Lucy Kaufman Dissertation Prospectus Summary



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Lucy Kaufman

Dissertation Prospectus Summary


Settling the Elizabethan Settlement:

Reformation in the Parishes of Late Tudor England


It is impossible to divorce religion from the life of early modern England. Communities were built around parishes, church courts regulated social order, church councils collected taxes and distributed poor relief, and religion influenced patronage, politics and protest. The reformations of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary in the mid-sixteenth century left the patterns and the structures of everyday life uncertain. When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, she immediately began a process of Protestant religious settlement that left great scope for personal belief but little room for disobedience or nonconformity. In the relative stability of the forty years that followed the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy—generally known as the Elizabethan Settlement—Englishmen and women had to mediate new patterns of religious authority, subordination and power. This negotiation of the everyday, the settling of the Settlement, has yet to be closely examined in and of itself, and I propose to make this the subject of my dissertation. Such a study will allow me to ask why England was able to become a post-Reformation nation, a question essential to our understanding of early modern English history.

Strikingly, little work has been done which carefully examines the influence of the Elizabethan settlement on the lives of early modern Englishmen and women. The Elizabethan period is generally treated either as epilogue to the initial rifts of the Reformation or as prologue to the religious upheavals of the early Stuart Church.1 Those who do study the Elizabethan Reformation have generally focused on the experience of the minority: Catholics, puritans, separatists or high officials.2 A few historians have tried to examine the popular religion and religious culture of the age—and yet, their studies emphasize continuity with the longer history of the Reformation, rather than providing a specific and particular contextual analysis of Elizabethan religious practices.3 In essence, we have remarkably little understanding of how the reforms of the Elizabethan Settlement—reforms that, to this day, are the foundation of the Church of England—were understood, experienced and negotiated at a parochial level. Without a grasp of this process, we cannot properly understand the foundations of English Protestantism, as well as the great religious debates and influence of religious ideology over the course of the next centuries.

Thus this is no mere historiographical gap, but rather a fundamental problem in understanding the religious, social and political life of early modern England. My work will address this problem by examining the intersection of social structure, religion and popular politics in the Elizabethan period. Central to this question is the issue of authority: the ways in which the early modern parishioner was shaped by this settlement, and, in turn, helped to shape it. The forty-five years of Elizabeth’s reign provided an unparalleled central religious stability, and by the time of her death England had become a post-Reformation nation. While religious conflict continued to smolder for decades—if not centuries—the religious and social fabric of the country had permanently changed. I aim to investigate this process through a close, intimate and precise analysis of the ways in which the Elizabethan Settlement was negotiated in the parishes of late sixteenth-century England.

In order to do this rigorously and successfully, I will call upon a synthesis of several historiographical and methodological approaches. I plan to draw on the work of the social historians writing over the past thirty years, particularly those who concentrate on popular politics and power.4 This is especially important when examining religion in the parishes, a space most often explored by those analyzing a depoliticized popular religion.5 However, it is important to examine not only structures but also ideologies, ensuring that I discern the motivation for both resistance and negotiation.6 As such, my source base will focus on ecclesiastical records (especially consistory court records, visitations, and churchwardens’ records); secular court records; popular proscriptive literature (especially catechisms, printed sermons, and religious tracts); private correspondence and family papers; and records of state. Of special interest to me are the records of the 1580s, since I find this decade to be a crucial hinge in the long Elizabethan settlement, a late Elizabethan watershed that signaled the advent of a post-Reformation England.7

I plan to visit archives in London (especially the National Archives, the British Library, Dr. Williams’ Library, and the archives of Lambeth Palace), Norwich (the Norfolk Records Office and the Norwich Cathedral archives), and York (the North Riding Records Office and the Borthwick Institute). I have picked these two latter regions in part due to their rich records and in part due to their inherent differences: Norfolk had the reputation of being a hotbed of evangelical activity, while York was known for its strong conservative tendencies.8 Here I navigate a tricky tightrope: I am keen to avoid an over-localized project, but I also want to avoid simple, stark comparison. At the moment, I am exploring some of the work on histoire croisée and histoire multiscopique to help me nail down my methodological approach.

By better understanding the process of Settlement; by examining not only how people react to change, but also how they react to stability; by viewing both religion through a social historian’s lens and social structures through a religious historian’s lens, my dissertation will carefully parse the processes of negotiation, resistance, and religious evolution in Elizabethan England. This project will not only allow a new, important perspective on Reformation history, but it will also give us a new framework for understanding relationships of faith, power, law, persuation, and the necessities of everyday life in the early modern world.



1 Some of the most influential works of the former type include A.G. Dickens The English Reformation (1964); Christopher Haigh Reformation and Resistance in Tudor Lancashire (1975); J.J. Scarisbrick The Reformation and the English People (1984); Eamon Duffy, Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (1992); Beat Kümin, The Shaping of a Community: the Rise and Reformation of the English Parish, c. 1400-1560 (1996); Ethan Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation (2003). It should be noted that the revisionist historians (Haigh, Scarisbrick and Duffy) posit a slow Reformation that lasted into the Elizabethan period; nevertheless, England post-1560 often seems like a sort of inevitable twilight. (This is perhaps clearest in Duffy’s Voices of Morebath). Some of the most influential works of the latter type include Nicholas Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: the rise of English Arminianism, c. 1590-1640 (1987); Judith Maltby, Prayer Book and People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (2000); Peter Lake with Michael Questier, The Anti-Christ’s Lewd Hat: Protestants, Papists and Players in Post-Reformation England (2002); and Religious Politics in Post-Reformation England: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Tyacke, ed. Peter Lake and Kenneth Fincham (2006).

2 Especially important works on Catholics in Elizabethan England include John Bossy, The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850 (1975); Alexandra Walsham, Church Papists: Catholicism, Conformity and Confessional Polemic in Early Modern England. (1993); Michael Questier, Catholicism and Community in Early Modern England: Politics, Aristocratic Patronage and Religion, c. 1550-1640 (2006). Much of the work on Elizabethan religion focuses on the influence of Calvinism on the church, especially amongst prominent churchmen and theologians; this has figured most prominently in a kind of Elizabethan identity politics (cf. John New, Anglican and Puritan: the Basis of Their Opposition, 1558-1640 (1964); Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (1967); Peter Lake Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (1982); and Peter Lake, Anglicans and Puritans? Presbyterianism and English Conformist Thought from Whitgift to Hooker (1988)). Finally, an influential subfield of the literature focuses on Parliamentary influences on the Elizabethan Church. For the former, cf. William Haugaard, Elizabeth and the English Reformation: the Struggle for a Stable Settlement of Religion (1968); W.S. Hudson, The Cambridge Connection and the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559 (1980); Norman Jones, Faith by Statute: Parliament and the Settlement of Religion, 1559 (1982).

3 These historians tend to focus on continuity of cultural and social touchstones in the longer sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Excellent works, these nevertheless approach the topic from a firmly consensus-based view that can, at times, depoliticize the changes of the Reformation; as I will discuss in a moment, this can prove quite dangerous. Tessa Watt. Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550-1640 (1991); Christopher Marsh. Popular Religion in Sixteenth-Century England: Holding Their Peace (1998); Norman Jones, The English Reformation: Religion and Cultural Adaptation (2001).

4 I have been particularly influenced by the work of John Walter, Steve Hindle, Andy Wood, Ethan Shagan, and Keith Wrightson (though each has a different perspective and focus on popular politics in their work).

5 As Ethan Shagan reminds us, there is a great danger in “a decontextualized notion of ‘popular piety’ in which religious beliefs and practices are disassociated from notions of authority, legitimacy, and power.” (Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation, p. 11.)

6 Avoiding ideology—and, it is assumed, not taking religious motivation seriously—underpins Christopher Marsh’s “View from the Pew” trilogy. While I think Marsh may overstate his case, or perhaps simply underestimates the sensitivities of social historians, I do agree that we must seek to understand not only action but also ideology.

7 I am not alone in identifying the mid-Elizabethan period as a sort of religious hinge—this has found perhaps the strongest suggestion in the work of Patrick Collinson

(especially in Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries and the 1985 Stenton Lecture, “From Iconoclasm to Iconophobia: the Cultural Impact of the Second English Reformation”). Nevertheless, a clearer articulation of the import and impact of the 1580s has yet to be made.



8 It should be noted, though, that each had a strong core of dissenters: Norfolk had a tightly-knit recusant community, while a small but determined band of evangelicals made their home in the North.





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