History 367 Society and Ideas in Shakespeare’s England

The organization of the established church 01

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The organization of the established church 01

  • Another religiously interesting major literary figure was John Donne (his daughter Constance married the famous Shakespearian actor Edward Alleyn).

  • Donne has been seen as a Catholic, and also as a member of the Family of Love.

  • But outwardly Donne was a Protestant; he held the high position of Dean of St Paul’s (1621-31).

Edward Alleyn (1566-1626): actor; businessman; founder of Dulwich College.

The organization of the established church 02

  • The Deans of St Paul’s and of Westminster (Abbey) were in charge of the two cathedrals in the diocese of London; in other dioceses there was one cathedral., administered by a Dean (appointed by the monarch, as were:)

  • 2 Archbishops (each ruling an Archdiocese or Province: Canterbury; York)

  • 25 Bishops

The organization of the established church 03

  • Bishoprics (dioceses; sees) were divided into archdeaconries, presided over by an archdeacon.

  • Archdeaconries were divided into rural deaneries, under a dean.

  • Rural deaneries were divided into parishes; there were some 9,500 of these; the parish church was the local religious center; the parish priest/ minister conducted services there.

The organization of the established church 04

  • Parish clergy varied greatly in wealth and status. Rectors; vicars; curates.

  • In theory, parish clergy were funded by tithes; but many tithes had become impropriated (impropriations) (especially at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, 1536-40).

  • Impropriated tithes were held by the laity; Shakespeare bought some at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Bare (partly) ruined choirs: Malmesbury Abbey (41 miles from Stratford).

The organization of the established church 05

  • The wealth of a parish clergyman depended on whether he was getting full (or any) tithes, and on the population of the parish; annual incomes for parish clergy varied from around £10 to £600.

  • To become a parish clergyman you had to (1) get ordained by a bishop; (2) get appointed to a job as a parish priest (benefice; living) by someone who had the advowson (right of appointment).

The organization of the established church 06

  • Monarchs, lords, bishops, and Oxbridge colleges held many advowsons; but most were in the hands of gentlemen/ -women.

  • The holder of the advowson could appoint, but not remove, the parish clergyman.

  • To get ordained, clergy increasingly needed university education by 1600.

  • Bishops could remove parish clergy for cause.

The organization of the established church 07

  • It was in the interests of parish clergy to get on with the local bishop, and with the patron who appointed them to their living.

  • Bishops and local gentry often agreed on what clergy should say in their sermons; e.g. that they should support hierarchical values, and obedience to bishops/ gentry.

  • But bishops and gentry sometimes disagreed; important noble / gentry families appointed puritan clergy locally (e.g. Rich family, Earls of Warwick).

Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick (1625-78)

The organization of the established church 08

  • Locally, gentry/ nobles competed with bishops for control of the church, though the competition was often amicable.

  • At the national level, parliament and the crown competed for control of the church; by law, Elizabeth and later monarchs were Supreme Governors of the church; but parliament had made the law; so was the supremacy really held by parliament (or monarch-in-parliament)?

Social structure: contemporary views 01

  • In a society where jobs and other resources were becoming increasingly scarce, small social distinctions came to matter more than before.

  • Shakespeare really wanted to be a gentleman (and succeeded).

  • A source problem: we don’t know how the poor viewed social distinctions (they were illiterate).

In 1596 the College of Arms granted John Shakespeare a Coat of Arms.

Social structure: contemporary views 02

  • Sources:

  • William Harrison, Description of England 1577 (in Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles, 1577; revised 1587 – the 1587 edition a major source for Shakespeare’s history plays)

  • Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum (On the Commonwealth of the English); written in the 1560s; published 1581; in English; but soon translated into Latin; became the standard European account of English institutions.

Social structure: contemporary views 03

  • Thomas Wilson: England in 1600.

  • Gregory King: England in 1695; statistics; Sir William Petty (1623-87).

  • The importance of being gentle (/noble).

  • Many people participated in local political life (held minor local office); few (c. 2%; “the political nation”) ran county and national government.

Sir William Petty (1623-1687)

Social structure: contemporary views 04

  • “Gentlemen are made good cheap in England”: Smith.

  • M.A. at university; membership of profession (lawyer; physician; but clergy decline in status after Reformation).

  • Coat of Arms; heralds; Durham (county): 6 families had a coat of arms 1530s; 56 1575; doubled again 1615.

  • “gentility is but ancient riches”

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