Tag Archives: InvenCap

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 – (1) – Principles and Pastors

By Mark Burden

Despite having been almost completely ignored by historians, the records of the General Baptist church at White’s Alley in London, 1681-1714 provide one of the fullest sets of disciplinary cases surviving for a dissenting church of the period. They also allow scholars to explore the relation between theological discussion and the Realpolitik of church government in almost unparalleled detail. Between 1681 and 1761, and again from 1797 to 1841, the church recorded minutes of its meetings in four lengthy folio volumes, usually writing on the recto side of the page, with extra notes or relevant documents copied onto the facing verso sheets. The minutes for 1681 to 1714 alone occupy two and a half volumes, making them one of the most comprehensive sets of minutes of a dissenting church in the period. The church kept other records also which have since been lost: the surviving minutes suggest that there were three ‘old church books’ in evidence by 1707, although the only ones known to have survived up to this date are the two volumes 1681-1700 and 1700-8. A very considerable proportion of the first three extant minute books relate to disciplinary cases, detailing the processes by which members who were considered negligent in their attendance or scandalous in their behaviour were sanctioned. These disciplinary cases will be studied in both quantitative and qualitative terms in my next blog. The purpose of the following introductory essay is to consider my other claim: that we can use dissenting church records to show the relation between theology and church practices. In the first part of the discussion I outline some of the general areas and principles which provoked discussion at White’s Alley, as indeed they did at many other churches during the period, dissenting or otherwise. In the second part of the blog, I explore the impact of some of these ideas on the changing fortunes of the church’s ministers.

The Principles and Practices of Dissenting Churches

Any discussion of the interaction between dissenting principles and practices should be alert to the connections between churches as well as within the membership of each individual church. One way to identify such connections is to map out the locations from and to which the church sent and received letters; this process of cultural geography may then enable us to identify the interactions which give rise to cultures of knowledge and experience. When applied to dissenting records, this method tends to provide supporting evidence for the argument that churches tended to communicate most comfortably and extensively with other churches of similar views. In the case of White’s Alley, the congregation was in frequent dialogue with other Baptist churches, particularly those believing in general redemption; it was furthermore one of the self-styled ‘five parts’ (later six) of the London General Baptist community, the others being Glasshouse Yard (Goswell Street), Goodman’s Fields (Mill Yard), Shad Thames (Dockhead), Southwark (‘The Park’), and – from 12 April 1692 – Covent Garden (Hart Street). The church provided advice to the Goswell Street congregation during its merger with the Bell Lane Baptists in 1681 and again when it sought to elect deacons in 1686. Within London, the church also had extensive dealings with the 7 Baptist congregations at Barbican, Virginia Street, Horsleydown (Fair Street), Deptford, West Smithfield (High Hall, Cow Lane), and Dunning’s Alley. It exchanged letters with at least 12 Baptist churches in southern England, including those at Cirencester, Salisbury, Westbury, Newbury, Berkshire, Maidenhead, Buckingham, Stony Stratford, High Wycombe, Portsmouth, Arundel, Chichester; 11 churches in the east of England, including those at Burnham, Rainham, Berkhamsted, Oxney, Brabourne, Canterbury, Ashford, Chatham, Norwich, and Smallburgh, and a church in Bedfordshire; 10 churches from the midlands and north, including Leicester, Wymeswold, Weston and Weedon, Nantwich, Leominster, Lichfield, Coventry, Warwick, Worcester, and Sheffield; and 2 churches in Ireland (at Dublin and Cork).

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – The church records of White’s Alley, London – (1) – Principles and Pastors

InvenCaP Blog – Forgotten Voices from the Lothbury Square Church Book: Baptist Wives and their Jewish Christian Husbands

By Mark Burden

In a previous blog, ‘Sabbatarianism, Literary Form, and the Lothbury Square Church Book’, I explored various misconceptions which have arisen from historians’ interpretations of the so-called More-Chamberlen church book of 1652-4 (Bodleian Library Rawlinson MS D.828). Critical readings of the church book have been greatly indebted to the early twentieth-century debate between J. W. Thirtle and Champlin Burrage about the extent to which it provided evidence for the Sabbatarian beliefs of the congregation’s most distinguished member, the Royal physician Peter Chamberlen. Through his abridged edition of the church book, Burrage determined that the church was not Sabbatarian in its practices, and proceeded to transcribe those church acts which seemed to him to provide the most important reasons why the congregation collapsed. Burrage attributed the congregation’s demise to the ongoing doctrinal disputes between Chamberlen and his ministerial rival, John More, but failed to transcribe More’s correspondence with the church over the crucial questions of prophecy and parable. Yet these very questions of literary form and their use helped to tip the balance in the congregation’s dealings with More, ensuring that he was unable to return to the church, and thereby accelerating its decline. Here, as elsewhere, questions of genre and language proved decisive when it came to ordering, regulating, and disciplining Puritan church members.

However, this is very far from the whole story. Burrage assumed that the fortunes of the Lothbury Square church could be most easily surveyed through the prism of the debates between its two successive pastors, More and Chamberlen. His approach, while typical of church histories written in the early twentieth century, is no longer satisfactory, not least because it fails to take account of the crucial roles played by other members of the congregation. For one thing, Burrage’s reading conforms to the nineteenth and twentieth century assumption that women’s roles in early Baptist churches were at best peripheral to the central business of the church and at worst inconsequential. These are particularly dangerous assumptions for editors of dissenting records, since the omission of women’s writings from an edition on account of their marginal status becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for future readers. Through the process of rehabilitating these texts by and about women in the so-called More-Chamberlen church book we can develop a much more interesting narrative than the clumsy (on both sides) arguments that women were either central or peripheral to seventeenth-century Baptist churches; instead, what becomes clear is that churches were sites of struggle for women quite literally desiring their voices to be heard.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – Forgotten Voices from the Lothbury Square Church Book: Baptist Wives and their Jewish Christian Husbands

InvenCaP Blog – Sabbatarianism, Literary Form, and the Lothbury Square Church Book (1652-4)

By Mark Burden

Debates about the relationship between Baptist doctrines, church practices, and literary forms have tended to centre around key texts such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and have often been expressed in rather blunt and monolithic terms, as if all Baptists had the same views on allegory, plan speech, and Scriptural language. By contrast, it has been assumed that Baptist church books largely lack literary merit, and are better viewed as documents integral to the process of denominational formation, be that for Particular Baptists, General Baptists, or Sabbatarian (seventh-day) churches. The church book of the Lothbury Square congregation in Moorgate, London, 1652-4 (Bodleian Library Rawlinson MS D.828) provides a challenge to both views. In modern scholarship it is usually described as the More-Chamberlen church after its successive pastors, John More and Peter Chamberlen; the former is perhaps best known as the author of an incendiary political interpretation of Daniel 7 (A Trumpet Sounded, 1654), whereas the latter was a distinguished royal physician, a Sabbatarian, and a writer of several pamphlets on medicine and religion. The congregation also had close connections with other Calvinist Congregational and Baptist churches, including Nathaniel Robinson’s church in Southampton and Henry Jessey’s church in London.

The origins of the Lothbury Square congregation are unknown, but by 1653 it was meeting on a regular basis and had adopted doctrines which we would now describe as Particular Baptist. As was the case for several other churches of the period, the intensity of debate among members over positions of doctrine and church government made the congregation prone to splits. By the end of 1653 it had already divided into two churches, one headed by More and Chamberlen and the other by Thomas Roswell, who was later the author of a short anti-Quaker tract, An Answer unto Thirty Quæries (1656). In January 1654 the More-Chamberlen faction was again on the verge of splitting, and among the formal proposals discussed at that time was the withdrawal of Chamberlen from the church. In the end, however, after a series of acrimonious disputes between More and Chamberlen, it was More who withdrew, and a note near the back of the church book records that by 30 April he and his chief ally (the French Protestant and Doctor of Medicine Theodore Naudin) had ‘falne away’ for the congregation completely. Chamberlen’s irascibility and the entrenched and colliding dogmatism of several other church members caused a further series of departures from the church at around the same time, and the church appears to have folded by late 1654. Chamberlen nevertheless remained active as a Baptist pastor in London in connection with other churches until his death in 1683; Bryan Ball has also noted resemblances between the membership role of the More-Chamberlen congregation in 1653 and the Sabbatarian congregation at Mill Yard, London in 1673, connections which he attributes in part to Chamberlen’s influence (Ball, Seventh-Day Men, p. 81).

The Lothbury Square church has been the object of considerable scholarly discussion since a series of essays on its members and records were published in the Transactions of the Baptist Historical Society (TBHS) between 1910 and 1913. The debate started when J. W. Thirtle published pair of articles in which he assumed that the church, like Chamberlen, was Sabbatarian; this claim was also revived by Ball in 1994, but is not convincing. The main piece of evidence which Thirtle used for his argument is a statement on Chamberlen’s tombstone that he kept ‘ye 7th day for ye saboth above 32 years’, i.e. since before December 1651 (TBHS 2:1-30, 110-17). However, the reliability of this claim was swiftly cast in doubt by his fellow Baptist historian Champlin Burrage, who substantially increased scholars’ knowledge of Chamberlen’s religious activities by printing a partial transcript of the Lothbury Square church book (TBHS 2:129-60). Burrage found no evidence that the church held any meetings on Saturdays, and plenty of evidence that they were held on other days. Close study of the church book confirms Burrage’s counter-claim: eighteen recorded meetings occurred on Sunday, while there are records of two meetings on Monday, six meetings on Tuesday, one on a Wednesday, two on a Thursday, one on a Friday, and none on a Saturday. Given the intellectual headiness and fluidity of the early 1650s, it would hardly be surprising if this church’s practices did not follow the Sabbatarian proclivities of its pastor; the Lothbury Square congregation had enough problems holding together without Chamberlen attempting to persuade them of the necessity of Sabbatarian practices. Regrettably for historians of seventh-day worship, the earliest records of Sabbatarian beliefs must be sought elsewhere.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – Sabbatarianism, Literary Form, and the Lothbury Square Church Book (1652-4)

InvenCaP Blog – Church Books and their Copies

By Mark Burden

I am pleased to report that InvenCaP’s initial survey of dissenting records in national and local record offices is now complete. During this early stage of the project it has been important to consider in some detail the relationship between original documents and later copies. As well as locating approximately 250 original church books, registers, and financial account books from the period 1640-1714, we have now compiled an inventory of over 100 significant manuscript copies of these documents. These copies, which currently only include complete or near-complete transcriptions of church books and registers, have often been relied on by historians, and are sometimes assumed to be the earliest documents of their kind. Such confusion must undoubtedly have led to mistakes in genealogies and church chronologies for several centuries, and it seems highly probably that the ideological assumptions of these later copies have also had an impact upon both diachronic and synchronic histories of dissent more broadly. Of equal significance to the Puritan Experience project would be a detailed consideration of the changes in narrative emphasis and structure between each source and its copies. Such changes can manifest themselves in the reordering and retitling of material, as well as in the rewording of key documents; more subtly, the changed function of information within a document can be affected by the identity and orthographic choices of the scribe, the quality of the paper and binding, and the slippage between autograph signatures and copies.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – Church Books and their Copies

InvenCaP Blog – What is a Dissenting Church Book?

By Mark Burden

On 27 December 1821 the dissenting antiquarian Benjamin Hanbury supplemented his recent transcription of the eighteenth-century register of Isaac Watts’s church with a description of the original manuscript. This source text had been placed into his hands in a ‘mutilated state’, having been ‘lately bought for waste paper’; indeed, Hanbury feared that the ‘major part of the original MS. is therefore entirely lost’, although ‘what is here preserved must be exceedingly valuable to the inquirer into Church History among the Dissenters’. Few historians of early eighteenth-century British dissent would now deny the importance of such a large collection of records relating to Watts’s church, not least since the original text appears to contain interlineations by the prominent dissenting academy tutor Samuel Morton Savage. We may also share Hanbury’s regret at the lost leaves and mutilated state of the manuscript, although incompleteness, messiness, and imperfection can often be seen as interesting if not positively virtuous characteristics of a document.

Perhaps Hanbury’s remarks should also encourage us to reconsider our preconceptions about the nature of dissenting church books, registers, and records. Later Stuart dissenters certainly used the term ‘church book’ in several different ways. In a general sense, it meant a writing book owned by the church, or bought for the church – this is the sense given by a note from a manuscript formerly belonging to Slapton Baptist Church: ‘Memorandum this Church book was dellivered to Thomas Lovell Aprill the 4 1705’. Although this book does contain a few early notes on church acts and members scribbled into the back of the volume, the main series of memoranda prior to 1705 are receipts recorded by one of the church officers, ‘Jos: Goodman’. The early Baptist church books, then, could often function as financial accounts, often scribbled into small octavo volumes, rather than the hefty folios which grew in popularity as the eighteenth century progressed.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – What is a Dissenting Church Book?