Category Archives: Posts

Early Modern Religious Dissents and Radicalism Series

This is a new series edited by Routledge:

“Titles in the Early Modern Religious Dissents and Radicalism Series address the discursive constructions of religious dissent and the practices of radical movements in the early modern world. The series transcends traditional national and confessional historiographies to examine early modern religious culture as a dynamic system that was essential in forging complex identities and encouraging dialogue among them. The editors seek manuscripts that consider questions of dissent, radicalism, dissidence, libertinism, heresy, and heterodoxy, and examine these themes historically as socio-cultural constructions”, see https://emodir.hypotheses.org/emodir-routledge-series

Series Editors

Federico Barbierato

Hannah Marcus

Stefano Villani

Xenia von Tippelskirch

International John Bunyan Society Study Day

A Regional Day Conference of the International John Bunyan Society, organized in association with the University of Bedfordshire, Keele University, and Northumbria University will take place at Northumbria University, Newcastle, Monday 10 April 2017.

The theme is :

PRISONS AND PRISON WRITING IN EARLY MODERN BRITAIN

For more information and to download the CFP, please click here.

 

Obituary: Rev. Dr. Harold Worthley

Rev. Dr. Harold Worthley sadly passed this October. Dr. Worthley was director of the Congregational Library in Boston, Massachusetts for more than a quarter century.

He was also the first to inventory Massachusetts congregational church records. He was a forerunner, therefore, of our partner project, New England’s Hidden Histories, hosted by the Congregational Library in Boston, and our own Inventory of Puritan and Dissenting Church Records.

His work has been essential to students of colonial Massachusetts for decades. An obituary on Dr Worthley’s remarkable life can be found in the Boston Globe here.

 

InvenCaP Blog – Reformation Principles and the Puritan Church Books of the 1650s

By Mark Burden

Although they have been widely consulted by church historians and historians of religion, the role played by Puritan church records of the 1650s in the furtherance of personal, church, and national reformation has rarely been assessed. The following account has been compiled in response to a highly productive conference on the 1650s convened by Fiona McCall at the University of Portsmouth. The conference discussed, among many other matters, the nature and extent of Episcopalian and Puritan church records during the 1650s, the importance of the national surveys of religion undertaken by the Protectorate, and the need for an adequate catalogue of manuscripts and other material objects dating from the period. In response to that conversation, this post is intended to provide nothing more than a very preliminary sketch of the material available for studying the Puritan churches, and its potential uses for understanding the highly elastic concept of ‘reformation’ as it developed across the decade. As will be immediately evident, very substantial research needs to be carried out on these records before any wider conclusions may be drawn.

The Dissenting Experience Inventory of Puritan records indicates that there are approximately 70 surviving church books and registers containing material relating to the 1640s and 1650s. This figure is open to the usual caveats: it would be substantially smaller if all copy records were excluded, but would be substantially higher if it were possible to include every copy of every 1650s document located in nineteenth and twentieth-century church books. The materials contained in the church records already listed in the Inventory include church histories, chronological registers and alphabet books (births, baptisms, church membership, marriages, deaths, burials), family trees, covenants, confessions, rules, orders, acts, disciplinary cases, minutes of church meetings, minutes of regional assemblies, letters, testimonials, cases of conscience, propositions, queries, admissions, dismissals, and countless examples of marginalia and corrections. Most of these records can be categorised into four types: histories, registers, covenants and confessions, and minutes of meetings. Each of these genres contributed to the church’s sense of itself as a reformed collective, and each genre exposed the different pressures, whether external or internal, which emerged as an inevitable consequence of the congregation’s self-representation as a church of Christ.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – Reformation Principles and the Puritan Church Books of the 1650s

InvenCaP Blog – A Spur to Lukewarm Spirits: The ‘Proceedings Book of Meetings in East Devon, chiefly at Loughwood, 1653-1795’

By Rachel Adcock

On 14 February 1654 the Baptist church that would later meet regularly at Loughwood, East Devon, gathered at nearby Kilmington and recorded the first entry in what is now known and catalogued in the Devon Heritage Centre as a ‘proceedings book’. These earliest records reveal the gathered church’s immediate concerns: strengthening their local church community (which extended to Honiton and Ottery St Mary in the west, Colyton in the south, and Axminster to the east), and building links with other Baptist communities in Britain and Ireland. As indicated by the records, many members had expressed a ‘greivance’ that the church was without a pastor, and James Hitt, one of the congregation’s elders, was instructed to ‘draw upp an Epistle’ (DHCE 3700D/M/1, p. 7) to send to John Pendarves, a Particular Baptist minister who had successfully set up the Abingdon Association of Berkshire churches in 1652, and would continue to share millenarian views with many of the Baptists in the West Country region where he was born. It is not hard to see why the church wanted Pendarves as their minister: he was a popular, if controversial, preacher, shared a preoccupation with millenarianism with some of its leading members (of which more below), and had proven organisational abilities. Pendarves was to turn down the church’s request, visiting and corresponding the with church and their brethren at Lyme Regis but remaining in Abingdon until he died in 1656, but it remained clear to the members gathering at Kilmington that they needed to reform their practices: they concluded that they would follow 1 Corinthians 14:29 (‘Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge’) and thereby ‘try’ doctrine in the church, and cure the ‘deadness uppon the spirits of the membrs in generall’ by establishing an extra monthly fast day for ‘weighty causes laid before us by our Brethren of Ireland’ (DHCE 3700D/M/1, p. 7).

‘Deadness’ in spirit, manifesting itself in neglect of office and attendance, was to become a particular focus in the church’s efforts to strengthen and reform their church: in the following September, they more formally set out the ‘p[ar]ticular evills’ they wanted to address, which included ‘gen[er]all lukwarmenesse which hath seized the spiritts of many of us’ (DHCE 3700D/M/1, p. 11), ‘want of love to, and care of each othr in the Lord’, neglect of scripture, ‘sinfull complyance yt is with ye world’, the ‘greate neglect’ of assembling together, and ‘greate backwardnesse’ in charitable activities. For the rest of the decade, the church gathering at Loughwood would use their ‘proceedings book’ to record the measures taken to address attendance, charitable activities (members of the church continued to raise money for their meeting house – still in existence, picture below – and for members facing particular economic trials), and the substance of meetings, but it may also be understood as a way of formalising and demarcating this godly community in difficult times.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – A Spur to Lukewarm Spirits: The ‘Proceedings Book of Meetings in East Devon, chiefly at Loughwood, 1653-1795’

InvenCaP Blog – The Church Records of White’s Alley, London – (2) – Disciplinary Cases and the Interpretation of Non-Attendance Figures

By Mark Burden

In recent times, historians have quite correctly expressed reservations about the wide–spread assumption that a family’s non–attendance at a parish church might indicate their support for dissent. However, little attention has been paid to the opposite premise: that increasing levels of non–attendance at a dissenting church might indicate a falling–off of support for that church. It is certainly the case that non–attendance figures, whether relating to the Church of England or a dissenting congregation, should not always be interpreted in relation to national political events. In the absence of traceable links between those events and the figures themselves, and in response to the danger of making a category error by comparing numbers and events, it might seem safer to desist from attributing any such connections. Yet for many scholars, perhaps particularly those with a background in literary studies, it is equally counter-intuitive to deny any link between church attendance and political ideas, given the obvious point that people’s actions are affected by their beliefs. For scholars adopting this alternative set of assumptions, it would hardly be surprising if church books, which were conceived primarily as practical documents, did not attribute declining attendance to political events and ideas; yet to rule out any such connections is to overlook a number of important factors. Firstly, to be a dissenter in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was, by definition, to be at the centre of a number of political arguments and events, and to be very much aware of the fact. While not impossible, it would have been extremely difficult to be a covenanted member of a Congregational or Baptist church and not to have recognised that to do so was to participate in an organisation in competition with the state church. Furthermore, for researchers who think of politics not only in terms of legislature and executive but in terms of people (polis as well as polity), there are further reasons for viewing church attendance figures as political: informed by the debates which sometimes simmered and sometimes raged about them, a dissenter’s decision to stop attending chapel – whatever the trigger might be – was in and of itself a political act.

In this blog, I would like to explore the issue of non–attendance by analysing the disciplinary cases brought by the White’s Alley General Baptist Church in London against its members, 1681-1714. A brief history of the church and its ministers is provided in my previous blog. The reason for using this church to comment upon church attendance and discipline is primarily pragmatic: the church books contain an almost unparalleled level of detail relating to proceedings against recalcitrant members for the period under question. They also enable us to distinguish between the number of cases opened against church members, and the number of times they were cited in the minutes. By ‘case’ I mean the complete set of proceedings against a member for a particular misdemeanour or group of connected misdemeanours. By ‘citation’ I mean an entry in the church book recording either the misdemeanour, the church’s action, or some combination of the two. Thus it is possible to be cited many times for the same misdemeanour, and all of the citations collectively constitute one case. It will therefore be noted that the term ‘citation’ is used rather differently in this blog than in most accounts of seventeenth-century dissent, where it refers to the accused being summoned to appear in front of the quarter sessions, manorial, or church courts. In its conventional usage, then, the term implies that the accused was considered by officialdom to be too much of a dissenter; in this blog, the term carries the implication that the White’s Alley church considered the accused to be too little of a dissenter, in that they were insufficiently Godly. The following analysis consists of two elements: a discussion of reasons for the fluctuations in the number of disciplinary citations, and an account of the disciplinary cases brought against women.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – The Church Records of White’s Alley, London – (2) – Disciplinary Cases and the Interpretation of Non-Attendance Figures

InvenCaP Blog – The Church Records of White’s Alley, London – (3) – Appendix: Table of Disciplinary Cases

Please click on the link below to view a pdf table summarising the contents of approximately 900 disciplinary citations at White’s Alley Baptist Church, 1681-1714:

White’s Alley – Disciplinary Cases – Appendix

The table has been compiled by Mark Burden and is designed to accompany the two previous blog posts on ‘Principles and Practices’ and ‘The Interpretation of Non-Attendance Figures’.

Citation: This pdf is not to be reproduced in any form. If the information contained in the pdf is used for research purposes, it should be cited in the following manner: Mark Burden, ‘The Church Books of White’s Alley – (3) – Appendix: Table of Disciplinary Cases’ (2016), https://dissent.hypotheses.org/1923.