, not only an ‘a priori value judgement about the appropriate hierarchy of sources’ but also of being informed by preconceptions of ‘what real Christianity is all about’ (p. 361). In particular, they detect ‘a struggle over the origins, and therefore the quintessence, of “Anglicanism”’ (p. 363), a notion which they compare to Rasputin for its refusal to die:  ‘A set of cognate assumptions about mainstreams, via medias, consensual religion/s of the prayer book, of the English people or, still worse, of “English folk”, just keeps coming back out of the water’ (p. 364). This seems to be linked in their analysis to my suggestion that spirituality is difficult to analyse historically, a suggestion which they summarise as concluding that we should simply ‘fold our tents and go home, muttering the while about the ineffability of it all’. (p. 295)

Well, we can all play these sorts of games if we want to. I could reply that I think they have a tin ear for spirituality in their sources, and a frustratingly reductive insistence on reading all of those sources exclusively through the lens of confessional conflict. I do find their claim that ‘scarcely a scintilla of difference exists between the testimony of the public polemical sources … and the private sources’ (p. 7) staggering. Yes, of course the ‘private’ sources (if they want to use that division) confirm that confessional divisions existed and mattered. But are they really suggesting that the confessional divisions which dominate their public, polemical texts are equally dominant in and constitutive of the religious lives of people like Woodford and Isham? That when Woodford was praying for his sick children, or Isham was wrestling with her temptations to atheism, the partisan identities which they both certainly embraced were at the forefront of their minds?

Perhaps that counts as ineffable muttering. In the face of this sort of thing, all I can do is admit to being quite short, but a bit above hobbit stature; and to being a member of the Church of England, albeit a somewhat cranky one, with no particular affection either for notions of Englishness or ‘Anglicanism’, whether as an anachronistic historical construct or as a modern denominational label. I carry no brief for the Rasputin or, perhaps better, the Moby Dick they are pursuing. Although I would suggest that when an idea refuses to die despite repeated harpoonings, it perhaps needs to be engaged with in a subtler way.

‘When contemporaries make a fuss about something it pays the historian to take notice and try to work out why,’ they quite rightly say (p. 361). Yes, a lot of sources pay a lot of attention to partisan religious divisions, which is why we have a great deal of excellent scholarship on those divisions. A lot of sources, many of them of them very widely circulated at the time, also pay much more attention to, for example, devotional practice than to intra-party divisions, and these have not been so widely studied. Evidently people cared a lot about their divisions. Equally evidently – and really, this was all my book was trying to argue – that was not all they cared about. My judgement, based on reading those large number of texts, was that for many people, much of the time, especially before the 1630s, those divisions were not their religion’s beating heart.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Huntington Library despatches 4: Voting on God

In the first of these despatches I mentioned RUMP, the collection of anti-royalist poems and songs published in 1662 (there was a shorter collection published in 1660). One of the better-known of those runs:

We fasted first, then pray’d that War might cease
When Praying would not serve, we paid for Peace
And glad we had it so, and gave God thanks,
Which made the Irish play the Scotish Pranks.
Is there no God? let’s put it to a Vote;
Is there no Church? Some Fools say so by rote;
Is there no King, but Pym, for to assent
What shall be done by Act of Parliament?
No God, no Church, no King, then all were well,
If they could but Enact there were no Hell.*

The last six lines were often quoted by nineteenth-century historians, sometimes as an indication of the crazed radicalism of the parliamentarians, sometimes, more sensibly, as an indication of the alarm of the nascent royalist party. They tended to skip the first four lines, which are more period-specific – they seem to put it in late 1641 or very early 1642 – but which feel a bit bolted-on.

Well, a stray page in the Temple correspondence here at the Huntington confirms that. Manuscript HM 46532 is a single sheet containing a sonnet, which I transcribe as follows:

Is there a god? let it be put to vote
Is there noe king but Pym as some men dote?
Is there noe church? bee it soe wee are content
Soe it bee down by Act of Parliament.
Is there noe god noe king noe church tis well
If they can find at last there is noe hell
Is there noe god why doe they the Commons foole
Is there a king why then dothe Pym leave rule
Is thiere a church? why are the members rent
And not made up agayne by Parliament
Is there a god a king a church tis even
As iust they should enact there is a heaven                              
Vnles that god the king hell heaven all
Like Strafford by one king ^Pym^ must stand or fall.

We can imagine that amused / appalled squibs of this kind were circulating widely in 1640-2, as provincial folks tried to keep up with what was happening, just as shocked post-Brexit Remainers spent a few days sharing barbed jokes on Facebook.

The verse here is less polished than the published version, though the whole thing works better. It appears to be earlier – the lack of any reference to the Irish and the allusion to Strafford would put it in mid-1641, at a guess, though those who know the detail better will no doubt be able to be more precise.

It looks to me as if the first line here was simply too good to resist, and made its way meme-like into another verse, and perhaps elsewhere. (The later version is a touch more aggressive, with Parliament apparently presuming the non-existence of God.)

What I like about this is the sense of just how high the religious stakes were from the very beginning of the Civil War era. It is not only with the explosion of Independency and sectarian movements in the age of Gangraena that wild views become possible.

If the Civil War was for one side the last of the wars of religion, it was for the other a war against atheism. The fact that the radicals themselves were often struggling to find firm anti-atheist ground on which they could stand only made matters worse.

*Alexander Brome (ed.), Rump: or An exact collection of the choycest poems and songs relating to the late times (London, 1662), p. 64.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Huntington Library despatches 3: Things fall apart in Buckinghamshire

Also amongst the Ellesmere Papers, this oddly moving little snippet (MS EL 7765): a statement from the minister of Marsworth in Buckinghamshire, dated 16 August 1642. It’s short enough to quote in its entirety:

A certaine number of Souldiers calling themselues by the name of London Prentises came upon Munday being the 15th day of August to the towne of Masworth in Buckinghamshire, and there demanding of the Clerke the key of the church doore, went in to the said church and broke downe the rayles at the upper end of the Chancill where formerly the Communion Table stood, and beat downe all the painted glass in the windowes, and so coming downe to the Minister’s house demaunded of him the Service booke and Surpliss, withall threatning that if he did not deliver them to them, they would pull downe his house over his head, but he telling them they were not in his keeping, they returned back to the church, and finding them there, first tore the two Service bookes all to peices, scattring some of the leaues about the streets, and carrying the rest away vpon the pointes of their swordes, and afterwardes one of them took the Surpliss and putt it on him, as the Minister useth to doe, and so marcht away to Alisbury triumphing in comtempt and derision, In witness whereof I the minister of the said Parish haue here sett my hand: Date this 16th of August: 1642. Roger Wilford minist: ibid.

It’s countersigned by the parish clerk.

Amidst the national calamity that was starting to unfold, this was nothing. What I find compelling about this, however, is Wilford’s plaintive petition – apparently believing that this blatant lawbreaking might be punished. And why not? England, especially the South, had been at peace internally for longer than anyone alive could remember. Law had been upheld and rights respected. Yes, politics had become very shouty and embittered, but surely name-calling in Westminster is one thing, and soldiers barging into your village with impunity, smashing up the church, spiking service-books on their sword and threatening to pull your house down, is another?

In our own age, we could perhaps do with remembering that entrenched division and demonisation of opponents can eventually have  consequences.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Huntington Library despatches 2: He said what??

OK, this one has me foxed, people.

In the Ellesmere MSS at the Huntington is a letter (MS EL 7977) which is, or purports to be, a letter from the puritan Exeter merchant Ignatius Jurdain to his son. It's undated, but Jurdain died in 1640.

The handlist to the Ellesmere manuscripts raises the possibility it is false, and perhaps the work of an Anabaptist, but there is certainly nothing Anabaptistical about it. Most of it seems like classic firebreathing Puritanism, of the kind we know Jurdain embraced (Samuel Clark wrote up his life). He is worried that his son is conforming to prayer-book religion, and much of the letter is unbalanced denunciations of the marriage ceremony (the phrase 'with my body I thee worship' is idolatrous, apparently), vestments, and - a more unusual preoccupation - of 'that hellish stick fetched out of Baals grove,the Maypole'. So far so good.

The boy is also urged to read good English divines, chiefly Dodd, Cleaver and Perkins, and to 'beware of vaine Philosophie, of the Heathen greeke, and of the Beasts language'. The idea that Latin is a gateway drug to popery is certainly unusual.

But then, in a final paragraph written to address the boy's 'Carnall infirmity', we find this:
I warne yow touchinge the bodye of the sisters, that yow ayme not soe much att their flesh, as att their spiritt rather make vse of yor Christian liberty in the howses of sinn.

Uh? I am not entirely sure I understand what he is saying, but it looks to me as if he is recommending his son visit brothels rather than lusting after godly women. That seems, um, out of keeping with the ethos of the rest of the letter? So is it a spoof? Is it an indication of a father-son relationship unravelling the father's principles? Is hypocrisy, or at least an indication that some Puritans had reached the point where maypoles were worse than fornication?

UPDATE 18 AUG: The mine of knowledge that is Arnold Hunt tells me that this letter was printed, apparently from another copy, in Notes & Queries in 1875. Which, as he suggests, tips the balance in favour if it being a satire or spoof of some sort. It still strikes me as an odd satire - pretty subtle apart from that last bombshell? I wonder if it might be based on a real text by Jurdain, but deliberately exaggerated or laced with other comments in order to discredit him? He was a man with a lot of enemies.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Huntington Library despatches 1: Bears and squirrels

Thanks to the combined generosity of the Leverhulme Trust and the Huntington Library themselves, I have a delightful month to spend at this excellent institution, to which, shamefully, I’ve never yet been. It’s much like any top-rank library, except it’s 30 degrees C outside, and my family texted me this morning to tell me that a policeman had showed up at the house where we’re staying and advised them to go indoors because there was a bear in the next door garden.

But who cares about that when there are new manuscripts to play with? Today’s treat was a collection of anti-Parliamentary ballads from the 1640s, some but not all of which were published in the magnificently titled RUMP of 1662.

My favourite, which doesn't appear in the published version, is a cruel squib on Lady Grey of Groby, wife of a senior Parliamentarian general and regicide, who – supposedly – gave birth to ‘an Infant with a head like a hare and the tayle of a squirrel’. Tales of monstrous births like this, usually seen as judgements on the immorality of the parents, were common enough, but this one is done with a sharp comic edge. The monster, we read, ‘had been a beast at best of all / Had she brought forth a Gray’. And that fits with a wider sense that the entire parliamentary party are in some sense monstrous, and that the worst ‘ugly monsters’ are those that have been ‘hach’t by th’Assembly’s braine’ – meaning the Westminster Assembly, charged with the doomed attempt to create a new Protestant settlement for Britain.

What makes this more than routine name-calling, though, is its ironic voice, sustained almost to the end: in which it robustly denies that this and the many, many other monsters of all kinds which parliamentarians are bringing forth mean anything at all. Or as the subtitle puts it: ‘Whereby you may note, that the pious and godly / may be brought to bed of things that look odly.’

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Madeleine Ward on Quakers' persecution

Without wishing to make this all about me: this is, for me, a first. I've had many outstanding MA students, and I've had a student doing a research MA (hello, Karl Jones) who published an article off the back of it, an article which I shamelessly nabbed for a book I was editing.

But Maddy Ward did a taught MA in 2013-14, and the dissertation, which I supervised, was only a third of the total course. In theory she was supposed to get it done to hand in in mid-September.

Awkwardly, she had researched and written what was clearly an outstanding dissertation by June. I didn't think that two and a half months polishing it was a good use of anyone's time. So we (by which I mean, she) set about converting it into a publishable article. She submitted it to Quaker Studies just after she left Durham for Oxford (boo, hiss) to pursue her PhD with Sarah Apetrei (hurray!); it was accepted, and it's just appeared.

And a very good piece it is too: on the distinctive theological response that early Quakers had to persecution, which drew on but was also distinct from classical Protestant martyrology, infused as it was with the Quaker emphasis on personal transformation. Her fundamental point, that we need to take Quakers' ideas seriously rather than simply seeing them as reacting to external stimuli, is a nourishing one. It's a great piece, and she's a scholar to watch.

Friday, 8 July 2016

IJBS 2016: Quaker mothers and genocidal castaways

Some highlights from the conference of the International John Bunyan Society in Aix-en-Provence: though some of the highlights, from the sun-baked stone to the sound of the crickets, you'll have to take on trust. Why aren't more conferences like this?

Wrenching my attention back to academic matters, the best papers I've heard so far would include Naomi Pullin (currently stuck in postdoc hell at Warwick) on women Quakers 1650-1750. The standard view, part of the consensus that Quakerism calmed down and got domesticated, is that women stopped being prominent Quaker evangelists and were therefore excluded from ministry. Naomi's point is that, by 1750, 90% or more of Quakers were the children of Quakers. Therefore almost all the work of conversion was being done in the home, by women, with children. She has evidence that Quaker women saw this as their vocation, not too different from the work of the public evangelists of the first generation. So Quakerism may have been 'domesticated': but that didn't make it any less powerful.

The most startling paper, however, was from Nicholas Seager, at Keele, on Robinson Crusoe. I didn't know that Daniel Defoe was a Dissenter: nor that he wrote three volumes about Crusoe. Volume one is the famous one. Volume two is a further set of voyages to Madagascar, China and elsewhere, in which amongst other things Crusoe witnesses and is rather unhappy about various atrocities against pagan peoples. Volume three is his 'serious reflections' on his fictional voyages, a set of essays which are apparently quite dull. Until the end. That's when Crusoe suddenly declares that the Christian powers ought to conquer the rest of the planet in order to allow the Gospel to be brought to all humanity. This is fundamentally an act of kindness, he insists. He does argue that such conquests should be bloodless, 'as far as in them lies'. But he has no doubt it can be done. Perhaps China (a country with which he seemed particularly obsessed) could put a million-strong army into the field. Crusoe is sure that a force of 30,000 German and English foot, and 10,000 French horse, would slaughter them.

In other words: uh????

My first thought hearing Nick summarise this was, it's a spoof. Defoe is being ironic. Nick considered this option and concluded  it's not so, or at least not quite. Yes, this plan is self-contradictory in places and is put into the voice of a fictional character, whose own behaviour on this issue has been very inconsistent across the three volumes. But Defoe did write openly ironic, satirical works and this one has quite a different feel. Nick's conclusion is - I think! - that Defoe half meant it: that he was using the device of the fictional voice to play with a dark fantasy of quick, easy world evangelism-at-gunpoint that he knew was a fantasy but still felt tempted by. I was put in mind of the militaristic fantasies which talk of war can provoke otherwise sensible people into in our own day. It would be so appealing if problems really could be destroyed precisely with laser-guided bombs.

Whether Nick is right about Defoe, I can't say. But it sounded plausible to me: and, more important, fascinating.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

JEH 67/3: Marriage and other capital crimes

Normally the Journal of Ecclesiastical History stipulates that articles should be no more than 8000 words in length, so running to under 20 pages. Occasionally, for a really strong piece, we’re willing to stretch that a little, especially if the extension is in response to our recommendations for revision. So it tells you something that the new edition includes a 55-page article. André Vitória’s ‘Two Weddings and a Lawsuit’ is really quite a piece. More than half of that page extent consists of appendices, transcribing in full a set of court documents in Portuguese found in the Vatican archives.
A Portuguese matrimonial dispute from 1369 involving nobody anyone has ever heard of might not seem to be the most promising basis for an article. But a three things set this apart.
First, Vitória can write. This is academic prose at its best – precise, scholarly, but full of life and spirit. All too rare, especially when united with top-notch research as it is here.
Second, he has a terrific story to tell. The unfolding mess of bigamy, secret marriages, theft, family feuds and deception is as gripping as any court-based microhistory you may care to name.
This is not a new Martin Guerre, however, since the documents aren’t extensive enough to allow it. What it is, and this is the third and the genuinely important point, is a window into how both ecclesiastical law and civil law touched everyday life in an ordinary corner of medieval Europe. What Vitória has done is to demonstrate how closely all the participants in the dispute – except perhaps the hapless bigamist at its centre, whose crime could have and possibly did cost him his life – understood where the legal fault-lines were, and shaped their testimony and their behaviour accordingly.
Much of this hinges around the tension between marriage as a public event, defined socially, a matter of family and property; and marriage as a sacrament, a private and perhaps secret commitment between two individuals. The theology was clear and, in the medieval social context, terribly impractical. Secret marriage was easy to contract and impossible to prove. Or, as Vitória felicitously puts it: ‘A slip of the tongue was all it took to create an indissoluble marriage; stout denial all it took to end it.’ We’ve rarely been shown with more care how those problems actually played out in the reality of people’s lives.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Start again from our beginnings

So, post the Brexit vote ... Time to stop just being stunned and angry, and work out the best way out of this mess. I now actually think there are reasons to be hopeful.
Here’s what a good outcome looks like, in ascending order of achievability.
1. Internationalism, internationalism, internationalism. Leaving the EU need not mean closing of borders, drawing up of bridges, revoking of treaties, shrinking of horizons. Various Leave-ers have been promising that it would not. They need to be held to their word.
2. We remain in the single market. Neither the Norwegian nor the Swiss terms would exactly work, nor would they be exactly available, but something of that sort is very possible. Necessarily this would involve free movement, though presumably not simple access to benefits for migrants. – I spent some time in Norway earlier this month. You could do a lot worse.
3. The UK holds together. The single market is what could make this possible, since it means we can avoid closing the Irish border, and that the calculus of risk for the Scots becomes finely balanced. I note that Nicola Sturgeon’s statement emphasised keeping Scotland in the EU or at least in the single market. If it becomes possible to remain in the single market without breaking from the UK, embracing the euro, etc etc then the outcome of a second indyref becomes much less certain, and the SNP – which cannot afford to lose a second one – may not risk it.
4. It becomes possible to reconsider the vote to leave. The ‘re-run the referendum’ cry is obviously futile, but useful to this extent: it emphasises that the losing side is not lying down and taking this, and that a 52-48 win based on some deeply mendacious claims is not a mandate for anything beyond the bare question asked. As the SNP said in similar circumstances: if there is a material change in our situation, then it becomes legitimate to re-ask the question. Thus: if either a noticeably different relationship with the EU is on offer (that seems unlikely) or the EU itself changes noticeably, such that membership did not mean the same as once it did (which seems more possible, given the turmoil), then a new vote and a Breturn is on the cards.
So, how do we get there?
1. Break up the Leave coalition. Happily this is dead easy, because they can’t agree on anything. The Tory Brexiteers, especially the splendidly opportunistic Mr Johnson, do not appear to have an appetite for taking us out of the single market. Not least because they, too, want to keep the UK together. What we want is for UKIP to be hopping up and down and shouting ‘betrayal’ in a few months’ time.
2. Get a functioning opposition which will force the Tories to contest the political centre. Hard to see how this happens at present. Still, anything’s possible.
3. Ensure that MPs, especially the large cross-party Remain majority, understand that their voters expect them to stand by their principles and to interpret this referendum strictly and minimally.
4. Tell a bigger story about Brexit. Immigration was the immediate issue, and that makes the whole thing look like a xenophobic spasm, but us Remainers need to recognise that there was a lot more to it than that: a long-term alienation from the EU’s strategic agenda, and a deep dissatisfaction with its opacity, unaccountability and dysfunction. Right or wrong, those are not illegimate views. We need to say this, both so that we can stop the whole world from seeing us as a country that just ticked the ‘We hate foreigners’ box; and so that immigration is not allowed to become the touchstone of any new settlement. We have to say, loudly, that is not what we just voted against.
5. On that note: I don’t want to celebrate the result. But there is undeniably something mulishly admirable about the bloody-minded Englishness of saying, sod you, we’re not going to do what we’re told. For once, the establishment has been given a damn good kicking by people whom both main parties have simply ignored for decades. In that sense: we deserved it. By all means fix the appalling damage done by last Thursday’s vote. But don’t ignore what drove it. In this sense – if only in this sense – this result is better than a 52-48 for Remain, after which the 48% would simply have carried on being ignored.

And on all these notes: stay angry, stay visible, stay vocal. This is an extraordinary moment of possibilities, some of them quite attractive, some of them truly dreadful. It can’t be allowed to drift.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Why I'm backing Donald Trump

Joking! Joking. Almost, anyway.

In some sort of extended corollary of Godwin's Law, every blogger eventually gets drawn in to the phenomenon that is Donald Trump: surely the most extraordinary event in America, if not the world, this year. But once we've overcome the incredulous outrage he generates, or at least put it to one side: what does the phenomenon mean?

That he represents a kind of backwash to Obama's America is becoming a commonplace, and no less true for that. A formerly dominant slice of American culture - white, male, relatively uneducated, relatively rural - which has been seeing both its social privileges and its economic position steadily eroded for two or three generations, has been nursing various kinds of legitimate and illegitimate anger for much of that time but has not managed to find satisfactory ways of expressing it. There have been constructive ways of doing so, and real political victories along the way, but none that have changed that underlying trajectory. Obama's election does seem to have turbocharged that anger - both by making government seem alien in a way it had not seemed to white Americans before,and by emphasising that the opposing coalition really could win. And he won by beating two of the most constructive, moderate and appealing figures Republican politics could offer, McCain and Romney - who lost partly because they had had to contort themselves out of that moderation in order to secure their party's nomination.

So it sort of makes sense that this burgeoning, nameless rage should now finally express itself in an irrational howl. It's time for a section of white America's id to be heard, and Mr Trump's remarkable skill has been to be its ventriloquist. No one else could do it this way, but in any other year he would have made no progress at all.

Most of the non-Trump world is focusing on immediate and practical questions like, how to stop him, and how, if at all, the Republican Party can rebuild itself after this eruption. But it's not generally good to respond to seismic political change by wishing it will go away and normal service will resume.

I think the key question is how to get America through this moment without suffering long-term harm - and preferably, to allow Trump to act as a sort of scapegoat or sin-eater, who can concentrate the poison of American politics in his person and take it into the wilderness with him. 

So, while I appreciate why so many Republicans want to block him at the convention (and it now looks like they may succeed), I sort of hope they fail. If he is blocked the long-term damage may be severe: a large section of the Republican Party will feel that its democratic will has been thwarted, and that if only its candidate had run it would have triumphed. It will not be reconciled to the new order. Not even if, highly implausibly, a Republican candidate who emerges from that train-wreck of a process goes on to win. This is obviously a problem for the Republican party, but it's also a problem for the republic as a whole.

Whereas a Trump candidacy which is really, thoroughly, soundly walloped in the general election could achieve what nothing else could: getting through to that agonised, disempowered chunk of the American electorate that, for good or for ill, the old days are OVER. If as stumbling and flawed an embodiment of America's ego as Hillary Clinton can beat the most fluent and articulate embodiment of its id, that should not be an experiment that anyone will want to repeat. And indeed, I would bet that in retrospect, the Trump candidacy will seem grotesque and shameful to many of those who will deny that they were ever caught up in it. With luck, Trump's electorate could start demanding that politicians of both parties actually address their problems.

It is just the tiny, tiny risk that a Trump candidacy might not end in defeat that gives me pause.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

JEH 67/2: Today Cambridge, tomorrow the world

Normally with a new number of the JEH out, I'd flag up a particular article, but this time there's a slightly broader point to be made. As we say in an editorial at the beginning of the number: the Journal's remit is the history of Christianity as broadly conceived as possible, without geographical, chronological or disciplinary restrictions. Naturally we have traditional areas of strength (early modern England, for example), and that's fine and good - please keep them coming, folks. But sometimes it's good to stir the mix a bit. So, a few years ago (before I became an editor), we launched an annual prize for the best essay in early church history, up to the year 700. (I can't help mentioning that the first prize was won by a former Durham colleague of mine, now in Melbourne.) It's got us some excellent essays in itself, but has also helped build up the Journal's strength in that area more widely.

So, early church, tick: next on our list of concern is the global history of Christianity. We're a traditional journal, and we like it that way, but traditional shouldn't mean parochial, and we have tended to be rather Eurocentric. With the help of several members of our advisory editorial board (not least the still keenly lamented John D. Y. Peel), we've been making a concerted push to put this right: expanding the remit of our reviewing and seeking out first-rate articles which take us out of the North Atlantic region.

The first really visible fruits of this are in the new number, two of whose six articles are non-Euro/American in focus. James Fujitani has done a precise, elegant piece on how the early Jesuit mission to Japan negotiated penitential practices with their converts, adapting them to Japanese expectations and patterns. David C. Kirkpatrick has a significant analysis of the Ecuadorean evangelical theological C. René Padilla, looking at how his encounters with Marxism helped to shift global evangelicalism's consensus towards embracing social action as well as narrow proselytization in the 1970s.

There's more goodies of this sort to come. Without giving away too much ... In the pipeline we have a piece on indigenous evangelists in British Africa c. 1900, a piece on the Mexican influences on Ivan Illich, a couple of articles on Christianity in 20th-century Israel/Palestine, and most recently one on 1990s Sudanese refugee camps as sites of church growth.

But, we're greedy and we want more. So we're launching another prize: a World Christianities Prize, we're calling it provisionally, which will be 500 good British pounds for the best essay each year whose main focus is Christianity outside Europe and North America after the year 700. (Inevitably the field will be dominated by 19th- and 20th-century entries, but as Fujitani's essay reminds us, global Christianity is not a new phenomenon.) Full details in the next issue, but in the meantime, anyone who wants both to win a prize and fund a decent mini-break somewhere should get writing.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The greatest show on Earth

American politics. What’s not to love, especially from a safe distance?

Antonin Scalia, contrarian and intellectual bruiser that he was, would I think have enjoyed the prospect of the argument which will follow on his death in the midst of the nastiest and most unpredictable presidential campaign in living memory. Here’s my immediate thought on how this will play out. (Unless of course another justice pops their clogs, in which case we are in West Wing territory.)

First, and most tentatively: I suspect the focus on this issue will do some limited damage to Donald Trump and, by the same margin, boost Ted Cruz during the Republican primary contest. Cruz has been banging on about the Supreme Court forever: it’s his issue. But the issue is also a reminder that the Presidency of the United States is a solemn office with serious responsibilities, which may possibly make some of those who think a reality-TV star would be fun reconsider their choice. But, that is a side issue.

President Obama will of course ignore the calls for him to postpone a nomination. But he will choose an exceptionally centrist, moderate, overqualified candidate, daring the Republicans in the Senate to vote him down (it will almost certainly be a ‘him’). Some of those Republican senators who are facing uphill re-election battles this November will be tempted to approve the nomination, but there will not be enough votes to break a filibuster and the nomination will either be voted down, or will reach the point where it is being so plainly blocked that it will be withdrawn.

Then, the President will make a second nomination, of a candidate who will be more of a red-meat, base-pleasing Democrat. Hillary Clinton, who will be then be the unmistakable Democratic nominee for President, will lend her firm approval to this person, and make clear that if she is elected and the post is not yet filled, she will back the same candidate.

Naturally this candidacy will be dead in the water before the election. But it will mobilise the Democratic base, and will prove especially useful in rallying women to the Clinton candidacy, by presenting her Republican opponent (whoever he is) as part of a wider ‘war on women’. It may also (by setting her more clearly against Citizens United) help her to shake off her in-bed-with-Wall-St problem. It will further enrage the Republican base, of course, but that base is already about as angry as it can get, and no matter how angry they are they still only get to vote once. So it’s a net benefit to the Democrats.

If she wins, and if the Senate shifts somewhat on her coattails, then the nominee or someone similar will get confirmed either before or after her inauguration. If she loses, of course, the Republican winner gets to do that – unless the Senate flips anyway, in which case let’s imagine a quick abolition of the filibuster and attempt to squeeze a confirmation through in mid-January 2017, giving the Supreme Court a solid liberal majority until Justice Ginsberg follows her old friend’s example, and giving the country a particularly nasty sense of political illegitimacy. That would be bad.

Indeed, placing a crowd-pleasing, red-blood Democrat on the court might be bad too, and I say that as an instinctive Democratic supporter. Who thinks that what America needs is sharper partisan division?

So perhaps the cleverest thing that Republican senators could do is to call the Democrats’ bluff and accept a centrist nominee, so boosting their own re-election hopes, spiking a key campaign issue for their opponents, avoiding the danger of having a really unpalatable justice on the court and, incidentally, bringing a measure of healing and moderation to the republic. And of course, the decision would come too late in the year for any of them to have to worry about primary challenges.

But of course, they won’t.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Margaret Bullett's PhD: Unexpected Calvinists

In Huddersfield yesterday to examine a PhD – not something I would normally blog about, but then doctoral theses aren’t normally this good. Maggie Bullett’s title doesn’t stir the blood: ‘Post-Reformation Preaching in the Pennines: Space, Identity and Affectivity’ – I confess my heart sank when it arrived in the post. But the thing about books’ covers applies doubly to theses.

There’s real scholarly substance here. In sheer research terms, the most impressive thing is the careful reconstruction of a well-known and much-misunderstood major civic dispute in Leeds in the 1620s. Maggie has found stacks of highly relevant new documents and has very convincingly interpreted the dispute, not as a conformists v. Puritans punch-up, but as a split between two different factions of what she calls ‘progressive Protestants’. In the process, she manages to explain an old mystery: why St John’s Chapel in Leeds, which was built in 1631-4, is decorated with a set of royal arms dating from 1620. If you want to know more, read the thesis.

The most exciting innovation, though, is her use of financial records to unlock a whole new set of data about popular participation in local religion. It wouldn’t be possible to do this for the heavily-parished south of England, but in the North, huge parishes with multiple chapelries required and allowed much greater lay involvement. So when she shows us communities arriving at a consensus that they intend to levy a rate, or simply mobilising huge numbers of small donations, to pay for visiting ‘godly’ preachers; when we see them building or rebuilding their chapels with architecture which prioritises preaching, dedicating their pew rents to the support of the godly ministry, and pricing the pews so that the ones nearest to the pulpit (not nearest the communion table) are the most expensive – it’s hard to avoid the once-unthinkable conclusion that there is some real popular Calvinism happening in the Yorkshire dales.

My favourite nugget, though, hangs on my longstanding preoccupation with people who fall asleep during sermons. Readers of the indispensable 101 Things to Do During a Dull Sermon  will recall that it recommends, as well as discreetly pinching yourself to stay awake, discreetly pinching the person next to you, which should keep both of you awake. Of course, in the seventeenth century, pinching yourself was for wimps: Nehemiah Wallington tried pricking himself with a pin.

Maggie, however, has found another of those quarrelsome folks from Leeds, one Maria Beckett, who in 1615 was presented to the court for ‘misbehaving her selfe in tyme of divine service … by pricking them that satt next her with pinnes’.

I now propose to trawl through the church court records for people trying the other exercises recommended in 101 Things. ‘Rapture Bingo’ would have been great fun in the 1640s.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

JEH 67/1: Queen of all she surveys

The January 2016 Journal of Ecclesiastical History is out, with all the usual treats, including one example of the kind of review which we all occasionally have nightmares about receiving. But for me, given my own interests, there's no doubt which is the most exciting piece this time.

Cyndia Susan Clegg's article, 'The 1559 Books of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Reformation', revisits a well-worn question: just how did that 1559 Book of Common Prayer end up the way it did, that is, a version of the 1552 Prayer Book but with a couple of highly significant tweaks? If you're not a Prayer Book geek, trust me, this is a more important question than it looks: it is an important clue to the nature of Elizabeth I's government and indeed to the whole nature of subsequent Anglicanism. As such it has been vigorously contested down the years, with policy documents, parliamentary proceedings, diplomatic correspondence and even musical scores brought to bear on the question, with varying degrees of success.

Clegg's approach is that of a book historian, and as a result parts of the article can get a teensy bit technical. Stick with it, because what she has found is a genuine smoking gun. She focuses on one of the many anomalous pieces of evidence from the chaotic first half of 1559: a single edition of 1559 Prayer Book published, not by the Queen's Printer like all the rest, but by Richard Grafton, an unrepentant evangelical who had printed the 1552 Prayer Book back in Edward VI's reign. There have been several attempts to explain how this object comes to exist, but none of them very conclusive - but then it did not seem to matter very much. Until now.

Part of the argument depends on one of those too-obvious-to-mention points: there were no photocopiers in mid-Tudor England. So, if Parliament was to consider a bill authorising a substantial text such as the Book of Common Prayer, how were all its members supposed to be able to read it? It might well make sense to produce a small, bespoke print run of the book simply for Parliamentary use. And if you're to do that with a draft Prayer Book, then surely the obvious person to turn to is, not the Queen's Printer, but the bloke who produced the most recent editions of the Prayer Book and will be best placed to rush one into print.

Clegg's argument that this is what Grafton's mystery edition was turns in large part on the technical correspondences, and differences, between his 1552-3 and 1559 editions. But it also depends on, or rather is clinched by, a single copy of the Grafton edition which is signed by nine members of Elizabeth's Privy Council. A little bit of careful detective work allows Clegg to prove that, to have attracted those nine signatures, it must have been signed no later than 20 January 1559, and possibly as much as a month earlier.

For the Prayer Book geeks amongst you: yes, that is 20 January. And yes, the Grafton text is a text of the 1559 Prayer Book as it was eventually authorised by Parliament.

So whatever else happened in all the delicate negotiations and brinksmanship in Parliament in the spring of 1559, it now looks very, very clear that the Elizabethan regime came out of the process with exactly the text of the Prayer Book which it had decided on from the very beginning of the reign.

And it also looks as if Elizabeth I's early mastery of her realm was no less impressive than Clegg's mastery of this subject.